Flair Bartending

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 recent explosion of performance bartending.

But when did flair bartending really 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? Maybe they slid a goblet down the wood? In the 1600’s Dutch artist, Jan Steen, painted a tavern keeper performing a longpour with a wine pitcher into a martini shaped glass.

And if modern writers can create an ancient fictional fire breathing Xena then just maybe a pub owner somewhere through history sparked things up with their own alcoholic fire show of sorts. After all, fire was common element found in village pubs for lighting, heating and cooking.

The 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 and poured back and forth creating quite a show. It was just one of his signature cocktails, but is the best example of his entertaining abilities. He is also credited with publishing the first known cocktail recipe book, The Bartender's Guide and bartender guide in 1862.

Today, flair bartending is not about just juggling bottles.
For the average bartender, flair just means a personal style, a cool 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 1990’s 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!

For the serious flair bartender
there’s another type of flair bartending called Competition Flair or Exhibition Flair. In 1986 T.G.I. Fridays held the first known flair competition called Bar Olympics, which eventually led Hollywood to make the 1988 film, Cocktail. Since then, competitors all over the world have been judged for their choreographed routines, speed, and precise pouring abilities. Learn more at the Flair Bartenders Association (FBA) at barflair.org. As of 2006 the FBA has over 9000 passionate and like-minded members in 131 countries that govern the sport of Flair Bartending. The FBA Pro Tour is the first International series of flair bartending competitions.

What does the future hold for this young sport? Well, that’s unlimited to the imaginations of its shiny & bright competitors and organizers. Time will tell if the thirty-something Grandfathers of flair bartending will be written about in history like The Professor Jerry Thomas.


The GrandFathers of Modern Flair

T.G.I. Fridays; focus on training their bartenders flair in the 1970’s and 1980’s and host the first known flair bartending competition.
John JB Bandy; winner of the first T.G.I. Friday’s Bar Olympics, put out the very first flair bartending video, and was the choreographer and bartender trainer for Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown for the 1988 film, Cocktail.
• 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.
• Magic Mike Werner; started the first flair company, Showtenders.
• Todd Connell, Ken Hall, and Kent Brooks; created the first international flair competition, Quest for the Best Bartender held at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island inside the nightclub, Mannequin’s..
Chuck Rohm; sold the first flair bartender video on the Internet.
• Tobin Ellis; started the first full flair website, barmagic.com. It was also 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 and Alan Mays; founded the FBA (Flair Bartenders Association). Ellis served as President.
Jim Allison; was the first Vice President of the FBA and is the current President and CEO.
• Ken Hall, Alan Mays, Todd Connell and Steve Bushur; opened the first flair bar in Vegas at the Voodoo Lounge atop the Rio.
Dean Serneels; invented the first flair bottle and first bar unit that folds up into a suitcase which is used at flair competitions.
Scott Young; put out the first series of flair videos.
• Ken Hall; created a style of 3-bottle non-juggling flair that helps him win 5 world championships, solidifying him as one of the best bottle-flippers in the history of flair, and influences flair bartending for the next 10 years.
• Ken Hall and Alan Mays create Legends of Bartending, the first independent World Bartending Championship becoming the most prestigious bartending competition in the world.
• Jim Allison and Tobin Ellis are the first to arrange a US National TV special on Flair Bartending.
• Leigh Miller, Paul Mason, Rhys Oldfield and Steve Lock; start the first independent flair bar in London known as B@1 (Be at One).

The Flair Sites

*Animated Flair gifs courtesy of Dan the Melon Man from New Zealand. More here.

FBA Flairbar Flairco
Bottles Up Legends of Bartending BarMagic
MTE2 Showtenders Stars of the Bars
Roadhouse Flair House Bottle Slinger
Flair-Bartender Barworks Latinbar
The Flair School Bar Wizards Flair Moves
Genuine Freestyle Bartending The Long Island Flair Association Extreme Bartending
Flair Devils Bar Matrix Extreme Flair Ware
BVB Chico Sun Cocktailzone (French)
Latin Bar Cocktail Factory High Flair
Flair Factor Flair Project Hoy it
The Flair School Twisted Liquid Protenders
Flair House Flair.inc Flair Motion
Flairshow Thirst Flair The Pour Boys


Flair Blogs


FLIP TO POUR        



Flair Competitions and Bars


FBA event page Legends of Bartending Event page from FlairBar
TGI Fridays Nations Flair Challenge Online Flair Bartending Challenge
CPF Flair The Roxy Kahunaville
The Orbit Bar Roadhouse    


This is the first non self-published book to ever talk about flair.