There's no denying that cocktail culture can be a little pretentious. With bars charging extra for clear ice, and pairing designer perfumes with mixed drinks, we're more inclined to book it to the dive bar than stand in line and shell out unreasonable amounts of cash for a fancy drink. In the long list of why cocktail bars have earned the reputation of being pretentious, the "mixologist" might be one of the most controversial. The mere mention of the word conjures up visions of bow ties and needlessly careful measuring. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
But does anyone actually know what a mixologist really is? There's so much hype around the term, but how many bartenders actually refer to themselves as mixologists, and what the hell does it really mean anyway? We turned to the experts to find out.
It turns out, every single professional we asked refers to him or herself as a bartender. No one that we spoke with calls himself of mixologist. What's more, everyone had a lot to say on the matter:
Ajax Kentish of Navy:
"I have and always will refer to myself as a bartender. I have always cringed when others have referred to me as a mixologist." On mixology, he laments it was "once a way of pointing out people who have really worked at their craft and gone beyond to learn/imagine new ways of creating a perfect drink. Now it seems to have mustaches, slicked back hair, shirt suspenders and braces with antique bar equipment."
Dave Arnold of Booker and Dax:
"I used to hate the word mixologist, but I've come to terms with it." He agrees that bartending refers to more than just pouring drinks and thinks, "typically, the term mixologist is simply used to make bartending seem more important than it is. I'm not a fan of that usage because I think people who are bartenders should take pride in being a bartender."
Will Thompson of Roof At Park Avenue South:
"A mixologist is a bartender who doesn't get invited to parties," Thompson kids before launching into a detailed explanation of the distinction. There are two ways to look at it, he says. One is that "mixology is a small subset of bartending... It's probably between 2 and 10 percent of what a bartender is doing on a given night." He boils it down to saying, "mixology is 'in the glass' and bartending is everything else going on that you, the guest, hopefully never have to notice." The other way to look at the distinction , Thompson told HuffPost Taste is that, "there is no such thing as a mixologist outside of a media construct." In six or seven years of being a bartending and traveling for work, Thompson has never come across anyone who refers to himself as a mixologist.
Meaghan Dorman, head bartender at The Raines Law Room and Dear Irving:
"Personally I prefer the term bartender because I think it's more encompassing of what we do. Mixologist sounds very recipe and cocktail focused, while a bartender creates drinks but also manages a room, interacts with guests and so on. Since there aren't many terms for bartender, unlike the different levels of chef, I do understand why people use [the term 'mixologist'] to describe bartenders in cocktails bars and our particular style."
Nathan O'Neill of the Dandelyan at the Mondrian London:
"For myself I find bartending to be about the art of hosting and giving back to the guests who come to see us regularly, if they choose to call me by either name then so be it, but I would rather be known for the moments we create behind the bar as bartenders in a sense of allowing people to have memorable times.
Tom Macy of Brooklyn's Clover Club wrote a blog post for The Huffington Post which he began with:
"To those bartenders who think calling yourself a mixologist is an excuse for serving drinks with a frown at a snail's pace, you are morons and are giving the rest of us a bad name."
Stephanie Cohen of Brooklyn's 61 Local draws a line between knowing and doing:
"As a bartender, your knowledge is... the producers: the breweries, the farms, the vineyards where your product is produced. Understanding the producers' mission, the ingredients they use and where they are sourced from... As a mixologist, your 'craft' in the verbal sense, is creating recipes from a variety of different spirits and garnishes, and adjusting the standard to create the unique. Bartenders and mixologists both tailor their offerings to best suit their customers-- but while mixologists concoct a beverage based on what ingredients are at their disposal, bartenders must consult their library of knowledge."
Jim Meehan of New York's PDT told Bon Appetit that:
“A mixologist serves drinks, a bartender serves people – many of my favorite bartenders can’t make a good drink, while some of the best mixologists in America can’t carry on a conversation.”
Joaquin Simo, partner and head bartender at Pouring Ribbons:
"I have always preferred the word 'bartender,' as I am physically behind a bar 3-4 nights every week... I am quite literally tending to my bar (and the guests sitting at it) about half the week." He told HuffPost Taste that if the time comes when he's not able to carry out 12-13 hour shifts behind the bar, only then might he refer to himself as a mixologist.
Matt Walker, the Beverage Manger at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema:
"I consider myself first, foremost, and always a bartender!" He explains that while the term mixologist "refers to the very specific act of creating or mixing a cocktail..." bartending is more general term that "refers to all of the things we do to serve a customer. That includes drink mixing, but could also mean suggesting a great restaurant, being quick with a joke, knowing when someone needs water more than they need a cocktail..." He doesn't have a problem with the negatively perceived term "mixologist," as long as people don't start calling themselves "cocktail chefs."
We'd have to agree with Walker: we'll rue the day when we start meeting self-described "cocktail chefs," behind the bar. We'll take a mixologist over that any day.