What in the World is Flair Bartending?

What does your husband do?

This is a common question I’m constantly presented with. I normally respond with: “He’s a competitive flair bartender.”

The person asking usually offers a strange smile, a furrowed brow and even a tilted head. My good friend, Amanda Ashcraft, another flair enthusiast said, “When people ask me, I usually say something like: It’s when they “flip the bottles” while they make your drink (accompanied by a fast up and down hand motion to illustrate for the person visually).”

Both of us agree on what usually happens next: The person will say…”Ohhhhh, like that movie, Cocktail!

We then force a smile, because in the world of flair, this is like a bad joke that people keep telling over and over. You’ll understand why after reading this article.

According to Wikipedia, “flair bartending” is the practice of bartenders entertaining guests, clientele or audiences with the manipulation of bar tools (e.g. cocktail shakers) and liquor bottles in tricky, dazzling ways. Used occasionally in cocktail bars, the action requires skills commonly associated with jugglers.

Flair is a visual activity…you don’t really get it until you watch it. We’ve included plenty of videos and photographic references on the site, but while you’re here reading this article, it’s easier to break this topic up into three parts:

1) Flair is a sport

2) Flair is Entertainment

3) Flair Creates Efficient Bartenders

Flair is a Sport
Believe it or not, but thousands of bartenders all over the world take part in professionally judged competitions where thousands of dollars in prize money is awarded to winners. Some of the main organizing bodies for this sport are the Flair Bartending Association (FBA), the World Flair Association and the Independent Flair League (IFL).

Amanda told me about her first experience going to a competition. “I was with my cousin Cara, who was a bartender in Orlando at the time and knew of this competition in Las Vegas she wanted me to attend with her,” she said. “As soon as I walked into the Rio to this event called “Legends of Bartending” in 2007, I caught the enthusiasm and immediately wanted to start helping with the event so I could be more involved.”

And, she did just that. Amanda has helped the FBA by putting together gift bags, organizing the competitor registration process and assisting with all the little details at each event. Amanda is now Executive Assistant to both Ken Hall, President of High Spirits Enterprises and Jim Allison, FBA President and CEO.

My husband, Dan Seitz, introduced me to my first competition called “Nations” in 2006. It was held in Las Vegas, and after those three days, I was amazed at what I saw! Hundreds of bartenders from places like Argentina, Uruguay, Italy, Austria, UK, Canada, and Japan are all competing for prize money, trophies and bragging rights.

The energy at the event was intense. Professional photographers and videographers were documenting every move as the competitors flipped, mixed and poured their way through each qualifying round. The highly skilled judges (most of them former competitors) took notes and tallied the scores for those who made finals. This is the small few (around 8 or 9 competitors) who go on to compete for the real prize money. This particular event offered over $20,000 in cash & prizes to those who went on to the finals round!

The finals stage…wow. It could’ve been on ESPN with all the sponsor banners, high-end theatre lighting and 8-person judging panel down front. Similar to Amanda’s experience, I also wanted to get involved. At first I thought it might be through garnering more sponsors due to my marketing background. However, I decided my time would be best spent educating people, like yourself, about this amazing sport.

Flair is Entertainment
Earlier this year, Dan & I were in Louisville, KY for the 3rd Annual MyBar Flair Showcase. Once at the airport, we learned a few of our flair friends were flying in just behind us, so we decided to wait for them so we could all share a cab to the hotel. As each bartender arrived, the Flaircos started coming out of the bottle bags and a large corner of the airport became the stage. Dan, Joe Dormani and Nick Olliney became temporary entertainment for anyone wanting to watch. They were in their own world, smiling and laughing with each other as they juggled, tossed and flipped the indestructible practice bottles.

A small crowd soon gathered, and people began offering smiles and cheers as they continued to walk by. This is a small example of the entertainment power of what flair can do for a venue…even an airport. It was yet another confirmation for me that this sport needed to be out there MORE than it had been in the past.

Some of the most popular bars in the world are tourist destinations because they offer a complete staff of full-time flair bartenders (link to each):

Carnival Court – Las Vegas, NV
Kahunaville – Inside Treasure Island, Las Vegas, NV
Salty Dog Saloon – Springfield and Worcester, MA
Roadhouse – London, UK
Cohibar – Munich, Germany
Kahunaville Kalahari Resorts – Sandusky, OH and Wisconsin Dells, WI
Maloney’s – Southport, UK
Aura Ultra Lounge – Reno, NV
Luxy Nightclub – Tapei, Taiwan
LAB – Montreal, Quebec
Glacier – Omaha, NE
MyBar – New Albany, IN

If you’ve been to another flair bar, not listed here, let us know in the comments section!

Flair Creates Efficient Bartenders
What does “efficient” mean in regards to a bartender? In simple terms it means they make drinks faster and waste less inventory (i.e. spill less alcohol while pouring drinks).

I spoke with Mike McLean, Flairco’s Director of Sales and Marketing, about this theory of comparing flair bartenders to regular bartenders, and his response summarizes it best:

“Flair bartenders specifically train and practice in their free time to improve their efficiencies and accuracy for the skills they use on the job. By going above and beyond their fellow bartenders, flair bartenders learn how to accurately pour, multitask and, of course, provide entertainment to guests. As a result flair bartenders will consistently outsell their co-workers while maintaining a higher level of efficiency.”

Furthermore, the flair bartenders who compete on a regular basis are more adept at these efficiencies simply because they are regularly judged on categories like pouring, accuracy and speed. These skills obviously spill over (no pun intended) to their regular jobs.

As you can see, flair is many things to many people. So whether you’re interested in the sport, the entertainment or efficiency aspect of flair, there’s plenty of room for you to jump in and get involved.

I’d like to end this post with one of my favorite flair videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as3uPiI6ycg

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