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.”

Outlook for 2010: Growing Flair Bartending Worldwide

Not to get too sentimental on everyone, but we felt it was appropriate to start 2010 with a post on gratitude, friendship and love.

Gratitude for how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time with this blog and its goal to advocate flair bartending to the masses. We’ve been blessed with a wide network of amazing friendship that continues to grow, going as far to say that some people are so close to us now that we consider them family. Thank you for being you and for helping us promote and write about our passion for this sport. And lastly, recognize that flair bartending isn’t just a hobby to us. We absolutely love everything it has to offer our life: a well-paying job for Dan, traveling to excellent destinations, and an outlet Kacy uses for creativity and inspiring others to promote and enjoy flair as much as we do.

Generation Flair began because two people realized how unique and important this sport could be for fans everywhere. We saw the benefits flair bartending gave to professional bartenders, businesses, bar owners and the media. Using our marketing (Kacy) and bartending (Dan) backgrounds, we began connecting the dots.

Dan adds expertise, creativity (he named the blog after all) and support. Kacy’s writing, passion for growth and business acumen allow us to provide accurate content (hopefully free of spelling errors). And, together our skills in forming key relationships across organizations and businesses give you the most well-rounded content possible. With this recipe, we hopefully are giving you something you’ve never had before – a professional blog that connects the flair bartending scene directly to your reality through the convenience of your computer and/or mobile phone.

Accomplishments in 2009
We’re very proud of our beginnings and wanted to take a moment to highlight what we’ve accomplished for flair fans everywhere in 2009 so we can continue to create growth for flair bartending:

  • Generation Flair had its first post May 6, 2009. Since then, we’ve posted 20 articles giving you the best education, coverage and behind-the-scenes look into the world of flair bartending.
  • We launched a fan page on Facebook that has attracted nearly 1,000 loyal fans.
  • We learned a new form of social media and joined the Twitter craze. Although small, our 115 followers have given us invaluable feedback and ideas for new posts and conversations around flair.
  • We both created profile pages (Kacy’s & Dan’s) on Cocktail Shows, a unique flair bartending social networking site.
  • We worked hard to create strong alliances with popular organizations like the Flair Bartending Association (FBA) and the World Flair Association (WFA) to make sure our content was accurate and you were getting the broadest perspective of flair bartenders and competitions.
  • Our post Meeting Oscar Perez: FlairLive TV’s Entrepreneur allowed us to form a new friendship with a unique communication channel for flair fans everywhere. FlairLive TV is the first website of its kind in the U.S. to feature live, streaming coverage of flair bartending competitions for free. Thank you Oscar, Christian, Rodrigo and the entire staff of employees and volunteers at FlairLive TV for all you do for the sport of flair bartending! We look forward to watching more great content in 2010!
  • Kacy was asked to be a co-host at Quest 2009 (November) with Christian Delpech and Paul Nguyen on FlairLive TV’s coverage of the big event. We learned the event was viewed in 21 different countries and on over 1,600 unique computers…an estimated 3-15 people were watching from each computer. Because Generation Flair was mentioned throughout the broadcast, blog traffic spiked that evening and we gained even more fans as a result. View the recording HERE.
  • We realized flair began taking new avenues to grow in 2009. After our latest blog post and interview with Hayden “Woody” Wood, we saw an even larger potential flair bartending has for generating fans young and old.

Goals for 2010
We embrace many organizations, media outlets and individuals as long as they do their part to support and grow flair bartending in a professional manner. We understand that we can’t be the only ones creating a movement and it takes MANY people to bring about an awareness of flair bartending. That’s why we’ve developed the following goals for 2010 and beyond:

  1. Increase our overall fan base from the thousands to the tens of thousands through new promotions, media coverage and strategic alliances.
  2. Develop more posts on flair around the world. We want to give you more information and involvement in the flair bartending scene across Europe, Asia and South America where we know flair is growing at a rapid pace. This includes a certain amount of posts dedicated to features on flair bartenders, competitions and sponsors outside of the U.S.
  3. Create stronger alliances with international organizations like the Hellenic Barmen Association (HBA), International Bartender Associaion (IBA) and others. This will help us grow a broader fan base and hopefully expand our efforts into new countries with the help of a larger group of experts and flair competition organizers.
  4. Develop a specific look and brand for Generation Flair. We have a logo, but we can’t stop there. We invite any and all graphic designers, advertising specialists or brand experts to help us create a new look for the blog that you’ll be proud to represent. This will be created with your help and feedback.

Thanks to All Flair Bartending Fans Everywhere
Your enthusiasm, passion and interest in this sport have given us even more motivation to keep bringing you the best of flair bartending in 2010. Without you, flair bartending wouldn’t be as exciting and popular as it is today. Help us continue our mission and achieve the above goals by participating on the social networks here and here, adding comments to the blog posts and e-mailing us with your suggestions.

So let’s raise our glasses and toast: Here’s to a bright future for flair bartending and all it has to offer you, its loyal friends, family and fans…cheers to a great 2010!

An Interview with Hayden “Woody” Wood: On Tour with Guy Fieri

At Generation Flair, we focus primarily on the competitive side of flair bartending. After all, our main goal is to help attract a mainstream network, like ESPN, to this growing sport. However, a new concept has started to emerge that works well for increasing exposure for flair bartending in the U.S. After scoring some free tickets (thanks Jason!) to the Guy Fieri Roadshow at the Midland Theatre, we had the opportunity to sit down with Hayden Wood (a.k.a. “Woody”) after the show to better understand what his flair skills were all about.

What is the Guy Fieri Roadshow?
The Guy Fieri Roadshow recipe is simple. Take an Australian flair bartender, known for his mixology and wine books, add Celebrity Chef Guy Fieri, mix in a DJ with some badass rock and roll vinyl skills and blend. Take this mixture, and bring several thousand people to a boil for an hour and 45 minutes, add a dash of crazy stories, a few tour buses and you’re set up with a 30-day, 22 city cooking tour that’s sweeping the country. Guy Fieri, the star behind “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” bills this as “Food, rock n’ roll, and everything they won’t let me do on TV!”

November was the kick-off month for this very alternative idea in cooking demonstrations, backed by the Food Network and all its glory. Woody is the opening act for Fieri and gives the audience a simple and unique flair bartending show while creating several cocktails for a few lucky audience members to enjoy. We watched as he performed simple, but crowd pleasing flair moves such as waterfall pours, behind-the-back flips to a stall and a bottle-tin routine…all while running frantically back and forth across the stage attending to his VIP tables (who were on stage for a pricier ticket than we were allowed). Although this wasn’t our favorite type of flair, it did have a large appeal to those who attended, leaving most with a smile and likely a hangover the next morning.

This is where Woody’s Liquid Kitchen is making enormous headway for flair bartending. By connecting with the masses, he’s effectively giving a great show (albeit not the competitive side) to a wide variety of consumers who may or may not ever go to a bar or a flair bartending competition. He’s out there, promoting flair bartending in a way that a large group of people can connect with. For that, we are truly inspired and grateful for his contribution.

Hayden Woody WoodWho is Hayden Wood?
He insisted we call him Woody, as “Hayden” was only something he was called when in trouble. Our first impression of Woody was someone who was “on” all the time. He was constantly smiling, cracking jokes and interacting with his fans as he signed books and jumped in front of the camera for a photo…a natural entertainer.

Woody is the youngest of three boys and mixed his first drink when he was eight years old…at a New Year’s Eve party on his parents’ Australian farm. That was his first attempt at mixology. Although it was a negative experience to his taste buds, he continued to experiment with the fermentation process and flavors from foods like pumpkin, rice, potatoes, split peas, rhubarb and orange peels. We were interested in what spurred this curiosity at such a young age, and his response was his farm upbringing.

“You know, if you’re raised on a farm, you’re taught to do everything for yourself,” he said. “I read books, I practiced and eventually a 50-gallon drum and a cheese cloth produced a fairly decent 190 proof alcohol that could be mixed with gin, Southern Comfort and Orange Soda Stream.”

By the time he was 15, this concoction became known as his own private label called the “Eagle Rock Experience,” which he sold at parties for a nice profit. Shortly thereafter, New Zealand’s king of cocktail parties was born.

Finding Flair
About 20 years ago, Woody met Beagle Rogers, head bartender & manager of Rumors in London, the sister club to Studio 54. Rogers moved to Australia in the late ‘80s to recover from a “certain” addiction and opened a place called the Iron Pot Cafe. Woody told us he was inspired by Rogers’ flair skills, and constantly asked him for a job so he could learn. With Woody only being 16, Rogers brushed him off several times.

“I was inspired by him, after all he was an amazing flair bartender,” he said. “It was mostly one bottle, but it was tongs, ice, bouncing things off the walls, you know…this was like ’89. And he was taught by the Greeks to do entertainment bartending. He had true heritage sort of flair. Without a doubt, I thought it was an exciting thought to become someone like that.”

Woody was persistent in his quest to get closer to Rogers.

“I bought him cheese, and biscuits, and all kinds of things for about six months trying to gain his approval,” Woody said. “I guess he got sick of me asking, because finally he gave me an ultimatum: ‘If you can find three things wrong behind this bar you can have a job…’ I found four things wrong,” Woody said. Rogers responded with, “Alright smart ass, see ya later!” 

Rogers promptly walked out of the bar at that moment, and left the naive 16 year-old to run a high end cocktail bar for the night. Woody told us it wasn’t much fun. He had no idea how to make anything people were requesting. After all, the place had been written about in Time magazine only six months before so they weren’t your normal Jack & Coke requests.

“That first night was awful, but he kept me on for another 3-4 months, without pay,” Woody said. “I learned a lot.”

Bartending to Travel
A few years later, Woody left Australia for Europe to gain experience in any bar that would hire him. His first stop was the UK to work in the London/Manchester area. Then he landed a job in Turkey and continued working there for awhile.

“I taught a lot of the flair to myself, but after Europe and middle east, I met up with a guy in Manchester,” he said. “I lived in a 13-room flat with a bar downstairs and we all lived upstairs. You never left the building. It was absolute chaos, but that’s where I learned American style flair bartending.”

One day he found himself on a refugee boat from Odessa to Israel. He then decided to work in Israel for a year to save some money. Since that wasn’t enough traveling for Woody’s tastes, he quickly found himself using his engineering background to build hot houses in Egypt and all the way to Sudan.

“There’s only so much city you can take before you realize you need a complete contrast,” he said. “I wanted to know how the rest of the world lived.”

Woody continued to fascinate us as we talked through the rest of the evening. We asked him if it was really hard to be on tour since he’s away from his wife and 2-year old son. He responded quite passionately with a statement we think all of us should take to heart.

“Of course I miss my family, but being on tour is easy. On tour, you’re treated like a demigod. There is nothing hard about this. You lie down in a bus and you go to sleep, or you watch a movie, or you eat food or you drink water. If you’re in this capacity you’re one of the top 1% wealthy people in the world. If you are in a slum, and you do not have any money and you can’t find food…you have something to complain about. So I find people who complain about things particularly hard to deal with,” he said.

We asked Woody what his goal was for Liquid Kitchen and the Guy Fieri Roadshow. He responded, “You go on this kind of journey for a number of reasons…for some people, it’s for the money, but mostly it’s for the exposure.”

We couldn’t agree more. This tour will be able to give Woody the exposure in the U.S. he’s been desiring. From a business standpoint, he’ll be able to create a passive income stream that will hopefully continue long after his tour has ended.

Most bartenders have to go to work in order to earn money. Woody can earn money in his sleep by selling books and tickets online. It’s all about diversification. Guy Fieri is no different – most chefs start and own a restaurant or two. But with this business model, Fieri is creating a branded empire of book sales, a TV series on the Food Network, ticket sales and his new, custom-designed kitchen utensils. The list is endless, but it all centers around his passion for cooking and food.

“The popular chefs now are coming into our homes on these TV shows…I’m trying to do the same in the bartender role,” Woody said.

“It’s a means to project a form of entertainment for something I’m particularly passionate about. It’s the same message as Guy has…we both agree that in America, people have lost their sense of cooking…the function of the kitchen. When convenience food came around, along with the microwave, cooking became boring and unnatural.”

Woody’s World Today
Although he’s a household name in Australia, known for his mixology books and teaching people how to mix their own drinks and distill their own liqueur, Woody has a unique situation. “I’ve alienated myself from the traditional bar scene. I’m more passionate about teaching people to mix drinks in their own kitchen…that’s more rewarding for me,” he said.

And he’s true to his passion, with eight books available for sale, Woody continues to polish his skills as an author, mixology educator and overall entertainer. His hard work is starting to pay off. One of his books claims to be the largest selling mixed drinks/wine book in Australia with eight reprints to its name. But Woody is still humble about his growing success.

“We’re just under 100,000 units, and it’s great…but that’s six years of printing books and working to sell them, while Guy Fieri did 400,000 on his first print,” he said. “But it’s my personal achievement and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.”

If you’re in need of a good holiday or birthday gift, you can’t go wrong with one of these beautiful books. They’re functional with recipes and how-to’s, but they’re beautifully designed as well, so they work great as coffee table books. Woody says he has his wife, Esmeralda Wood, to thank for that. She’s the photographer and graphic designer behind his brand.

Books:
“Behind Three Feet of Bar”
“Woody’s Liquid Kitchen”
“Good Wine, Bad Language, Great Vineyards: Wine Characters of Australia”
“Good Wine, Bad Language, Great Vineyards: Wine Characters of New Zealand”
“The Liquid Kitchen: Groovy Drinks”
“The Liquid Kitchen: Party Drinks”
“Beer Nuts: Beer Characters of Australia”
“Cafe Republic of Australia: Sights, Stories and Flavours of Cafe Culture”

What’s Next?
After the July sale of his 12-year old consulting company, Mondo Bartenders, Woody has a new outlook on his career. And, true to his entertainer personality, he mentioned he’ll begin filming a new series (only available in Australia) this February.

“We have a TV series starting to film in February called “Put Me Behind Bars,” the beverage version of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’…covering coffee, tea, wine, beer, cocktails, front of house service, bar design, etc. It’s all fairly intense and planning to be a fun show. I’ll be the Nazi at the end, calling the shots for bar owners,” he said.

We wish Woody good luck, and look forward to seeing more of this up and coming flair bartender, author and all around nice guy.

DVD Review #2: Quest for the Best 2008

Our DVD review series continues by taking a more detailed look into the competitive flair scene. This month’s review is extremely appropriate on timing because we just returned from our trip to this year’s “Quest for the Best” flair bartending competition (Nov. 15-18). It’s the oldest, and also one of the last major competitions in the United States this year.

Although the main subject of this review is looking at last year’s Quest, we have many great memories from this year’s competition. Among them was the opportunity for Kacy to join Christian Delpech and Paul Nguyen as a co-host on FlairLive TV’s live coverage of the 2009 event. Not only was she able to interview all pro competitors right after they came off the finals stage, the unique opportunity allowed Generation Flair to achieve our mission of advocating flair bartending to even more fans. At the end of the night, while having breakfast with Oscar and Christian, we learned the event was viewed in 21 different countries and on over 1,600 unique computers. Oscar estimated that between 3-15 people were watching from each computer as its likely this was an event that was shared.

About Quest
Quest is the oldest flair bartending competition, beginning in 1991 at Pleasure Island in the Manquins Dance Palace. Although the format has gone through several changes over the years, it originally began as a contest to find the best bartender in Disney. Later, it expanded significantly to the rest of the world and quickly became a premier event. To this day, it is still one of the most complete tests of a flair bartender’s skill set. The event gives competitors the opportunity to compete in a speed round, an exhibition flair round, and a specialty round. You can learn more about what each one of these rounds entails by reading “Anatomy of a Flair Competition.”

What’s Special About The 2008 Quest DVD Set
Normally competition DVDs come in singles, but the 2008 Quest DVD set offers Amateur Qualifiers, Advanced Qualifiers, Pro Qualifiers and Pro Finalist disks. You’ll also find some funny shorts with Ben Rose and “McLovin” on the Special Features disk.
One of our favorites is the Team 437 Promo which gives a behind-the-scenes look into how this group gets down to business preparing for speed rounds. Dan Seitz is on record with a 0:53 unadjusted speed round time. The FlairBar.com Show, also hosted by Ben, is jam packed with fun and mayhem. Watch as he takes you on in-depth interviews with the judges and relives some of the many stories remembered, such as AC/DC, chocolate milk, pitchers of Mojitos, Shrek & Donkey and KY Jelly arm wrestling with Chris Cardone!

All fun aside, let’s also not overlook the four disks of insane flair bartending moves. Some of our favorites include Dario Doimo’s behind the back catch to a pour and Rodrigo Delpech’s 19 elbow bumps. You won’t be disappointed by Quest 2008 and the rest of the fantastic finalists:

Pro Finalists (In Order of Placing):
1. Danilo Oribe
2. Rodrigo Delpech
3. Eiji Narita
4. Dario Doimo
5. Rodrigo Cao
6. Oscar Perez
7. Behnam Gerami
8. Giovanni Doimo
9. Sean Story

Give the Gift of Quest

Filmed on location at The Groove Nightclub on City Walk in Orlando Florida and offering over $25,000 in cash and prizes, the Quest World Championships were an event not to be missed. However, if you weren’t able to make it this year, the 2008 DVD set is a great gift idea for the flair bartending fan in your family. Buy it from BarProducts.com, a major sponsor of the event each year.

Meeting Oscar Perez: FlairLive TV’s Entrepreneur

oscarperezAn opportunity came for us to meet with Oscar while in Las Vegas last month. We met at Kahunaville in the Treasure Island hotel. While waiting, we were greeted by Vladymyr Buryanov, another legend in our sport. What amazes us time and again is the humble and grateful attitude we are constantly presented with from the flair guys. I was drinking my hazelnut latte as Vlad approached and asked if I’d like a shot of irish cream to get rid of the Carnival Court hangover I’d been experiencing from the night before. Needless to say, his kindness worked rather well. And, just in time…

Oscar arrived shortly thereafter, and was greeted by everyone behind the bar. An average-height guy with dark black hair, Oscar was dressed in a fitted black t-shirt and jeans. He carried a satchel that could only be recognized as a video camera case. So, I assumed he would be taking some footage of the Kahunaville competition later that evening. As Dan and I shook hands with him, the thing I noticed most, though, was his warm smile. I could tell this was a genuinely nice guy, just wanting to talk about one of his biggest passions in the world…flair bartending.

After finding a quiet spot in the Kahunaville restaurant, we sat down with Oscar to learn more about his latest venture. Our conversation began by me asking Oscar to describe a little bit about his background and career. This accomplished, Uruguayan flair bartender began learning at the early age of 18. Although his career began in South America, he has traveled to more than 20 countries competing and teaching flair bartending to hundreds of people. The list of competitions was extensive, and the passion behind his love for flair was indescribable. You could see the love of the sport in his eyes as he went back into time to relive each year’s worth of competitions attended, places traveled and trophies earned.

Now semi-retired, Oscar continues his love for flair through FlairLive TV, a new website that’s mission is to bring flair bartending to the comfort of your own home via live streaming internet broadcasts of flair competitions, industry interviews and behind-the-scenes interviews with competitive flair bartenders. Did we mention it’s completely free?

The idea for FlairLive TV came to Oscar from running a former website he and Pablo Fernandez created to promote flair in Latin America. LatinBar.net was mainly a message board, but also offered live chat and competition results for a wide audience in Spanish. They continued to grow the site over the next several years, but with travel commitments and living in different countries, it became difficult to keep up regular communication on the business. In 2005 the website was officially turned off, but the idea continued to morph into a bigger idea for Oscar.

After several months of contemplation, Oscar knew he needed more help. He approached Rodrigo Delpech, a dear friend and fellow competitor. They continued to toss the idea around and realized they were in need of a third party who could bring more investment capital and a different perspective to the mix. That person was Rodrigo’s older brother, Christian Delpech. Oscar knew it may be a stretch for the well-known flair icon to support the new idea due to his hectic travel schedule and other business commitments, but Christian was immediately on board after learning more about the new concept.

Since then, the team went to work, creating a site with full-fledged graphics and a professional look. In its first month online, FlairLive TV received 500,000 hits. “Most of our original traffic was from producing a special program of the Legends competition from LAX this year in Vegas,” Oscar said.

The site continues to draw attention from major labels and sponsors with its high quality videos, intense competition coverage and exclusive interviews. But Oscar, Rodrigo and Christian remain firm in their original goal of developing the site for a year before accepting any major sponsorship deals. Garnering a loyal following is the biggest priority he said. That’s why the site is free to anyone who would like to watch and learn more about this up and coming sport.

“But you know, if ESPN or another network wants to approach us with an offer to buy, hey we’re all for that,” he said excitedly.

We don’t blame him, after all, that’s everyone’s goal who’s involved with flair. Exposure to more people, more often is what is really needed to boost the sport into the mainstream.

Oscar agreed, “We stay focused on keeping the site growing with new features, content and marketing so that more people all over the world can experience and become fans of the sport.”

Some unique marketing techniques they’ve accomplished include two iPhone apps, a heavy Facebook following and a dedicated Twitter feed. Oscar informed us that other new ideas are on the horizon, and they continue to look for people interested in commentating and becoming reporters for the site in various countries.

“Sometimes when you think of an idea, it doesn’t always come out the way you imagine it will the first time around,” he said. “I think Latinbar.net was that for me…and this second time around with FlairLive TV is exactly what I’ve wanted thanks to the help and teamwork that goes into the site from Christian, Rodrigo and our team of 15 people behind the scenes.”

With millions of new hits this year and from more than 23 different countries, we see nothing but great things coming from this new flair site. As we finish this post, we’re at a friend’s house watching the Firestarter Challenge live from Kahunaville in Las Vegas. We love being able to sit in our living room and cheer for our favorite bartender as they compete for $12,000 in cash. So, get your next group together, throw a flair party and put the following dates on your calendar…we’ll see you online!

Upcoming Events to Watch on FlairLive TV
Firestarter Challenge from Las Vegas: Recorded event posted now
US Flair Open at Carnival Court: Nov. 9-12 – special to be posted in December
Quest for the Best in Orlando: Nov. 15-18 – LIVE coverage

Economy’s Impact on Flair Bartending Competitions

Sponsor photoIf you haven’t been affected by the economy (either directly or know someone who has), it’s likely you’re living in a very remote location. Dan & I have seen some negative things happen to some of our closest friends this past year.

It seems as though everywhere you turn, there’s bad news. Several major flair bartending competitions have been canceled. Bar sales are down. Companies have announced large-scale layoffs. And, major flair cities like Vegas and Orlando are seeing some of the worst home foreclosure rates in the country. One of our  friends’ home value plummeted so much that it would cost them money if they sold their Las Vegas home.

These issues not only take a direct effect on our personal lives, but also professionally, which is why we chose to address the topic in today’s post.

Has the economy diminished flair competition sponsorship money?
According to a recent article from Reuters, the sports industry’s sponsorship spending growth rate is projected to have the smallest increase in 2009 (when last year it was almost double the next-closest category).

Granted this research is focused primarily on mainstream sports like the NBA, MLB, NFL and Nascar. However, flair bartending sponsorships would fall within this category as well. So how has the economy affected competitions, bartenders and flair in general?

We talked with several flair bartending competitors and organizers to find out.

Mike McLean“There has always been a concern about getting sponsorship and support of flair competitions, not just this year,” said Mike McLean, Director of Sales and Marketing for Flairco and Vice President of the FBA. “There were several high profile events canceled this year, but others were able to make it through. I’m hoping that the global economy bounces back in 2010 and we can potentially go after some new sponsors, maybe even mainstream lifestyle brands, to inject life back into the competitive
scene.”

Colin Griffiths, professional flair bartender and event organizer in Las Vegas was more direct. “The state of the economy has effected flair because sponsor companies are under more pressure to justify results for the money they contribute,” he said. “This combined with their pressure to meet their own sales goals makes it harder to find those willing to support our sport.”

The recession, although affecting everyone, is primarily a U.S. symptom. We were curious if the economic ails traveled across the Atlantic to our flair friends in Europe.

Tom DyerTom Dyer, professional flair bartender in London and key organizer with the World Flair Association, said he didn’t really have any concerns about flair competitions not happening due to lack of sponsorship money. “No concerns at all,” he said. “I actually think this is a good thing for flair. Flair is growing so fast that it needs a break.”

Dyer went on to point out that life balance is a good thing and that with so many competitions happening all the time there’s not a lot of time for everything like getting enough practice in on top of a full-time bartending job and a regular life.

“We had very few comps canceled due to the credit crunch and instead saw a lot of new independent comps mushrooming all over the place which is great,” said Tug van den Bergh, professional judge and founding member of the World Flair Association. “Bartenders in Europe are still willing to travel to flair competitions for little money, which is helping to keep our scene very much alive!!”

To further amplify the positive sentiments from the European flair community, Christian Delpech did a recent FlairLive TV interview with Finest Call’s European Sales Representative Bob Jones. Jones reported that as a company, Finest Call is actually spending more on sales and marketing this year than they did last year. He went on to describe his gratitude, knowing that not all companies are in a position to increase spending during these tough times. Although Finest Call is the number one mixer in the U.S., their interest in deepening the brand in Europe is evident.

Griffiths was right. Companies will foot the sponsorship bill when it is justifiable to their corporate goals, no matter the state of the economy. Finest Call is one of the largest flair bartending supporters and has been for many years. They understand that to increase sales of their product they go to those who are the “cheerleaders” or pushers of that product…flair bartenders.

As long as flair organizers, bartenders and supporters understand the connection to corporate goals, approaching potential sponsors for flair competitions is still a viable funding avenue. This isn’t to infer sponsorships will be easy to secure. As McLean stated, 2010 is a new year, and new sponsorship avenues will need to be considered. Overall, though, expectations are positive when looking at the future of flair bartending. With its international presence, mass following and current sponsor support, flair bartending can only grow from here.

So You Want to Open a Flair Bar…

large bar crowdThis is a must read for bar owners, managers or investors thinking about opening a flair bar. It’s also for those of you thinking about incorporating full-time flair bartenders into an existing establishment.

Opening a Flair Bar
The beauty of opening a flair bar is that it can be in almost any type of establishment you’d like. Maybe you’re a sports fanatic wanting to own a sports bar, or an upscale businessperson wanting to own a martini lounge…or even a rock star hungry for a heavy metal dive. Flair bartending can incorporate easily into each of these concepts. It’s a flexible avenue for entertainment and fits in with most any style.

The normal requirements for opening a bar, of course, include things like a business plan, financing, a build-out, and marketing. There are a few additional items to consider before adding flair bartending to your concept.

Things to Consider For A New Flair Bar:

  • Bar Staff – The most obvious difference between a regular bar and a flair bar are the bartenders. Although you could hire local bartenders and train them on some aspects of flair, it’s really best to hire professional flair bartenders. It takes many years to develop the level of entertainment and interaction flair bartenders offer, so if you want to open right (and start off with high sales), use the best talent. You can locate flair bartenders in your area by contacting us or checking into one of the flair organizations (listed on the left) for help.
  • Bar Setup – Space behind the bar definitely needs consideration. A flair bartender usually needs more space than your average bartender. Because flair usually entails juggling, tossing and catching items, height and width behind a bar are important. Ultimately, a good flair bartender can flair anywhere, but adequate space for the more complicated moves may be required.
  • Atmosphere – While flair bartending is flexible, it’s important to know that establishments like fine dining or jazz clubs may be too low key for flair to work well.  A little bit of flair can work everywhere, but there’s a difference between a little bit and a full-time flair bar. Imagine what your guests will want and cater every aspect of your bar/restaurant to this.

Incorporating Flair Bartenders Into an Existing Bar
Let’s assume you already own or manage a successful bar. And, you want to up the stakes a little by adding some flair bartenders because you know this improves alcohol sales, differentiates you from the competition and keeps customers coming back.

Things to Consider For an Existing Bar:

  • Costs – Generally flair bartenders may require more base pay than your average bartender simply because they are skilled at their profession. They work hard and perform consistently well, therefore, be prepared to pay them for this advantage. It will be worth your extra cost, because the additional dollars they bring in and the new client loyalty they provide will usually offset this investment.
  • Hiring Flair Bartenders – While flair bartenders exist all over the world, it may be tough to recruit them if you are in a more rural area. Generally, they like to work in metro markets or places where tourism is high. Truthfully, it’s because they are able to make more money where opportunity is bigger and where clientele turnover can constantly be refreshed. If you’re in a rural area and are still committed to adding flair bartending, be prepared for a lengthy hiring timeline as it may take longer to find the right flair bartenders to move to your location.
  • Inventory – The last thing to consider is your inventory. Flair bartenders use 750 ml bottles in most cases. While you may be able to get better pricing on volume purchases with liters, flair bartending will sell more alcohol to hopefully offset this cost. Consider also the space for displaying this alcohol. Whether your back bar showcases these bottles or you have special shelving, you’ll have more room to display more bottles if you use 750s versus liters.

No matter what situation you’re in, flair bartending is a valuable option for your bar. It improves sales, creates an exciting form of entertainment and increases customer loyalty for your bar or restaurant.