Raising a Glass to Racial Justice

A young woman wearing a black leather jacket, looking slightly away from the camera, sits at a table with a bar in the background holding up a cocktail.
Claudiane Philippe ’13, MA’14

Three years ago, Claudiane Philippe ’13, MA’14, turned to social media for recommendations on where to find a hip cocktail in Boston. Surprised so few area bloggers were showcasing specialty drinks, she started documenting her own happy-hour discoveries.

One day, a friend noticed Philippe’s colorful manicure complemented the vibrant concoction she was holding — and the concept for her Instagram account Nail the Cocktail (@nailthecocktail) was born. Her posts hyping Boston’s best boozy beverages (and her latest nail designs) started going viral. Within six months, Philippe had more than 9,000 followers.

“Sometimes, when people want to go out and have a good drink, they worry they won’t like what they order,” Philippe says. “I try to make all of that less intimidating.”

Now, with more than 36,000 fans, the 29-year-old is considered one of the city’s top influencers, earning feature coverage in Forbes, Eater, The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

Last summer, Philippe used her platform to heighten awareness about systemic racism with a powerful photo series of cocktails personally crafted in memory of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland and others lost to police brutality and violence. To commemorate Taylor, for instance, she presented an icy glass of gin blended with St. Germain elderflower liqueur and bright-green Midori alongside a portrait of the aspiring nurse fatally shot by officers last spring in her Louisville, Kentucky, home.

Boston magazine named Philippe its Best Virtual Bartender in 2020, praising her efforts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“My followers are from so many different backgrounds,” Philippe says, “and I wanted them all to realize how deeply racial-justice issues impact me and communities of color who live and work in the same city they do.”

A Waltham native, Philippe held part-time bartending jobs to make ends meet while at Brandeis, both as an undergraduate studying Health: Science, Society and Policy and anthropology, and as a grad student pursuing a master’s in global studies.

During the day, Philippe works in the telehealth field as a user-experience designer. Before the coronavirus pandemic began, she sampled local libations four nights a week at bars and restaurants, charging them a fee to promote their creations on her platform. Today, she’s doing what she can to drive business to struggling establishments for free. “They need as much help as possible,” she says.

Philippe is also crafting her own signature sips at home, including Tiramisu in a Glass (a mixture of Irish Cream liqueur, vodka, heavy cream and espresso, topped with a Kit Kat garnish) and The Up in Smoke (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth and a homemade cinnamon-chocolate syrup), sharing recipes and how-to videos.

Her sponsorships have soared. The We TV channel, Bon & Viv spiked seltzer and Steel Dust Vodka are among the clients with whom she’s partnered. It’s a lucrative side hustle — a single post for a well-known liquor brought in $5,500.

“I’ve tried to create content to adapt to the current climate, and people really responded,” she says. “It’s been a crazy year.”

— Heather Salerno