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What’s the Difference Between a Bartender and a Mixologist?

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The terms “bartender” and “mixologist” are not interchangeable titles for the man or woman or robot or extremely well-trained dog serving you drinks from behind a bar. But the precise difference between those two terms is difficult to pin down. You can’t simply say that a barkeep who wears a bowtie is a mixologist, while someone who wears a tee shirt behind the stick is a bartender. Or that a mixologist stirs exclusively with his or her left hand, while a bartender doesn’t even own a mixing glass. In an attempt to allay our confusion, we asked a bevy of professional drink makers what they considered the differences.

Through this process we ascertained five incontrovertible facts: 1) Drink makers have very strong opinions on this topic. 2) There are a great number of differences between mixologists and bartenders. 3) No one can agree what they are. 4) There’s a lot of hate out there for people who call themselves mixologists. 5) We remain confused.

Welcome to the boozy end of the post-truth world. To help you navigate, we’ve organized the sentiments into some basic categories.

Basic Definitions

“Bartending is an action that both bartenders and mixologists undertake. The craft of creating and balancing subtle, nuanced liquid creations belongs to the mixologist.” Kevin Denton, national mixologist for Pernod Ricard USA

"A bartender makes drinks, while a mixologist makes drink recipes.” T. Cole Newton, bartender at The Troubadour, New Orleans, LA

“I see a bartender as someone who looks to deliver an experience through their interactions with a guest, whether verbally or through the drinks they deliver. On the flip side, I see a mixologist as an individual who seeks to push the boundaries of said experience through careful and precise delivery of items that tantalize or affect the senses.” DiSean Burns, bar manager at Stoke, Charlotte, NC

“Someone recently told me that the term ‘mixologist’ sounds more official, it sounds more like a career choice—perhaps similar to a chef versus a cook. I’m not so sure. Bartenders are an integral part of society that deal with a range of people with an even larger range of emotions every day. The fact that we think we need to change the name of our position to make it sound more official for people who have never been in the service industry is ridiculous.” Zach Berger, head bartender at Analogue, New York, NY

“The word 'mixologist' puts the emphasis on the creation of drinks, an important part of the job, however 'bartender' implies a sense of hospitality and caring.” Billy Nichols, bar manager at Faun, New York, NY   

"The ‘mixologist’ tag was a cheeky journalist's quip about taking punch from the bowl to the individual glass when the classic cocktails were created. Today, maybe the difference between someone that researches their back bar and someone who just shows up to clock in." Matty Eggleston, owner and head bartender at Spilt Milk Tavern, Chicago, IL

Anti-Mixologist Snark

“If the person making your drink self-identifies as a mixologist, beware: They are usually just a slow bartender with an elevated sense of their own importance." T. Cole Newton, bartender at The Troubadour, New Orleans, LA

Pro-Mixologist Arguments

“A bartender may know what ingredients are used in a particular cocktail but a mixologist knows why the cocktail is prepared with those ingredients.” Nikos Mantzaridis, head bartender at Gin + Collins, Miami Beach, FL

“Mixologists’ general understanding of flavors, pairings, mouthfeel and what makes a truly great cocktail is typically above that which you would find at your local sports bar or family restaurant.” DiSean Burns, bar manager at Stoke, Charlotte, NC

“Mixologists are artists with all of the flash and dazzle of a great bartender and a burning passion for creating inspired flavor combinations. They look at anything edible or potable and wonder what amazing concoctions they can make out of it.” Nikos Mantzaridis, head bartender at Gin + Collins, Miami Beach, FL

“To me, a mixologist is bartender who takes a culinary approach to cocktails and has a vast knowledge of spirits, wine, and food pairings. When a mixologist makes a cocktail they want it to appeal to all their guests' senses and show them something different and, most importantly, leave them wanting more.” Dan McLaughlin, bar manager at Oceana, New York, NY

More Anti-Mixologist Snark

“A mixologist mixes things in a way that feeds their ego and gives them a fancy title that seems more important than a bartender, when it's not.” Pamela Wiznitzer, creative director at Seamstress, New York, NY

Pro-Bartender Arguments

“Bartenders are all about the guest experience and making guests feel good, especially when they leave the bar.” Brian Means, corporate lead bartender for the Mina Group, San Francisco, CA

“My favorite definition was from Jim Meehan who said that, ‘A mixologist serves drinks. A bartender serves guests.’” Joaquín Simó, partner of Pouring Ribbons, New York, NY

“I've seen people call themselves a ‘mixologist’ and think they can make any drink in the world and recite what period of time it came from, but then they can't interact with a human being. A bartender, to me, is someone who knows what hospitality is.” Brian Means, corporate lead bartender for the Mina Group, San Francisco, CA  

"I'm a bartender. It's what I aspired to be: to host, chat and find ways to make people feel welcomed, happy and enjoying a drink. But I also enjoy learning how to better a drink, to get to know spirits fully.” Laurent Lebec, beverage director at Big Star, Chicago, IL

“Always aim to be a bartender!” Pamela Wiznitzer, creative director at Seamstress, New York, NY

“Be whatever you want to be, call yourself whatever you want, but I'm a bartender.” Zach Berger, head bartender at Analogue, New York, NY

"‘Mixologists,’ or those who prefer to bear that moniker, often make drinking difficult and make cocktails for themselves. Cocktails don't impress me, great bartenders do. When you ‘tend bar’ you put the people in front of you and their needs above your own. That and understanding seasonality, as well as basic knowledge of the classics, botany, wine, and spirits are essential to great bartending." Julian Cox, beverage director of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago, IL

Bonus Anti-Mixologist Snark

“Infusions and wacky syrups are all fun but they don't replace a friendly bartender who can make a good drink.” Billy Nichols, bar manager at Faun, New York, NY   

Can’t We All Just Get Along

“At the end of the day bartenders and mixologists have one thing in mind—to take care of the guest.” Nikos Mantzaridis, head bartender at Gin + Collins, Miami Beach, FL

“Being a great mixologist does not necessarily mean that one is a great bartender, and vice versa. You can come up with the craziest cocktails, bitters, tinctures and shrubs, but a 15 minute cocktail is still a 15 minute cocktail.” DiSean Burns, bar manager at Stoke, Charlotte, NC

“To me, as a term, mixologist may denote a ‘scientific’ approach to developing cocktails whereas a bartender simply executes drinks, pours beer, serves the guests and takes care of people. But these roles are not exclusive. Whichever title is used, we all just want guests to have a great experience every time and come back." Laurent Lebec, beverage director at Big Star, Chicago, IL

"I believe that previously, a mixologist was a term developed around the 'study of' cocktails, their history and the evolution of classics. Mixology often depicts a preciousness or treasuring of those traditions, often with tools, ingredients and garb that are of that time period or era. Bartender on the other hand, is a term rooted in physicality: someone who makes drinks. Nowadays, though, I think there is a melding of both, an amalgamation of making delicious things and making people happy, with contemporary classics that are inspired by tradition, old school nods that are revived, and everything in between" Eden Laurin, managing partner at The Violet Hour, Chicago, IL 

“For a long time, when people would ask, ‘Are you a bartender or a mixologist?’ I would immediately identify as the former and not the latter because of the negative connotation it held in my eyes. Now, I tend to identify as both.” DiSean Burns, bar manager at Stoke, Charlotte, NC

Some Parting Anti-Mixologist Snark

“Mixology makes me think of pompous, entitled kids that only want to make the drinks they like to make.” Brian Means, corporate lead bartender for the Mina Group, San Francisco, CA  

"Mixologists are bartenders who don't get invited to parties." Will Thompson, beverage director at Yvonne’s, RUKA and Lolita, Boston, MA 

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