There's a saying that goes, "A bartender is the aristocrat of the working class." They're the men (and women) who persevere behind the bar, patiently serving you your beer, wine, or cocktail, and simultaneously acting as your therapist, bouncer, relationship expert, wingman, and imaginary boyfriend (no? just us?). The role of the bartender is one that has stood the test of time, yet has evolved into a profession that's unlike any other.
There have been bartenders just about as long as there has been wine, beer, and other fermented drinks, since the early 13th century. And when the Europeans came to settle America, the bartenders came with them. Every era of American history has had the archetypal bartender: the saloon owner in the days of the Gold Rush, the pre-Prohibition bartenders serving bathtub gin, the cocktail shakers and makers during the golden age of cocktails (or, as we now call it, the Mad Men era). And these men and women have shaped how, and what, we drink today.
[slideshow: It's remarkable to see how the forefathers of mixology, starting back with Jerry Thomas in 1887, are still making their mark today. While the exuberant flair bartending skills of "The Professor" have fallen out of style today, the art of the cocktail hasn't — even after the wave of terrible mixed drinks in the 1970s and 1980s. After all, who would have thought that the drinks in front of us these days would use liquid nitrogen and out-of-this-world culinary techniques? If it weren't for the mixologists, we'd have never known the true luxury of a cocktail. And much as other professions have evolved to include all genders and races, bartending has also grown to include the notable contributions of African-Americans and women. After all, the coolest bartenders we know come in all shapes and sizes.
From the original cocktail master Jerry Thomas and his cocktail brothers to the craft cocktail "kings" of today (here's lookin' at you, DeGroff), the role of the bartender (and mixologists, with slightly more negative connotations) will continue to evolve. Hell, we can't believe that something like a robot bartender exists. But in the end, we commend these 10 bartenders — and all the fine people serving us drinks — for giving us good drinks in a good atmosphere.