There has always been a person in charge of making the beverages and serving them. In ancient times, it was a post-production job for women. The men grew and harvested the raw materials and women took the responsibility of cooking and preparing it into food and drink.
As serving meals became an occupation and watering holes opened for people to gather, familiar features began to appear. Someone standing behind a structure—a barrier (bar for short)—serving food and drink has been recorded throughout history. Romans called their structures thermopoliums. Their bar tops had holes, and jars of alcohol were set down into the bar and served with ladles.
Today in movies, television, music, and novels, bartenders are typically portrayed providing solace to the downtrodden, offering psychological advice to the confused, supplying private detectives with information, or being the life of the party.
The Art of Modern Bartending
By the 1950s, thanks to new household-appliance technology and war-free times, women began entertaining in their homes. Lo and behold, the cocktail party came into its own.
In the 1960s and 1970s, casual dining restaurant/bar chains permeated the nation, introducing sweetened froufrou drinks that resulted in the decline of bartending as an art and the incline of sales. The 1988 film Cocktail created a new category of bartender—one who puts on a show and entertains customers by flipping glasses and bottles.
Before They Were Famous
Many famous people tended bar—Bill Cosby, Bruce Willis, Sandra Bullock, Dave Matthews, and Ellen DeGeneres, to name a few. Others, like Brad Pitt, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Garner, Kevin Bacon, and Jennifer Aniston, were servers, but probably would've become bartenders if they hadn't been discovered.
The 1990s produced high-end beer, wine, and spirits that set the foundation for higher quality cocktails created by bar chefs and mixologists at the turn of the century.
Today you'll find bartenders specializing in blowing fire, flipping bottles, dancing half-naked on a bar top, and using only fresh ingredients. There's also your reliable average Joe down the street at your local bar. Just know that the majority of bartenders are the latter.