Knowing bar terms and bar lingo is good for three things. First, giving you insight into what all those wonderful people behind the stick (read on, we'll explain) are doing. Second, making it easier to get exactly what you want at the bar. And last, and definitely not least, sounding cool.
Ready to get what you want and sound cool? Obviously. Here's all the bartender terms, lingo, and slang we could get our hands on, all for you.
#-deep: 2-deep, 3-deep, etc., refers to how many people are waiting in line to get drinks at the bar.
Autograt: Gratuity put on a party's check automatically, usually because of party size.
Back: A milder drink taken after a shot or neat glass of liquor, e.g., a shot of whiskey with a pickle back is a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice.
Bartender's handshake: A gift from one bartender to another, usually in the form of a shot and free.
Behind: Called out when making one's location known when not in the line of sight, to avoid running into any other barbacks, bussers, or bartenders behind the bar.
Behind the stick: Working behind the main bar, as opposed to working out in the cocktail area or service station; thought to refer to the keg tap levers (learn: how long does beer last in a keg untapped).
Bev nap: Short for beverage napkin, the small paper napkins placed beneath drinks instead of coasters.
Bitters: A concentrated herbal alcoholic blend frequently added to cocktails to enhance flavor (side note for those wondering what bitters are: Angostura bitters is the most widely-used and was invented in 1824 by a German physician for stomach maladies) You can even learn how to make bitters using a bitters recipe.
Blend: To mix up ingredients and ice in an electric blender; depending on where you live, these could be called frozen drinks or blended drinks.
Boomerang: A drink sent, usually via a trustworthy customer, from a bartender at one bar to a bartender at another; worth reading more about.
Broken: Obviously used to describe a physically broken bottle, but also used in reference to a bottle that was killed or emptied.
Build: To make a drink starting with ice and then systematically adding the other ingredients to build the cocktail.
Burn the ice: Pouring hot water into an ice bin to melt the ice; usually because a glass has broken over the ice bin.
Burnt: Refers to the burnt martini, a martini with a small bit of Scotch added; some recipes call for 1:2 scotch to gin, while others call for just a few drops of Scotch.
Call drink: A drink ordered with both the specific liquor name and the specific mixer name, e.g., Jack and Coke, Tanqueray and tonic.
Chaser: Anything consumed immediately after a shot or neat drink
Chill: To add ice to a glass or place a glass in a freezer or cooler briefly, so a cocktail can be poured into a cold glass
Clopening: Closing one night and opening the next morning; arguably more inconvenient than the dreaded double
Cocktail: An alcoholic mixed drink, which is either a mix of spirits or one or more spirit mixed with other ingredients like water, soda, juice, or flavored syrup (here are the cocktails every bartender should know)
Comp: An item removed from a customer's bill
Cooler: An alcoholic-based bottled beverage offered in a variety of different alcohols—vodka, types of rum, wine—which comes in a variety of flavors (e.g. Smirnoff Ice, Wildberry cooler, Mike’s Hard Lemonade)
Corner: What bartenders, or anyone on the restaurant floor or in the kitchen, say when they're turning a blind corner to prevent collisions with unseen staff
Dash: A few drops of an ingredient (often cocktail ingredients)
Dirty: The addition of olive juice to a martini
Double: A drink with double the amount of alcohol as the standard recipe calls for
Double (Shift): A work schedule that requires working both the day and evening shift
Dry: The reduction of vermouth in a martini
Finger: An antiquated unit of measurement, equal to the width of a person's finger
Flame: Setting a drink on fire; Sambuca is often lit on fire to heat it up before putting the flame out and drinking it. Another common flaming liquor is 151-proof rum, which is very flammable. Do not flame drinks unless you're a trained professional.
Float: A liquor, mixer, or syrup that is slowly poured on top of a drink to create layering
Free pour: Pour liquor directly into a glass without using a jigger or shot glass to measure the quantity; often done by experienced bartenders who can count on accurate pours
Frost: A glass dipped in water, drained, then put in a freezer; used often with beer mugs
Garnish: Added to a drink after it's been made to either add something to the flavor profile or aroma or enhance the drink's appearance, e.g., orange zests, cherries, etc.
High top: The taller tables near the bar that a cocktail server or cocktail bartender covers; usually use stools
Highball: Liquor mixed with soda water, served in a highball (tall, slim) glass
House pour: The well or rail liquor the bar offers, as opposed to top-shelf and premium drinks
In the weeds: When someone is so busy—often overwhelmed—that they can’t catch up and service quality takes a hit
Jigger: A small hourglass-shaped measuring device used by bartenders to pour accurately
Last call: Letting patrons know to get their final drink orders in because the bar, well, she be a' closin'
Layering: A shot or drink with heavier alcohol on the bottom and lighter alcohol floated on top it; done using a careful pour down the side of the glass or over an inverted spoon
Long: A mixed drink served in a tall glass with a fairly large volume, typically 6-9 ounces
Mise en Place: Pronounced "meez ehn plahs" (beret required), roughly translated as "everything in its place," and used to describe a bartender's work environment with particular focus on garnish tray, cocktail straws, and napkins
Mixer: Non-alcoholic substance that accompanies alcohol in drinks; can be water, soda, juice, energy drinks etc.
Mixology: The art of creating and mixing cocktails
Muddle: To mash ingredients with a muddler, a special tool for grinding and crushing ingredients into the bottom and sides of a glass
Neat: A drink straight from the bottle, typically served in a rocks glass; no ice, no nothin'
On the fly: When a drink is needed immediately, usually because the original order was wrong, unsatisfactory, or spilled, it's asked for "on the fly"
On the rocks: Served with ice, typically in a rocks glass
Point: The part of a bar closest to the entrance; typically the highest-traffic part of a bar and worked by the best bartender
Pony: A 1-ounce shot, as opposed to the standard 1.5-ounce shot (make sure you know how many shots in a handle)
Premium: Premium alcohol or top-shelf liquor (e.g. the well or bar rail gin is Beefeater and the premium is Tanqueray)
Rim a glass: To wet a glass's rim in a rimmer and press the glass into salt, celery salt, or sugar
Rocks glass: Also known as the Old Fashioned glass or the lowball, it's the standard glassware for serving liquor with ice cubes
Service bartender: Bartender who works at the service station and prepares drinks for customers not at the bar, i.e., the dining room (especially at fine dining establishments), the patio, the cocktail area, etc. They still have their alcohol server certification.
Shake: To shake drink ingredients together in a shaker
Shooter: A small mixed drink taken as a shot, usually about 2-3 ounces
Shot: 1.5 ounces of straight liquor taken all at once
Sour: The sour bar mix—equal parts lemon or lime juice and simple syrup (make sure your bartenders know what does one part mean)—that's used to make whiskey sours, vodka sours, margaritas, etc.
Speed rail: The rack that sits behind the bar, but facing the bartender, that holds all the most commonly ordered (re: cheapest or well) liquors
Spill: When a drink doesn't make it to the guest due to being made incorrectly—or actually being spilled—it's typically put in the bar POS system as a "spill."
Stir: To stir drink ingredients together with a bar spoon
Straight up / up: A drink shaken or stirred then strained and served in a stemmed glass without ice
Strain: The act of pouring a drink after shaking or stirring, often through a strainer but also through the side of a shaker, into a glass
Toddy: A sweet alcoholic drink cut with hot water, often served with warm spices like cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg
Top shelf: The highest quality and most expensive bottles of alcohol available, often kept on the top shelf because they're not used that often
Turn: One guest getting up from a table and another sitting down is known as one turn of that table
Twist: A piece of citrus zest (a thin, curled slice of a citrus fruit peel) added to a drink for flavor or decoration, either in the drink directly or hanging on the side of the glass
Virgin: A drink with no alcohol in it
Well drinks: Usually interchangeable with rail drinks and house pour, it's the lowest-cost liquor the bar has available
Wet: A drink with more of the mixer and less of the alcohol than the standard recipe calls for
And That's Bartender Lingo
Learning bartender lingo and bar terms benefits everyone. If you're a bar-goer, you'll be able to whip out your bar lingo and order drinks like a pro. If you bartend, knowing bartender terms is part of the job.
We're adding new bar lingo to this list of bartender terms all the time! It's a project that will likely last for all time, because new bartender terms are being created every day.