Who Are You, Person Making Me Cocktails?

Mixologist doesn't work. Neither does Bartender.

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By David Hammond

Danny Shapiro (Scofflaw, Slippery Slope) seemed to bristle when I asked him if he considered himself a "mixologist," which has been a commonly applied term to those who mix drinks and do more than simply pull beers and pour shots.

"I'm just a bartender," said Shapiro, notwithstanding that Chicago Eater recently referred to Shapiro as a "bar dude." While it might be no more offensive than "mixologist," the "bar dude" designation may easily confuse the person behind the bar with the bros sitting at the bar.

"Mixologist," said Ryan Hoover from behind the bar at Blackbird, "is not a new term: it's an old term," and this little bit of etymology seems accurate.

"What I don't like about the word 'mixologist,' said Hoover, "is that it suggests that we're focusing on making the drinks rather than serving the customer." He added that like Shapiro, he's fine with being called a "bartender."

But "bartender," to me, though pleasingly humble and workmanlike, seems too restrictive a term. Guys like Shapiro and Hoover are not simply "tending" to me and others at the bar: they're crafting fascinating beverages, combining ingredients I've sometimes never heard of with liquors I've never tasted, and they're not just serving them at the bar: cocktails are regularly served at white tablecloth restaurants, and sometimes, as at Coppervine, they're paired with multi-course meals. So these guys seem to be so much more than just bartenders – not that there's anything wrong with bartenders. These guys just seem to be more than that.

Over at Acadia, Arunas Bruzas had just made me his Maine Campfire (rye, mezcal, cocchi, cedar, juniper & honey elixir, tobacco, juniper and cocoa nib tincture) when I asked him whether he liked the term "mixologist." He winced, saying he associated the word more with tattooed hipsters. The term he prefers is "barman," which I kind of like.

"Barman" gets away from the custodial connotations of "tending" as well as the possible pretention of "mixologist." I ran "barman" by Hoover at Blackbird, and he said, "I like it. It says what we do, like a fireman or policeman."

So until further notice, the guys who have made it their life's work to stand at a bar and amaze with their cocktail craft will be known, by me, as barmen. And just as "dude" can be applied to males and females (as anyone knows who watches "Broad City"), so too will "barman" be, for me, gender-neutral.

 "Another round, please, barman."

 Yes, that works for me.


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David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 17th, 2014 12:37 PM

"Barmaid" reminds me a little of Miss Kitty on "Gunsmoke."


Posted: July 17th, 2014 11:57 AM

A lot of older guys I know call female bartenders "Barmaids" I like the term.

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