Flair Bartenders Actually Compete?!

Until I went to my first competition, I had NO idea flair bartending was a professional sport. I know what you’re probably thinking – “So what! I hear underwater hockey and cheese rolling are also ‘sports.'” However, to say these guys and gals compete in “little” events for “neat” prizes “like in the movie Cocktail” is about like saying the World Series is equivalent to a little league tee-ball game.

Competitions are why most people become flair fans. Watching competitions is exciting, crazy and sometimes even dangerous (especially if you’re down front when a bartender breaks a bottle). This post will be a brief explanation on how competitions work, what’s at stake for competitors, and where flair competitions are held. Hopefully you’ll gain a better understanding of why this sport has become so popular.

The best way to describe what these competitions are really like is to refer to one of my favorite write ups from the 2006 Nations International Flair Challenge DVD:

Every bartender who has spilled his own blood trying to master the dangerous age-old art form known as flair has dreamed of having just one round that makes the entire planet take notice. Every man or woman who has bruised and banged up their bodies and filled garbage cans with broken glass flipping bottles has imagined being under the lights, in front of the cameras and the crowd, having the round of their lives. If you have ever competed, then you know that tiny, little voice inside you that faintly whispers, “I think I can win this…”

How Flair Competitons Work

Because there are hundreds of competitions all over the world, many are hosted and judged by different people and groups. However, the Flair Bartending Association (FBA) is probably the first and most prominent group to consistently organize competitions with formally trained judges, outstanding staff and top notch sponsors.

In addition, the FBA has created a set of categories with standardized definitions and points. By “standardized,” they mean that both competitors and judges understand what is expected in each category, no matter if the competition is in Las Vegas, Toronto, London, Moscow or Tokyo.

Judges base their comments and scores on categories like Difficulty, Originality, Technical Execution, Smoothness, Variety and Balance of Routine. For each category, the points scale is broken down into five levels: “Below Average,” “Average,” “Above Average,” “Advanced” and “Best in the World.” Every category is judged based on the world of competitive flair today, which obviously can change after every competition if a bartender raises the level with their performance. We’ll go into more detail about what each category really involves in a future post.

When a judge scores a flair bartender, they consider the routine as a whole, not just certain moves, to determine the score for each category. Using the Difficulty category as an example, if a flair bartender performs a routine with moderate difficulty and a few really hard moves, they will score lower than a flair bartender that performs a routine with greater difficulty, even if the second flair bartender’s moves do not match the few really hard moves of the first flair bartender. It is more difficult for a flair bartender to perform at a higher skill level for a whole routine versus just a few moves.

What’s at Stake for Flair Bartenders?

The most surprising thing I learned about going to a flair competition is how much money was involved for the winners. Top flair bartenders can make a living off of competing. In fact, many of the professionals are at or above earning six figures a year. Surprising? Check out the first place checks for some of the latest competitions:

Legends of Bartending (XI) – $10,000 USD
Super Flair Canada – $5,000 CAD
Quest 2008 – $5,000 USD
Nations 2008 – $10,000 USD
Best in the West – $5,000 USD
Roadhouse – 10,000 pounds
Bacardi Pro Flair – $20,000 USD
Barstars – $20,000 USD
Havana Club Bar Giants – 5,000 EU
Flair Castle – $10,000 USD
Austrian Flair Combat – $5,000 USD
Prague Bartending Challenge – 4000 EU
MBA Flair Romania – $8000 USD
Daylight Flair Contest – 4000 EU
Athens Flair Open – 4000 EU
Brasil Open Flair – 1000 EU
Skyy Flair Global Challenge – $7000 USD
Shaker – 3500 EU
King of the Ring – $25,000 USD

Once a flair bartender decides to compete, he or she is entering a new world. Although everyone is extremely friendly and professional, don’t let that fool you into believing these guys and gals aren’t competitive. Not only does a first place trophy offer a huge check, it also provides bragging rights.

Competing takes a significant investment in time and determination, resulting in hundreds, even thousands of hours of practice. Flair bartenders regularly break bottles, cut their hands, bruise their bodies and sweat out coordinated routines all in the name of earning first place. That’s sometimes why gaining respect from top names in the industry is even more worthwhile than the money.

Where Flair Competitions are Held

Competitions are held all over the world, and some of the most prominent are in places like:

Las Vegas, NV
Legends of Bartending – invite only competition, hosted by the FBA
Best in the West

Orlando, FL

Windsor, Ontario – Canada
Super Flair

London, England – UK

Graz, Austria
Austrian Flair Combat

Moscow, Russia
Bacardi Pro Flair

Cologne, Germany
Havana Club Bar Giants

Kiev, Ukraine
Flair Castle

No matter where a flair competition is held, competitors and viewers both agree attending your first event is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. If you’re interested in going to a flair competition, contact us. We’ll be happy to give you information on an event that may be near you this year. If you’re a bar owner and would like to host a competition (it drives lots of traffic, gets media attention AND improves sales), we’re also happy to start the event planning process with all the key players. Or, if you’re already flair geeks (like ourselves), we’d love to hear the story of your first time at a competition.



3 Responses

  1. […] whether you’re a bartender, a bar owner or a general fan interested in learning more is to attend a competition. You will become connected to the large network of people who keep flair bartending going each […]

  2. […] against all other bartenders in the industry. This is the division where the majority of the large prize money is […]

  3. […] of ALL things flair. For now, see any of these websites or visit one of our recent posts here or here to learn about some of the larger […]

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