You know the scenario. You approach the bar to order a round of drinks and then have to wait while the bartender tries to pull off the new move he's been practicing in front of his dog. He messes it up and spills everywhere, leaving you and all the other guests that haven't even been acknowledged yet still thirsty.
I am a flair bartender and it annoys me, so I can imagine how it must be for everyone else. I am here to try and educate some people on how flair should be used behind the bar.
There are so many different types of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, pubs and general watering holes around the world, and they all serve a specific purpose. Some venues are all about going crazy, partying till the early hours and generally losing all your inhibitions. Some are for the more relaxed homely drinker that just wants to "pop down to the pub for a pint". Clubs are your place for good DJs and different music. Other venues are mostly for eating and family fun, and then you have a whole host of cocktail bars that attract a different market. The number of different genres of bars out there is endless with more and more original ideas coming out all the time.
So where does flair fit into all of these? Well, some want flair and some don't. You have to decide what kind of clientele you want to attract and how you want to theme your bar. Also, when someone approaches your bar, as a professional bartender you normally get a feel of what they are going to be like, what drinks they might order and how they would like to be served even before they've said anything. It's the same sort of thing with flair; you should be judging whether or not this is the right moment based on factors such as the type of guests you have on the night, how busy you are, where you are working, and the general atmosphere in the venue.
Let's start in the most flair-orientated place in the world: Las Vegas. Go over there and you see flair bars galore. Some of the greatest flair bartenders in the world work or have worked in Las Vegas for a certain period of time. It is all about the show. You can go up to Carnival Court, possibly the most famous flair bar in the world, and you will have every drink you order "flaired" for you, no matter what it is. I have seen routines with a plastic cup, a bottle of beer and a lime wedge that will blow your mind. Order a few shots and it'll be a few minutes before your downing them with your mates. But you don't care, because you enjoy watching the show and being part of the action.
That's what people are looking for there, and the bartenders know that flairing everything and putting on the biggest spectacle they can is their bread and butter. The tips they earn are incredible; if you don't flair, you don't get a job.
Let's now look at the other end of the spectrum, a new bar that has recently just opened in London called Nightjar. Marian Beke is the bar manager with Luca Cinalli working as a bartender there. These are two names in the bar trade that anyone reading this magazine should know about, or at least get to know about. Both are renowned for their mixology, professionalism and style when working behind the bar.
I had the pleasure of going there with the trainers from my bar school in London to witness this extraordinary place. Before I continue, IT IS NOT A FLAIR BAR. The bartenders were not throwing bottles around and performing routines with beer bottles and lime wedges. It's not about that. What you do see from the bartenders is a symphony of excellence with the subtle hints of a tin spin, a spoon flicking or twirling, a "fancy" pour into a jigger, specific ways to pour with other bottles and barrels they have there. It is like a choreographed routine which has been planned out meticulously. For me it was just like watching the bartenders at Carnival Court in Las Vegas. I couldn't take my eyes off them, constantly wondering what they were going to do next. Funnily enough, we were not allowed to sit at the bar as it was reserved, but we were watching form a distance with the upmost respect for their skills.
These are not flair bartenders, but as I explained in my last article, they are performing a subtle type of flair; flair being a form of entertainment behind the bar using various techniques and instruments in your own way and style to make a drink. They are not training to be flair bartenders, they are just damned good at their job and have specific ways to "show off" when mixing their cocktails.
That is what customers like to see – fantastic drinks made with style and panache. That is what is going to draw people to come back time and time again. Take Jerry "The Professor" Thomas, one of the most famous bartenders in the world. He took his signature cocktail, the Blue Blazer, and 'performed' it in such a way as to keep the attention of his guests while making the drink at a high quality.
As I've mentioned before, every bartender flairs in one way or another as we all have our ways of doing things, and if you do something for long enough, you will develop a certain type of "flair" in your skill. You don't have to be a flair bar to perform flair for your guests. If I am working on a busy bar, I won't be pulling out a two-shaker-one-bottle routine; I will be doing subtle hints of flair, sometimes to speed up my service. Wow, yes, I said that. Flair can sometimes speed up your service. But simply, I will throw in a few moves to keep my guests' attention and keep them coming back to me for more.
The simple fact is that flair sells drinks. The general tends to believe that if you can throw a bottle around, you must be good at what you do. We all know that is not always the case, but it's all about creating the perception. It is just a shame that flairtenders who don't know how to mix a cocktail let themselves down when the guest tastes the drink and it is a badly balanced cocktail.
So back to the title of the article. When to flair and how to use it.
Use flair to have fun, entertain your guests and keep everyone guessing. Use it to up sell your spirits and get guests interested in what you're doing. This is so easily done. Normally what happens when you perform a flair move (done correctly), a guest might say to you, "Hey, do that again!" You reply with, "Sure, no problem. Buy another drink and I'll do it again for you."
Throw an empty bottle of beer behind your back into the rubbish bin in front of the guests' eyes and no doubt they'll be impressed, buy another beer and get you to do it again.
Shake a guests hand while rolling a bottle down your arm, and their focus will go onto the bottle, which could be a premium spirit, which then gives you an easy starting point to sell that spirit to your guest. Or even better they'll ask you what it is and hey presto, you're up-selling.
There is no definite answer to when you should and shouldn't flair. As we've discussed, there are many different factors to be considered, just remember to follow the basic bartending guidelines: serve great drinks fast, efficiently, with style and with a smile. How you do that is up to you.
Don't be put off by other people's opinion. There is a bar, pub, lounge, hotel bar, nightclub or restaurant for everyone out there. It is the beauty of what we do. If everything was the same then we would become bored very quickly.