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Alchemist

What do you call a professional who makes cocktails?

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Admin: This discussion split from the thread on Pegu Club, as it is an interesting one in its own right.

The Pegu Club is only the latest in the new generation of connoisseur's cocktail bars. I was fortunate enough to be in Seattle last weekend and there is a huge interest in raising the bar and elevating the cocktail experience with better trained bar chefs. And I'm confident that this trend will continue to grow around the world as consumers are drinking less, but better, spirits and cocktails.  :biggrin:

Can we please not call them (us ) bar chefs.

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The Pegu Club is only the latest in the new generation of connoisseur's cocktail bars. I was fortunate enough to be in Seattle last weekend and there is a huge interest in raising the bar and elevating the cocktail experience with better trained bar chefs. And I'm confident that this trend will continue to grow around the world as consumers are drinking less, but better, spirits and cocktails.  :biggrin:

Can we please not call them (us ) bar chefs.

I began using the term 'bar chefs' after spending four days with a number of cocktail-concocting persons who felt the term 'bartender' doesn't describe their contribution to mixing alcoholic beverages. This is also the term used in Tony Abu Ganim's Fine Living television program titled Raising the Bar, America's Best Bar Chefs. Tony used the term because he felt stongly that those people who mix the best drinks are much more than bartenders: a term that would describe anyone capable of pulling a beer tap. None of us would call a MacDonald's line cook a chef, but if you prefer another term, please share it with us.

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I would have thought a "bar chef" was making bar food (which shows that I'm thinking of the American rather than original French sense of "chef"). I thought that people skilled at making mixed drinks were called mixologists, no?

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persons who felt the term 'bartender' doesn't describe their contribution to mixing alcoholic beverages. This is also the term used in Tony Abu Ganim's Fine Living television program

With all respect to Mr. Abu Ganim (and others that use the term), we're bartenders.

This label used to be a source of pride, and denote all the things you've alluded to: craft, care in mixing, knowledge of history. The fact that the term has been eroded over the past 75 years is our problem to rectify. We need to demonstrate that there is more to bartending than what they've seen.

Hiding behind other terms to dodge the negative connotations of what a bartender has become is the easy way out. (And frankly, I think it draws an unnecessary division across a profession that needs to grow as a group right now. Let's not be parochial.)

Instead of telling our customers we're not bartenders, let's show them what it means to be a great one. We own the label for better or worse--it's ours to rehabilitate.

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This is actually an interesting question.

Back in the day, the bartender or tavern owner was likely to be one of the most respected men in town. Top bartenders like Jerry Thomas were celebrities.

Then Prohibition happened; then the highball era began post-Prohidition; then youth rebellion in the 1960s caused several generations of young people to reject cocktails in the 1960s and 70s, and with the rise of drug culture alcohol came to be valued more for its intoxicating qualities than its gustatory gualities; etc. By the end of that cycle, the title "bartender" came to be associated with a relatively untalented old guy who pushed cheap beer and shots of watered down booze across a bar. The overall image of a bartender is still more or less the same, except that it now also includes relatively untalented but copiously endowed and scantily clad young women and men pushing expensive beer, overpriced "superpremium" vodka and the occasional sugary concoction. A long fall from the Jerry Thomas days.

So I can understand why a true craftsman (craftsperson?) in the cocktails area wouldn't want to be associated with the modern day image of "bartender." And, of course, there is a huge difference between the people shaking drinks at bars like Pegu Club, Milk & Honey and Flatiron Lounge and the people pouring beer and shots at the local bar or, worse yet, serving premix Margaritas at the local Bennigan's. On the other hand, I can also understand how someone with a real appreciation for cocktail history and an understanding of the proud provenance of "bartender" (which includes just about everyone at the aforementioned establishments) might prefer to stick with the old title.

Another interesting question is what to call people like Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, Julie Reiner, Dave Wondrich, Sasha Petraske, et al. -- people who design cocktails and cocktail lists, but who don't tend to do so much shaking behind the bar any more? If the men and women shaking drinks every day are like the "line cooks" and "sous chefs" of the cocktail world, Julie, Sasha and company are like "executive chefs." I suppose the best comparison to the culinary world might be with a sushi bar like Sushi Yasuda, where Yasuda-san is the head guy who determines the style and oversees the other sushi chefs, but the various sushi chefs at Sushi Yasuda interact directly with the customers and may make some adjustments/creations tailored to a specific customer or based on a request.

For me, I'm not fond of "bar chef." I like "bartender" and sometimes "mixologist."

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Maybe what's needed isn't a new title but a qualifier? Something like Master Bartender (to borrow from the world of gardening).

Of course this begs the question of what is a good/great bartender? To give an example:

Waiting for a table at one of those mid-level trying to be fancy restaurants that seem to be everywhere these days I order a Negroni at the bar. Three bartenders behind the bar and not one of them has even heard of it. One of them thinks there might be champagne involved. They refer to that black spiral bound book that has all the frat boy drinks in it and can't find it (it's in there, I checked). I finally have pity and tell them how to make it. The drink they hand me is actually a pretty good Negroni.

A few nights later I'm in a dive bar for karaoke night. Normally I'd play it safe and just get a beer, but I notice they have a pretty nice back bar so what the hey. The bartender , who looks like she could work in a biker bar, doesn't even blink. She reaches behind her and with one hand grabs the campari and vermouth and the gin in her other hand without even turning to look at the counter. It was a god-awful cocktail (probably due to the ingredients, the proportions were fine).

I'd go back to the dive, but I'll never go to that restaurant again even though in the ned they gave me the better drink.

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...

A few nights later I'm in a dive bar for karaoke night. Normally I'd play it safe and just get a beer, but I notice they have a pretty nice back bar so what the hey. The bartender , who looks like she could work in a biker bar, doesn't even blink. She reaches behind her and with one hand grabs the campari and vermouth and the gin in her other hand without even turning to look at the counter. It was a god-awful cocktail (probably due to the ingredients, the proportions were fine).

I'd go back to the dive, but I'll never go to that restaurant again even though in the ned they gave me the better drink.

Interesting anecdote trcroyle; I've had similar experiences.

Curious to know in what part of the country a divey type bar would have the mixings (and knowledge) to make a Negroni. (one of my favorite drinks).

Welcome to egullet, by the way!

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I understand your frustration, but I never, ever withhold information from a bartender if they don't know how to make the drink I've just ordered. If I see a blank look, I say the proportions right away. The point is to get the drink I want and nothing else.

As for bar chef, I don't like it and can't see ever using it. Even mixologist sounds like you're trying too hard. I like bartender. I know language is fluid and historical context tends to change what a word means, and the purpose is to communicate, yadda, yadda, but really, what next, we're going to rename a Martini since there are so many imposters?

regards,

trillium

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"Oi! Squire! Over here!" while waving money usually gets attention

"Oi! Squire!" is likely to get the ass-kicking kind of attention in any number of bars on this side of the pond. :smile:

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It is? That must explain it then..

Squire is an ancient honorific, in the sense of assistant and apprentice to a knight (presumably the bar owner). Squires served their knights and ladies at dinner, so is an appropriate and ancient form of address. It flatters the server by making the assumption that they are nobly born, and thus eligible to become a knight.

Better than "Garcon" or "Boy" (as in "another chotapeg, boy!") at any rate


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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It is? That must explain it then..

Squire is an ancient honorific, in the sense of assistant and apprentice to a knight (presumably the bar owner). Squires served their knights and ladies at dinner, so is an appropriate and ancient form of address. It flatters the server by making the assumption that they are nobly born, and thus eligible to become a knight.

Better than "Garcon"  or "Boy" (as in "another chotapeg, boy!") at any rate

That's all well and good, but you'll still get your ass kicked in any number of bars over here that way...

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That's all well and good, but you'll still get your ass kicked in any number of bars over here that way...

Although no more so than "guv'nor" I suppose. :smile:

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Another interesting question is what to call people like Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, Julie Reiner, Dave Wondrich, Sasha Petraske, et al. -- people who design cocktails and cocktail lists, but who don't tend to do so much shaking behind the bar any more

Beverage Director. A position I've held myself. It's the other side of Sommelier unless you're running a wine only bar.

I'm certainly not too proud to get behind the bar myself. In fact, I like to see that perspective as often as possible.

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"Oi! Squire! Over here!" while waving money usually gets attention

"Oi! Squire!" is likely to get the ass-kicking kind of attention in any number of bars on this side of the pond. :smile:

A friend and I were relaxing at the the bar in the restaurant where we worked (by which I mean getting wasted) after a shift, when we notice the Japanese gentleman next to us trying to get another round by calling "master, oh master," in the direction of the bartender. Being helpful types, we explained that that wasn't the polite way to get a drink in the U.S. "What you want to say, is 'hey asshole'." So, the poor guy starts calling "hey, asshole; hey, asshole." Just as the bartender's about to come over the bar and rip the Japanese guy a new, well, you know, he sees my buddy and I collapsing in laughter next to the tourist, figures out what's going on, and pulls up just in time to avoid an assault charge.

We bought a round, everybody had a laugh and in the end we had a long conversation about American obscene slang with the Japanese, who was an English teacher and at one point had us list a number of synonyms for the physical act of love in ascending order of offesiveness.

The funny thing was, though, the bartender really was an asshole.

I think creating new titles for perfectly respectable jobs reeks of condenscion when employers do it to you ("your pay isn't going up, but instead of 'salesman' you're now a 'customer service professional'") and pretense when employees do it themselevs. The best bartenders I've ever known were just "bartenders," but hey, people can call themselves what they want.

I've always wanted to be Minister of Propaganda, myself.

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I understand your frustration, but I never, ever withhold information from a bartender if they don't know how to make the drink I've just ordered.  If I see a blank look, I say the proportions right away. The point is to get the drink I want and nothing else.

It's not like I asked for something obscure. If there were a list of 50 basic drinks every decent bartender should know off the top of their head, I'd argue long and hard for the Negroni to be on it. So for me ordering a Negroni some place new is how I scope out the quality of the person behind the bar. It's very rare that I find a bartender who has the ingredients but doesn't know how to make one. This place even went so far as to have a changing list of house cocktails, which is usually a sign that the bartenders think they know their stuff. Negronis (negrones?) also really let a good bartender shine. If they make me a great one, I'll follow up by telling them what I'm in the mood for and see what they suggest.

For me, drinking out is much more about the experience. If all I wanted was a good drink, I'd stay home. It's certainly a lot cheaper!

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It's not like I asked for something obscure. If there were a list of 50 basic drinks every decent bartender should know off the top of their head, I'd argue long and hard for the Negroni to be on it. So for me ordering a Negroni some place new is how I scope out the quality of the person behind the bar.

This is a discussion for another thread, but the sad fact is that 95% of bartenders couldn't make you a Negroni if you pointed a gun at their heads. Because 95% of bartenders are there to serve beer, shots and the occasional highball.

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but the sad fact is that 95% of bartenders couldn't make you a Negroni if you pointed a gun at their heads.

Maybe what's needed isn't a different name for the good bartenders, but a different name for the bad ones.

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What do you call a professional who makes cocktails?

I'm sorry!

I popped in here expecting a punchline...

[ba-dum, bum!] :smile:

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This is actually an interesting question.

Another interesting question is what to call people like Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, Julie Reiner, Dave Wondrich, Sasha Petraske, et al. -- people who design cocktails and cocktail lists, but who don't tend to do so much shaking behind the bar any more? 

For them, particularly the scriveners among 'em, I like "Liquoratti". I bristle at Barchef and Mixologist too, but barchef did seem to work in Tony's program. I guess it works as a TV hook but irks when used as a title. And mixologist also works in some contexts--you'd call Embury one--but neither term is a substitute or even accurate description for bartender.

The bartender's role does not start or end at the drink. We're Constables when we keep the peace, Accountants while we keep the till, Entertainers when we tell the jokes, Priests when we hear confession, Doctors when we cure hiccups, Matchmakers when we make introductions, Shrinks when we simply listen, Salesmen when we get you off your Jack and Coke to Booker's and Coke, Judges when we settle disputes, Bookies when we settle your bet. We're the Gas Station when we give directions, Zagat's when we tell you the best Italian in town and Local Historians when we tell the story of the building you're now drinking in. Which reminds me, somewhere along the way, we make you the best Sidecar you ever 'et.

So what do you call someone like that? Bartender works just fine.

myers

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We're Constables when we keep the peace, Accountants while we keep the till, Entertainers when we tell the jokes, Priests when we hear confession, Doctors when we cure hiccups, Matchmakers when we make introductions, Shrinks when we simply listen, Salesmen when we get you off your Jack and Coke to Booker's and Coke, Judges when we settle  disputes, Bookies when we settle your bet. We're the Gas Station when we give directions, Zagat's when we tell you the best Italian in town and Local Historians when we tell the story of the building you're now drinking in.  Which reminds me, somewhere along the way, we make you the best Sidecar you ever 'et.

So what do you call someone like that?  Bartender works just fine.

myers

:laugh: well said....

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How about barkeep. We keep the bar from falling apart, we keep the peace, we keep on going, and going..., we keep up apperiances, we keep in mind a zillion things, We keep up the good work, we keep it togather, we have been known to be our brothers keeper, and we keep on keeping on. What about Gary Regans "cocktaillian?" I know it now refers to all people who are cocktail obsessed. And in referance to what one should call a barkeep to get their attention, I like "excuse me" then, "kind sir" or "rock star" or "Hero" depending in my mood. I hate buddy, sport, chief, big guy, dude, yo, io, "when you get a miniute", "No rush...But..." ect.

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I hate buddy, sport, chief, big guy, dude, yo, io, "when you get a miniute", "No rush...But..." ect.

Interesting. "Chief" is a title in the Navy that accompanies the highest noncommissioned officer ranks (e.g., "Chief Petty Officer," "Senior Chief Petty Officer," etc.), and it is common for people with this rank to be called simply "Chief." For this reason, "Chief" is often used by people who have been in the Navy or Coast Guard as an informal general-purpose honorific (sort of like a way of saying "sir" without the "you're my superior officer" vibe). My Grandfather, a career Navy officer and 1918 graduate of Annapolis, had colleagues who continued to call him "boss" informally, even after they had advanced to a higher rank than his.

Not sure what this meandering contributes to the dialogue, but mention it anyway. :smile:

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