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Flair Bartending

By Teresa Opdycke

The weekend is finally here. Before heading home a good share of workers like to stop off at the local watering hole for a drink to relax, unwind, and put another week's toil to rest. The bartender flashes a smile that would charm the pants off anyone and takes your order. He doesn't just mix your drink and set it before you on the bar counter. He tosses the glass in the air, pours a long stream of vodka into the glass, flips the bottle back where it belongs, adds the tonic water with a wry grin, quickly garnishes with a lime, and before placing the drink in front of you, he gives the napkin a quick twirl setting the glass neatly on the napkin, all without spilling a drop. The urge to stand up and loudly applaud overcomes you, but instead you leave a healthy tip for his talents at flair bartending.

Flair bartending presents your drink with more than lending an ear to troubles and woes, serving drinks with style and of course, flair is the hallmark of working flair bartenders. A flamboyant performance of juggling, spinning, tossing, and flipping bottles, shakers, glasses, and any appropriate bar tools comprise the tricks of competition or exhibition flair bartenders.

Just where did flair bartending come from? No one knows for certain, but individuals down through the ages have added their own twists to bartending. In the 1800s, a man named Jerry, “The Professor” Thomas traveled about enthralling audiences and clientele with his bartending showmanship. He invented a drink called the Blue Blazer, a concoction of boiling water poured into Scotch. The drink was lit and set ablaze for the delight and awe of the onlookers. The Professor then adroitly poured the flaming brew from one glass to another. He took his occupation seriously and it must have garnered him respect and monetary reward as he traveled with solid silver bar tools entertaining the patrons of bars. TGI Friday's was the first bar/restaurant to hold a flair bartending competition. The winner, John “JB” Brady dazzled the crowd and in turn taught his “craft” to Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown for the movie, Cocktail.

In the spirit of competition performance bartending also called exhibition bartending pits the talents of flair bartenders against each other. Each attempting to wow audiences in his/her own way. Often choreographed to music, competition flair bartending requires juggling, tossing, flipping, spinning bottles and bar tools with absolutely no spilling. The atmosphere at competitions is fun, light-hearted with drinkable drinks. Las Vegas is the current center for flair bartending and the Flair Bartenders Association (FBA) governs the competitions.

Competition bartending entertains exclusively, unlike working flair which is a more subtle performance with the end result a perfect mixed drink served with panache. A working flair bartender creates a signature move or moves that he/she uses to attract attention. A charismatic personality who works on perfecting the basic bartending tasks and adds flair creates an upbeat atmosphere of fun and laughter. What does adding flair to a bartender's night garner him/her at the end of his shift? The attention of the crowd, healthy tips, and just maybe a self-satisfied smile knowing he/she not only serves up great drinks, but does it with flair.
The next time you're out painting the town red, watch the bartender at the trendy bar. Does he have a signature move that he repeats over and over? How about a winning smile, a coquettish wink? Is she flipping the shaker before she pours the vodka in? You'll know flair bartending when you see it…you just can't miss it. So sit back, relax, sip your drink, and let yourself be entertained. It's all in a fun night's work!