Interview with Captain Boogie: Eric Holbert’s Flair Story

Best known in the world of flair bartending as “Captain Boogie,” Eric Holbert is the classic story of how an average bartender began living an above average life by becoming involved with this popular sport. We sat down with Boogie in Orlando at a recent competition to get the full story of how this Vegas-native got into flair.

Origination of the Nickname
GF: “Your nickname is ‘Captain Boogie,’ how’d you get it?”
B: “I got that nickname from Todd Connell at the first competition I ever did, which was Quest for the Best in 1998 at Pleasure Island. It was actually the second year I got into flair and it’s also where I met Ken Hall, Alan Mays and everyone else who’s important in this industry. I was at the registration table to sign up and Todd asked what nickname I wanted. Me being nervous since it was my first competition, just said, ‘Whatever you want.’ Todd said, ‘Give me a nickname or I’ll give you one.’ I said ‘Yeah, whatever,’ and left.”

“During the first flair round, JD Spradlin was announcing me on stage and said ‘This is Eric “Captain Boogie” Holbert, who works at the VooDoo Lounge in Las Vegas!’ I looked down at the judges table and everyone was laughing hysterically. I thought, oh great I’m already nervous and they’re pulling pranks! This is where the nickname originally started.”

“I did my round and overall finished 16th. But, this is when the competitions didn’t have divisions. So, I was up against hard core pros and veterans. I was very happy about that placing!”

“Anyway, the year after, they broke out into divisions. I qualified 4th in the Rookie division. In the final round, I did a whole car wash routine; on roller skates and finished first! When I did that routine and won, (as well as took Best in Show overall), the name stuck. There was no way it was leaving at that point. It was given to me so I just went with it.”

GF: “Even your Kahunaville promo video features your nickname and this theme.”
B: “Yes, the “Captain” was dropped so now it’s just Boogie. I don’t mind it whatsoever.”

Boogie’s Affair with Flair
GF: “When did you start flairing and why?”
B: “Actually, I thought flair was kinda stupid at first. But I’d been around it quite a bit due to living in Las Vegas and having been a bartender for quite awhile. Ken Hall more or less pushed me into doing flair…he kept pushing me to do more tricks and moves and then finally recommended I compete at Quest. So I went and tried. He mentored me, showed me the format of the comp, how to prepare and what to do. The rest is history.”

GF: “You work full time at Kahunaville, but do you have any other jobs?”
B: “Yes. I also have a part-time job at Red Rock Station Casino, which is a fairly high end casino. Oscar Perez works with me as well. We work a lot together. Carolina, Christian Delpech’s wife, also works there. So I’m surrounded by some other great flair bartenders and I love that.”

GF: “You’re an official judge for the FBA, tell us a little bit about that.”
B: “I’ve been an official judge for nearly seven years now. Over the last three years, I’ve been a Master Judge for the FBA. I’m also an elite judge for WFA. I’m one of the only people that judges for both organizations and I really enjoy it. I’ve traveled the world and have met some great people as a result.”

GF: “While we’re on the topic, a lot of our readers want to know the difference between the WFA and the FBA…can you explain?”
B: “Judging standards are different within each organization, but mostly it’s similar for criteria on how the bartenders compete. The WFA is based in Europe and does a lot of advocating for flair there. The FBA is the older organization and is based in the U.S. Competitions are geared toward being a better bartender, which is good. The WFA also has more country access. It’s not a big deal to travel from one country to the next there. So, it gives flair bartending some great exposure to new cultures, languages, etc.”

GF: “The WFA is really creating a presence in Europe. Do you see yourself going over there a lot?
B: “This year, I took a rest, but last year I visited 10 countries. So yeah, they are creating more of a market for what’s going on and I hope to continue to be a part of it.”

GF: “What about the IBA?”
B: “The IBA is very strict on drink making, it’s more about mixology and protecting the bartending craft. They have an older management that advocates old school bartending, you know, the 1940s ways of how you make drinks. I think this is great, because you don’t see that anymore.”

GF: “When did you decide to do judging more than competing?”
B: “Age kicked in. Christian Delpech & I did a flair competition in Korea and I realized I wasn’t physically OR mentally ready. I couldn’t keep up with the level. I felt then it was time to retire from competitions, so now I focus on judging which allows me to keep up with flair in a different way.”

“I competed for nearly six years, which might not seem like a long time. But you have to remember, I started when I was 32, so in six years, I was 38…and it was time to slow down. Dario (Doimo) was 17 when he started; (Rodrigo) Cao and (Rodrigo) Delpech started when they were really young and they’re still going. For me, I started late and did the best I could do in that amount of time.”

GF: “What made you fall in love with flair?”
B: “It was the fact that when I was on stage, I got an energy level from the crowd that’s indescribable…it’s hard to explain. You know, I’ve always been an entertainer (I used to do street dancing and such). It’s just a whole other aspect of bartending that is really cool.”

GF: “Do you still have the same level of passion you did?”
B: “I do, but I don’t have the physical need to get up and practice like the younger guys. However, my true passion for flair is definitely still there. It’s what gets me up in the morning or should I say late afternoon?”

GF: “You’ve been at this a long time, you know all the tricks, the one-liners and you’ve looked behind the proverbial ‘curtain.’ Do you ever get tired of it? I mean, is bartending ever going to wear you out? In other words, are you doing it just for the money at this point?”
B: “Bartending is not a career for me, I do a lot of other things in my life people don’t know about. I love photography, rock climbing, cave exploration and I’m looking into going back to school to study Geology. I can always fall back on bartending if I need to. I’ve thought about starting up a travel website, but I don’t know. I’m just exploring and I haven’t really committed to anything new. I’m content with everything I’m doing right now…it’s probably why I’m single because I’m so busy with all of it!”

“Ultimately, I love bartending; I’ve been doing it for 22 years now. Mostly, I enjoy how flair allows me to interact and bond more quickly with customers…which means everyone has a great time and as a result, I make a good living.”

Flair Bartending & Major Media Appearances
GF: “You’ve been on A&E, Food Network & Travel Channel specials for flair bartending as well as the MTV’s Real World. As a sport we’re gaining even more momentum and exposure with two new reality shows in the works, FlairLive TV’s new site and a larger European scene than ever before. What kind of future do you see for flair?”
B: “We need something to happen. It’s there, but it’s still underground for the industry. Like poker, nobody really knew poker until the World Series of Poker became a big name. We’ve had specials, and now one reality show that’s been piloted. I still have no idea when that’s going to come out. But, hopefully something like that will allow us to really launch flair in a big way.”

“I’m also starting to see a new trend with some competitors who don’t want to compete as much anymore like Vache Manoukian and Justin Keane. They still have that mindset for being on stage, so I think more entertainment pieces will be surfacing…like flair bartending performances.”

GF: “We were just in Vegas last summer and witnessed quite a few Kahunaville stage performances, or “structured competitions.”
B: “They’re constant and Kahunaville is one of the most competitive flair bars in the world. Nobody does it as much as we do. There are three shows a night and every bartender who works there has to be a flair bartender. The crowds love it.”

GF: “It feels like there’s this ground swell. You’re right, FlairLive TV is huge and will do a lot for helping the sport to explode.”
B: “Yes, the interest is there, but it’s still underground…we’re worldwide, but in reality, it’s still in the beverage industry even though we’ve had a lot of major media exposure.”

GF: “Generation Flair is all about educating people outside of our industry about what flair bartending is and why we’re working so hard to make it an alternative sport with full-time media coverage. What information can you give fans or people interested in learning more about flair and how to contribute in boosting its popularity?”
B: “Flair bartending is something you have to want…it’s a passion. For those who are interested, the first thing you need to do is go to some competitions…the small and big ones. It’s where you’ll really get to feel the excitement of what we do. In the meantime, visit the websites, watch FlairLive TV, buy flair videos and support these different businesses with your patronage and comments.”

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