Bartender vs Mixologist

As I was perusing the Liquid Muse’s blog, Natalie had a great topic in one of her posts. During an interview, she called Rick, from Martini Groove, a “mixologist” and his response was that the term should be banned from the English lexicon. I found that to be an odd response. But a little discussion started about which term is used where and why people would choose one over the other. I found it quite interesting and decided that we should open up the discussion over here.

If you’ve read this site for any amount of time you’d remember me ranting about the plethora of crappy bartenders out there. I’ve worked with a lot of them. Here’s a fact, I have yet to work with anyone behind a bar that actually cares about making a drink. Really, all of the bartenders I’ve worked with think powdered sour mix is a perfectly acceptable way of making a Margarita or any other sour drink. They whine when they have to make anything more complicated than a Cosmo. They all take shortcuts they all do stupid things and they’ve all chastised me for caring about how I make a drink. From that perspective, if people are going to think that those people are true bartenders, why would I want to associate myself with them?

Back in the day, most bartenders were also the bar owners. The bar allowed them a central location to watch their investment while controlling the liquid assets. Since they had a vested interest in the success of their business they took control of the room. They earned respect by entertaining one minute and then subduing a rampaging drunk the next.

In modern times most of the traditional roles of the bartender are long gone. Security now handles most of the disorderly issues, managers take care of employees and guests needs. Any good bar has a bar back to handle stocking and the other assorted mundane tasks that bartenders previously handled. The electronic liquor control system even protects the liquid assets. So, the bartender is left to mix drinks and talk to people.

Since the job description of the bartender has been whittled away, a few creative bartenders decided to spend their extra time creating better drinks, hence mixology. Even though the term “mixology” has been around since Jerry Thomas’ days, the renaissance of the cocktail has made it front and center again. Obviously, the term “Mixologist” describes someone who practices the dark arts of mixology. But, mixology has always been part of a bartender’s job description, so what term is appropriate.

I can handle either term. But someone who hasn’t been a bartender, probably shouldn’t call themselves a bartender. This is where mixologist is appropriate. The term Bar Chef is another one that seems to ride ton the skills of a chef.

One of my pet peeves are bartenders who get all uppity about bartenders who call themselves a mixologist.

When I think bartender, it’s hard to get the image of my last boss out of my head, or the group of guys I worked with before that who used the floor as a sink and thought to do a birthday “Muff Dive” shots, beside a young family out for a nice dinner, was appropriate. I like the term bartender, but please excuse me if I bow my head in shame when I hear other “bartenders” talk about what they aspire to be.

More information on bartending.

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