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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. It has become a sought-after talent among venue owners and marketers to help advertise a liquor product or the opening of a bar establishment. Competitions have been sponsored by liquor brands to attract flair bartenders, and some hospitality training companies hold courses to teach flair techniques.
Flair bartending is sometimes referred to as "extreme bartending" or contracted to "flairtending". The word flair became popular among practitioners in the mid-1990s. "Flair" is also used as a verb (e.g. "to flair"), referring to any trickery used by a bartender in order to entertain guests while mixing a drink. Flair can include juggling, flipping (bottles, shakers), manipulating flaming liquors or even performing close-up magic tricks (also referred to as "bar-magic").
Flair is showmanship added to bartending that enhances the overall guest experience. The ideas behind mixology and drink-oriented or service-minded bartending can still be upheld with the correct application of working flair. Recently, there is a noticeable rise in bartenders combining prominent mixology knowledge and working flair skills all over the world. Working flair and Exhibition flair are very similar on the grounds that they both require precision and practice, however the use of exhibition flair has become a competition oriented style where significantly greater risks are being taken. Working flair, which is much more common, focuses more on delivering drinks to customers while still ensuring visual entertainment.
The earliest record of a flair bartender is barman Jerry "The Professor" Thomas, who poured fiery streams of boiling water and flaming whisky and mixed an original cocktail called the Blue Blazer in the late 19th century.
Both working flair and exhibition flair can be seen in competitions, depending on the rules and regulations of each event. The important distinction between working flair and exhibition flair is not so much the level of liquid in the bottles (though that is a criterion) but the speed in which the bottle is thrown and/or the drink is made. Working flair usually incorporates a "flat" throw, which is when the bottle is released into the air without flipping. This gives an illusion of the bottle floating, but reduces the chances of liquid spilling. This also opens the bartender to be able to use similar routines, regardless of what bottle they grab, as the level of liquid is not a factor. The accepted definition of working flair is "flair that does not noticeably slow service", usually involving bottles filled to various levels (as in a real work situation) that are quickly manipulated and then poured. Exhibition flair almost always involves bottles that are often pre-set with less than 2 ounces (60ml) specifically for flipping. Exhibition flair often involves longer sequences and routines, multiple objects, and performances choreographed to music.
The first open competition to have an exhibition round was the Quest for the Best Bartender in 1995.
The first open competition to have a working flair round was the Quest for the Best Bartender in the World in 1999.
The first all Working Flair bartending competition was the Flair Bartenders Shakedown in 2006 organized by BarWars LLC.
There are different styles of flair bartending competitions. Legends of Bartending World Bartender Championships test the bartender on four disciplines of bartending, accuracy, speed, working flair and exhibition flair. The Blue Blazer and Independent Flair League (IFL) in Poland rewards flair and mixology together; competitors gain points for both flair and creative mixology. NATIONS International Flair Challenge and other competitions like Roadhouse World Flair, MBA, Athens Flair Open feature pure exhibition flair where the biggest and best moves are shown.
In 1986, T.G.I. Friday's management encouraged their bartenders to show their personalities behind the bar and this resulted in several bartenders (a few being John JB Bandy, John Mescall, and Magic Mike) being sent to the corporate T.G.I. Friday's office in Texas to shoot a bartending video. At the end of 1986, T.G.I. Friday's hosted the first national flair bartending competition called "Bar Olympics" in Woodland Hills, CA. John JB Bandy was the winner of this competition. In 1987, after interviewing 34 bartenders, John JB Bandy was approached across the bar by Touchstone Productions to assist in training Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown for the 1988 film, Cocktail. Later that year after filming, John JB Bandy produced the very first flair bartending training video called "Olympic Bartending". T.G.I. Friday's is credited for modernizing and popularizing flair bartending in the United States beginning in the mid-1980s because they allowed artistic personality freedom behind the bar. London (Roadhouse) and Orlando (Quest for the Best at Pleasure Island's Manniquins) were the hotbeds of flair bartending in the early and mid-1990s. In 1991, T.G.I. Friday's started its global competition called World Bartender Championship. The global competition has continued to today with divisional champions from across the USA, Latin America and European Divisions come to compete in Carrollton, Texas USA. Recently, Las Vegas has become the flair capital of the world, with London a close second. The countries currently producing the most top competitors right now are Uruguay, Argentina, Ukraine, Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. While no females have won a "Major" level competition or World Championship on the professional tour, Shay Court of Toronto, Ontario, Canada became the first female to win a World Championship on the FBA Advanced Tour in August of 2013 at the Solar Flair World Championships in Irvine, California. Matt Kelly is seen to be the current champion of flair bartending. He currently resides in Edinburgh, Scotland.
There are hundreds of flair bartending competitions around the world each year, most of which are local and not well publicized. In 2005 the Flair Bartenders Association (FBA) launched the FBA Pro Tour, a linked series of events where competitors earn points toward the title Pro Tour Champion at the end of the year. In 2007 there were 14 events on the Pro Tour with 7 of them located in the USA.
In 2008 the World Flair Association launched the Grand Slam. A world wide tournament the includes the best competitions from all over the world. It is seen today as the biggest competition/tournament to win in the world of flair. Bartenders travel far and wide for the Grand Slam events to try and earn the title of Grand Slam World Champion. The Grand Slam events vary each year, being located in Europe, Asia, and America.
Five-Time World Champion Ken Hall and Jim Allison, president of the FBA, organized six of those seven events. The flagship flair bartending event is Legends of Bartending, which celebrated its 12th year in 2010.
Some the biggest flair bartending events all over the World includes
- Roadhouse World Flair in (Covent Garden) London, UK After TGI Fridays, the longest running flair competition
- Legends of Bartending (Las Vegas, USA) - discontinued
- Quest (Orlando - the oldest major flair competition in the world) - discontinued
- Skyy Global Flair Challenge in 14 different countries including China, UK, Canada, Israel, Czech Republic, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, etc. - discontinued
The International Bartenders Association was founded in 1951. In 2000, the IBA initiated a World Flair Competition. This event is held at the IBA's annual congress of members, together with the organisation's World Classic Cocktail Competition (inaugurated in 1955).
The newest major events to gain credibility among top competitors include:
- Crazy Beach World Flair Competition (Cosenza - Italy)
- Flairmania (Riga, Latvia)
- Stars War Championship (Bali, Indonesia)
- Titans World Open (Moscow, Russia)
- Ultimate Flair (Tokyo, Japan)
- Flair Battle Rome (Rome, Italy)
- Old Skool Rules (London, UK)
- Prepare to Flair - Beginner Competition @ the Roadhouse (London, UK)
- Flair Fearless Championship (Los Angeles, USA)
- Bols Barmen Cup (Umag, Croatia)
- Warsaw Flair Challenge (Warsaw, Poland)
- Masters Of Flair (Birmingham,UK)
Major events are mostly Grand Slam Events. Prize money has reduced significantly since the recession a few years ago. However, there are a lot more competitions world wide. With the help of the internet there has also been some online competitions.
- Past Champions, T.G.I. Friday's World Bartender Championship - accessed January 16, 2010
- World BTC News 2009 Archives, T.G.I. Friday's World Bartender Championship - accessed January 16, 2010
- T.G.I. Friday's World Bartender Championship Mixologist Profiles, T.G.I. Friday's World Bartender Championship - accessed January 16, 2010
- Flair Bartenders' Association — Largest Community of Flair Bartenders