Terminology is usually not too important when it comes to drinking. Most of us who enjoy this hobby are not too picky about most things drinking-related. Sometimes words are unnecessary; pointing and nodding have been known to get the job done – especially when overseas.
This question of the importance of words also applies to those pouring the drinks – the bartender. This title has been used and accepted over many, many years. Yet recently I read an article specifying gender to the title: bartender for male; bartendress for female.
To some, the feminization of this traditional title could be construed as negative. However, I encourage the distinction; the word is sultry and seductive, giving the impression and allure of feminine wile and wit. When picturing the word, the bartender (or barman for the truly traditional) is a gentleman in a shirt and tie, apron neatly tucked and shirtsleeves rolled. Yet a bartendress is altogether different: engaging and mysterious, simultaneously commanding liquor bottles and gentlemen’s attention.
Although opinionated, I am no expert. So I contacted Derek Brown, another DC local who’s considered “a leading voice in the emerging cocktail renaissance” and co-owner of The Passenger, coincidentally a favorite local cocktail bar. Derek asserts the gender-neutral bartender works best, as other terms such as mixologist, bar chef, and mixicologist, are overly controversial.
Regardless of what you believe (or envision) a bartendress or barman to mean, the best practice is to learn the first name of the man or woman pouring your drink. Exchange pleasantries when pulling up a barstool or simply smile and say hello. Chances are you’ll receive the same in return and perhaps after a few visits, even make a new friend.