The Insider's Guide to Bartender Lingo (Part 2)

As you may or may not know, bartenders and folks in the hospitality industry have evolved their own unique lexicon, one that serves numerous functions. Primarily, a terminology unique to an industry helps to create a useful shorthand for all those involved—it's a quick and easy ways to convey information or requests in an environment that's often fast-paced, frenetic, and rushed. "86 that," means cancel the order. "Burn the ice," means melt the ice because something has fallen into it (often glass). A "drain pour" is a drink that's just too bad to serve or finish.

A unique vocabulary also enables colleagues behind the bar to communicate in a kind of secret language that's not commonly understood by the general public. It's a stealthy way for bartenders, waiters, and other service staff to let each other know about problem patrons, or issues to be aware of. If you're referred to as a "fruit bat," for example, it's probably because you're eating the fruit at the bar that's intended for the garnishes. (This is frowned upon, by the way.)

Last May, we did a newsletter with a round up of our favorite bartender terms, but since then, we've come across a bunch more. Of course, we want to share them with you.

    50/50 shot: A shot featuring two ingredients measured in equal parts. One of the most common 50/50s often involves Fernet-Branca and another spirit mixed together.

    Amaroulette: Originated at the Fifty Fifty Gin Club in Cincinnati, this term is used by guests when they want the bartender to pick what brand of amaro they’ll drink as a shot.

    “Are you mad at me?” At Accomplice Bar in Los Angeles, a bartender might pose this question to a colleague when they’re in the weeds. “We ask each other this when we know no one is mad at us,” explains beverage director Ramsey Musk, “just to lighten the mood.”

    Barbacking: Traditionally used to describe the entry-level position of assisting the bartender on duty, the phrase “barback for me,” when requested during a shift, is an ask for another bartender to discreetly get a guest’s name.

    Bartender’s handshake: A shot ordered (or offered) to identify (or acknowledge) a fellow bartender. Whereas Fernet-Branca was once the go-to bartender’s handshake, it's now common to send Chartreuse, Jeppson’s Malört, and even Angostura bitters. (Our dream? One day, Batch 22 becomes the classic bartender's handshake.)

    Blip: Also known as a “cheeky,” “little guy” or “shorty,” this refers to small or mini shots that staff members share together or with guests, sometimes during a “staff meeting” (see below)

    Boomerang: This is when a bartender sends a cocktail to another bar or bartender, typically through a trusted intermediary who also works in the industry, as a gift or sign of camaraderie. At establishments like DrinkWell in Austin, Texas, the term serves a second purpose: “We also use this when R&D’ing cocktails to denote the drinks on the menu that are going to be popular with our industry friends. E.g., ‘Oh, this is a solid boomerang drink,’” explains owner Jessica Sanders.

    Burn the ice: This is a term used when faucet water must be continuously run over cocktail ice to melt the leftover supply at the end of the night (or when broken glass falls in the ice well). Many eco-conscious bars eschew this practice as unnecessarily wasteful, so many bars have evolved various alternatives for disposing of leftover ice, such as using it to water plants or clean select bar areas.

    Cheater bottle: An unlabeled, standard-size bottle that fits easily into a bar well, into which the contents of an oddly shaped spirits bottle are transferred to expedite and simplify service. 

    Civilians: Guests who do not work in the hospitality industry.

    Close-looping: The practice of using ingredients in their entirety to create a zero-waste drink.

    Club Sandwich: This is another form of a bartender’s handshake; the Club Sandwich is the combination of a beer and a shot (also known as a boilermaker).

    Dirty dump: The practice of pouring a shaken drink from the cocktail shaker into the glass without straining it. The technique changes the texture of the drink and sometimes the flavor, if, for instance, muddled fruit is part of the recipe.

    Down: When a drink is served in a rocks glass with no ice, like a Sazerac.

    (Joining the) Empty Bottle Club: When a guest gets the last pour of a special or rare bottle, an act generally documented with a picture of the bottle lying on its side.

    Flash-blend: When a cocktail is blended using a flash blender (sometimes known as a stand-up mixer, spindle blender, or Hamilton Beach) for a few seconds with a small amount of crushed ice. This aerates the drink while chilling it quickly and is especially effective for tropical cocktails.

    Fruit bat: A guest who eats the pieces of fruit on the bar that are intended for garnishing.

    Fuzzy: At Nightmoves in Brooklyn, the bartender explains that a drink is “fuzzy” when it is “pushed out of a small home-brew keg with CO2 and kept under pressure so [it has] a light effervescence but [isn’t] force-carbonated.”

    Garbage: Muddled fruit, herbs or other ingredients that remain in the bottom of a glass or shaker tin.

    Gaudy: A “gaudy” cocktail is one presented (often on social media) with over-the-top elements, such as dry-ice smoke and various tall and bulky decorative items.

    Grab Rangoon: The term is used at Nine Bar in Chicago to describe a person who is “overly or inappropriately touchy or grabby.”

    Layback: The act of bending backwards, or “laying back,” while someone else pours a shot straight from a bottle into the first person’s mouth.

    Shampoo: Code for a splash of Champagne added to a cocktail.

    Shifty: A liqueur, spirit or mixed drink consumed as a bar team, before, after or during a shift. Also called a “shift drink,” “onesies” or “cheeky.” At bars where alcohol consumption is no longer allowed during a shift, the “shifty” might be a shot of espresso, alcohol-free spirit or another beverage.

    Sloppy steak: Nine Bar co-owner Lily Wang says the staff at her bar use this term for a person who is “sloppy drunk or wasted.”

    Snaquiri, or Snaq: An amuse-bouche cocktail given to friends or special guests upon arrival at the bar. Originally two full-sized Daiquiris, bars now also serve a smaller (often shot-size) Daiquiri as a more approachable version.

    Spaggled:  “Spaggle,” or “spaggled,” is a “crude interpretation of Sbagliato,” says Josh Lindley of Bartender Atlas (referring to the Negroni Sbagliato). “‘Spaggling’ is adding sparkling wine to an already finished cocktail.

    Spiritfree: In 2017, Julia Momosé, owner of Kumiko in Chicago, released a written manifesto in which she advocated for the use of the term “spiritfree” in place of the more ubiquitous “mocktail” to give drinks made without alcohol the same respect and power as their alcohol-bearing counterparts. As the movement has grown, other terms, such as “alcohol-free,” “no-ABV” and “zero-proof,” have also become common, while “mocktail” has even begun to be reclaimed by some.

    Sprotini: Shorthand for an Espresso Martini, “Sprotini” is “a great example of a use of shorthand becoming the new and ubiquitous word for a thing,” says Yacht Club owner Mary Allison Wright, where the term originated.

    Staff meeting: When a bar team takes a small shot together before, during or after a shift. Variations include “family meal,” “safety meeting,” “guild meetings,” “snack time” and “staff bonding,” among others. When Daiquiris are the drink in question, the phrase “Daiquiri Time Out” or DTO, is often called. Some bars have more specific code names: for example, “Uncle Ray is in Town” is code for J. Wray & Nephew rum shots at Drastic Measures near Kansas City.

    Superjuice: An alternative to fresh citrus juice, superjuice is a combination of citrus peels and acid powder plus water, all of which is blended and fine-strained, then combined with fresh juice squeezed from the peeled fruit. Many bartenders make superjuice to close the loop on waste and increase the yield of their citrus.

    Training wheels, or wheels: The staff at Yacht Club, explains that bartenders refer to “training wheels” to describe the act of taking a “back,” or a piece of fruit, with a shot to make it easier to drink.

    Water bombs: These are glasses of water chugged by the staff (usually together) to stay hydrated during a shift.

    Whip shake: A very short and fast shake with a small amount of crushed or pebble ice. A whip shake quickly chills the drink without adding too much dilution while also maximizing froth.