Bartender v.s. Mixologist

Does this turf war exist, or am I igniting one?

I just read an old interview with Ryan Magarian, a local mixologist who works with Kathy Casey Food Studios. He asserts a difference between a bartender and a mixologist, claiming a bartender to be more like a line cook and a mixologist to be more like a head chef. Taking the analogy one step farther, he seems to claim that a mixologist is an artist, while a bartender simply does the grunt work. This implies bartenders lack artistic vision.

That may be true of some bartenders, but I always have a problem with blanket statements such as that. I personally consider it part of my job to create new cocktails, to ensure consistentcy in recipes and to display some sort of artistic vision in our menus. It's an overly simplistic view to assume bartenders don't respect their crafts while mixologists do. It might be true to say that for every bartender who truly cares about his craft there are hundreds more who only sling drinks for tips while they work toward a different career, to state flat-out that only mixologists care about their craft is, in a word, wrong.

I can't stand when people call me a mixologist or a bar chef. It's embarassing. I'm a bartender, and damn proud of that. Everything Magarian claims for himself as a mixologist, I find to be inherent in my job description.

All of this may just be hair-splitting semantics, but my own definition of mixologist would be simply someone who creates cocktails but doesn't earn a living tending bar. If Magarian no longer works behind a bar, that'd be fair to call him a mixologist.

Overall, however, I've a feeling Magarian is just trying to seperate himself from the common bartender. Me, I'm proud to trace my lineage from Jerry Thomas (try explaining how that guy was not an artist) to the flair bartender wowing the crowd on a Saturday night, to the server feeding cans of Budweiser to thirsty blue-collar workers at your local hole-in-the-wall.

Bartenders are equal parts line cook and executive chef. To suggest otherwise is neither accurate nor fair. There is no doubting Magarian's talent, nor his resumé, and I have tremendous respect for his devotion to our craft and his contributions to our cocktail library. I only wish he had greater respect for bartenders.

7 comments:

Anita said...

Hi Kevin -- just found your site. I'm tickled to be in such auspicious cocktailian company in your blogroll! Next time we're in Seattle (hopefully August) we'll make sure we're at Union when you're behind the bar.

And I agree with you wholeheartedly: Some of the best 'mixologists' out there call themselves 'bartender'. Trying to reverse-engineer a title to imply talent or ambition is a little too much whitewash for my taste.

Rocky said...

I think that reserving mixologist for someone who no longer works behind a bar day in and day out is a good distinction.

Anita said...

Er, I meant "Keith." I have a co-worker named Kevin who walked up as I was typing... *blush*

Lauren said...

Keith - What a great blog! I think your distinction between bartender and mixologist is spot on.

And, even though it's not related to this entry, I have a bottle of Velvet Falernum (is that the same as regular Falernum?) that I brought back from California - I'll bring it to you sometime.......

keith waldbauer said...

Thanks gang!! Anita, can't wait to see you at Union. Got a little jealous hearing about your trips to Tavolata and Vessel...

Rocky and Lauren, of course, I'll see you two soon...Velvet Falernum is different in that it contains alcohol, so it's closer to mine than the Fee Brothers version you can get at DeLaurenti's. Bring it in and we'll throw a Falernum party... I always love an excuse to have a party...

Will Von Wizzlepig said...

Back when Starbucks came out with their "frappucino" drinks, I refused to say the word, well, for several years.

It sounded so dumb.

At the opera, you have all these people singing. Tenor, soprano, alto, baritone- lots of different names for "the person singing", which opera-philes probably care about, but to Joe schmoe, you just sound like a dufus going on an on about the difference: it's the singer, eh?

I'll tell you right now, to add the view from someone on the other side of the bar, I'll never ever ask for a mixologist. That's a completely stupid name and a hair that doesn't need to be split.

The customer is always right, and I am not calling anybody by that name unless I am making fun of them.

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