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Bartender vs. Mixologist

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Photo of Bourbon Bar courtesy of David Phelps Photography

In the last year, there's been an increasing buzz around "mixologists," or bartenders at hot new restaurants who may or may not do more than traditional drink slingers. Is there really a difference between the two? What do those behind the bar call themselves? Eater decided to find out.

The History
As Tom McGuire, lead bartender at Prohibition, says, mixologist is an older term, stemming from the Pre-Prohibition era, during which time, those behind the bar would mix and prepare various bitters, cordials, liqueurs, syrups and specialty sodas. Therefore, the term mixology applies to the creation of new cocktails and techniques for making new drinks. "In order to distinguish themselves from the guys and gals who just pour shots and beers, many craft bartenders have embraced the term mixologist," he says.

Tim Faulkner, H&F Bottle Shop Archivist
“The term mixologist is used to signify the bartender's advanced knowledge and specialized skill to guests, but not necessarily something that folks who work behind a bar give much consideration to. But both suggest skills, care, and knowledge beyond pulling pints and pouring shots. Personally, the term bothers me because I think it implies a sense of entitlement, snobbishness and exclusivity, and that more attention should be given to the drink than the guest, that a ‘mixologist’ can put whatever they want in a drink and if the guest doesn't appreciate it, it's because they don't know enough to realize how good the drink really is. That, clearly, is nonsense. We're behind the bar to ensure that our guests have a pleasurable and memorable experience; not to flaunt expertise. Being a solid barkeep has as much (sometimes more) to do with hospitality than the ability to compound drinks. Everyone behind a bar ought to be able to do what people think a mixologist does. I've never heard a bartender I respect refer to themselves as a mixologist. Most prefer to be called a barkeeper, bartender, barman, etc.” 'Mixologist' is something used by people who are not in the industry, or to connote those skills to them, not something a barkeeper takes seriously. Frankly, mixology's growing popularity might only heighten that perceived pretension and egotism.”

Arianne Fielder, Head Mixologist and Bourbon Bar Manager
“The war on the names is funny. When it comes down to it, I’m a bartender. I make drinks, tend to guests and stay behind the bar. Some people have a problem with [the word bartender] but it doesn’t matter to me. The term mixologist gives more credit to our skills, but I’m not offended either way.”

Tom McGuire, Lead Bartender, Prohibition
“I hate being called a mixologist. Why? Well, I have been bartending for nine years and worked in a variety of establishments. I've done fine dining, sports bars, college bars, nightclubs, more fine dining, and now craft cocktails at Prohibition. For me to be called a mixologist, I feel that it discredits all the other work I've done and the skill set I had to develop to work in those places. As a bartender, I am much more focused on the guests in front of me, not on the cocktail I am mixing. I work in the service industry, and service is what I am paid to provide. Finally, I feel that a great number of so-called mixologists have adopted the title as way of differentiating themselves from bar staff who work at less craft-oriented establishments. And that is just purely elitist snobbery and I can't handle that. I want to be known as a great bartender, as a worker you can put behind any bar, anywhere and who could do a great job every time. So I firmly believe that the title mixologist is meaningless and unnecessarily pretentious.”

Sarah Buckley, Ormsby’s Bartender
“I don’t think either term is necessarily offensive, as long as it is remembered that bartenders put creativity into, and take pride in, their work as well. Many of the classic cocktails that we enjoy making and putting new twists on today were first crafted by men and women who were proud to call themselves bartenders. I think the sudden trend of the term mixologists came about as a way for bartenders to sound more valuable to their employers and customers in a competitive business.”

Ormsby's

1170 Howell Mill Road, , GA 30318 (404) 968-2033 Visit Website

Bourbon Bar

3315 Peachtree Rd, Atlanta, GA 30326 (404) 946-9070 Visit Website

Prohibition

56 E Andrews Dr NW, #16, Atlanta, GA 30305 404-869-1132 Visit Website

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