Flair Bartending

Photo from John "JB" Bandy/ Animated 1998 flair gif courtesy of Dan the Melon Man

“The barkeeper and his assistants possess the agility of acrobats and the prestidigitative skill of magicians. They are all bottle conjurors.—They toss the drinks about; they throw brimful glasses over their heads; they shake the saccharine, glacial and alcoholic ingredients in their long tin tubes. They scourge eggs and cream into froth; they send bumpers shooting down the bar from one end to the other without spilling a drop; they give change, they talk politics, tell quaint anecdotes, swear strange oaths, smoke, chew and expectorate with astonishing celerity and dexterity. I should like to be a barkeeper, if I were clever enough.

-1853 Charles Dickens | Household Words | Describing NYC Barkeeper       George Sala  

-1856 Brooklyn Daily Eagle

-1857 The Western Literary Messenger

 

Modern dictionaries define the word "Flair" as style, talent, and unique quality. For today’s general public, the term Flair Bartending conjures up images of Tom Cruise juggling liquor bottles in the 1988 film, Cocktail. There’s no doubt that this film was the spark that ignited the flame for the late twentieth-century explosion of performance bartending.

Flair Bartending Beginnings

When did flair bartending begin? No one really knows of course, but the act of juggling and performance has been recorded in many civilizations including China, India, Greece, Mexico, and Polynesia. There was even an Egyptian wall painting showing females juggling in 1700 BC. Jesters, bards, and fools were known to juggle, and the probability of such skills making its way to local village drinking houses are very high. Maybe an inspired tavern owner flipped a flagon or two or slid a goblet down the wood.

 

In the 1600s, the Dutch artist, Jan Steen, painted many tavern scenes. One shows a long-pour with a wine pitcher into a conical shaped glass.

 

What about fire? Well, if 1995 writers can add a fire-breathing character named Xena to Greek mythology then maybe a pub owner somewhere through history sparked up things with their own alcoholic fire show. 

 

Professor Jerry Thomas is considered to be the first known and recorded flair bartender because of his showmanship while serving cocktails. He traveled with a custom made set of solid silver bar tools and was considered a true performer behind the bar. His Blue Blazer drink was lit on fire then poured back and forth creating quite a show. He is also credited with publishing the first known American cocktail recipe book in 1862.

Jan Steen painting "The way you hear it, is the way you sing it." / Public Domain / Wiki Commons

Jerry Thomas | Public Domain

1995 Xena the Warrior Princess / whoosh.org

Today, flair bartending is not about just juggling bottles. For the average bartender, flair just means a personal style, a fresh way of making something ordinary extraordinary. Why not flip a shaker tin once before you put ice into it then use both hands to pour two liquors into the shaker tin? It takes the same amount of time yet adds a certain flair, style, and showmanship. This is called "working flair" which spread in the late 1990s when exhibition bartenders were forced to develop and perfect new moves that were low risk yet had high impact and did not slow their speed of service to satisfy bar owners and managers. Flair can be the way you spin a cocktail napkin, tell a joke, pour a beer, handle a crowd, or stack shot glasses. Elements of flair can be found in many other professions as well. Have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant and watched the chef throw an egg in the air that falls and cracks perfectly on the edge of the spatula? That’s flair!

The Grandfathers of Flair Bartending

original-TGI-Fridays-NYC1.jpg

T.G.I. Friday's focus on training their bartenders' flair in the 1970s and 1980s and host the first known flair bartending competition. The three competitors were JB” Bandy, John Mescall, and “Magic” Mike Werner.

T.G.I.Friday's

01_06 copy.jpg

John "JB" Bandy wins of the first T.G.I. Friday’s Bar Olympics then put out the very first flair bartending video . He was hired as the bartender choreographer for the 1988 film Cocktail starring Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown. Watch a 2018 Skype interview here.

John "JB" Bandy

24232662_10155987454357053_8105174979007

Wayne Collins was the first flair bartender in London, England. He worked at the Roadhouse bar, which is now home to the largest flair bartending competition in Europe.

Wayne Collins

Photo-2-Church-Street-Station-circa-92.j

Alan Mays started flair bartending in 1987 at Orlando's Church Street Station. In 1999, he helped open the first flair bar in Las Vegas, and co founded the FBA with Tobin Ellis. Read his story here.

Alan Mays

48097_10151640189832189_117417087_n.jpg

Ken Hall started flair bartending in 1992 at Rock-n-Roll Beach Club at Pleasure Island/ Walt Disney World. He won many competitions, helped create the Quest for the Best competition, helped open the first Vegas flair bar, created a style of 3-bottle juggling flair, and created the Legends of Flair competition.

Ken Hall

19049_475692170018_7185577_n.jpg

Tobin Ellis and Alan Mays founded the Flair Bartender's Association in 1997. Ellis serves as President and Jim Allison is Vice President.

Flair Bartender's Association

Dean_vortex.jpg

Dean Serneels invents the first flair bottle and first bar unit that folds up into a suitcase which is used at flair competitions. His site then was Flairco.com.

Dean Serneels

header1.jpg

Ken Hall and Alan Mays create Legends of Bartending, the first independent World Bartending Championship and most prestigious bartending competition in the world.

Legends of Bartending

be_at_one_richmond_cocktail_bar_photos_l

Leigh Miller, Paul Mason, Rhys Oldfield and Steve Lock start the first independent flair bar in London known as B@1 (Be at One).

Be@1

mike&jimmy.jpg

Magic Mike Werner and Jimmy Skeadas were Friday's bartenders who were instrumental in the creation of flair bartending. They also started the first flair company, Showtenders.

Magic Mike Werner

Jimmy Skeadas

mannequins.jpg

Todd Connell, Ken Hall, and Kent Brooks created the first international flair competition Quest for the Best at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island inside the nightclub Mannequins.

Todd Connell, Ken Hall, Kent Brooks

barcontrols_2268_5802857.gif

Chuck Rohm opened the first flair bartender store Bottles-Up on the Internet in 1991!. He also sold the first flair bartender video on the Internet.

Chuck Rohm

0.jpeg

Todd Connell helps create Quest for the Best competition and in 1999 helps open the first flair bar in Las Vegas. I remember the day he told me about going to Vegas. We were working at Disney's Pleasure Island.

Todd Connell

27ef868543abf9c4e16439c1aeb8f0bd.jpg

Tobin Ellis started the first full flair website barmagic.com. It was the first website to rank flair bartenders and flair bars around the world. Ellis coined the phrase, Flair Bar, and was the first to perform flair on the Food Network.

Tobin Ellis

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 8.25.18 AM.png

Ken Hall, Alan Mays, Todd Connell, and Steve Bushur  open the first flair bar in Vegas at the Voodoo Lounge atop the Rio. Vegas bartenders Eric Holbert and Guy Guerra helped welcome and introduce this new concept bar.

Voodoo Lounge the Vegas Rio

work1-ONE.jpg

Scott Young produces the first series of flair videos.

Scott Young

1505046804671.jpeg

Jim Allison and Tobin Ellis are the first to arrange a US National TV special on Flair Bartending on the Food Network.

MARTIN REED

flairbar_index_r2_c01.gif

Rick Barcode and Rob Husted start the first online flair website flairbar.com. It is still active today.

FlairBar.com

Christian Delpech

Soon time went by and the new generation took over. The fastest rising star was most certainly Christian Delpech who went on to win more than 80 competitions. You can read more about Delpech on my Famous & Influential Bartenders page.

Flair Bartending in Media

As far as I know, I am the first to write about flair bartending in my 2006 book Miss Charming's Guide for Hip Bartenders and Wayout Wannabes. In 2005, I spent a lot of time contacting people to gather the list of "The Grandfather's of Flair" that you read above. To the right are some images that I created for the book that I had on my last site.

under construction...adding more soon!

Contact Me!
cheryl@misscharming.com
You can use this address or the
contact form to the right...up to you.

If you don't hear back from

me in a timely manner then
Facebook message me.
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black LinkedIn Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black YouTube Icon
  • Pinterest - Black Circle