Bringing the world of flair and mixology together with Chris Cardone

We spoke to the winner of perhaps the world’s most well known cocktail competition, Chris Cardone, who recently won the Diageo World Class in the USA. Chris who started off as a flair bartender has started a discussion on the bartending scene as he represents one of the few bartenders who are not only a dedicated mixologist but also an impressive flair bartender.

Chris made history winning the Diageo World Class in the USA by bringing out a small and focused range of flair bartending skills – even though the Diageo is perhaps the most serious cocktail competition in the world, where flair bartending is rarely seen. We spoke to Chris to gain a better understanding of his background and how he was able to bring both the flair bartending and the mixology worlds together in his on stage performances:


Diageo World Class

How did you find your way into flair bartending?

“It all started when I was 17 years old and I saw the movie Cocktail, a bit cliche maybe – but I was blown away by not only the whole flair thing (which I had never seen before) but also how cool this guy was. I wanted to be just like this guy, he had the attention, the girl, the money, the job, I thought that looks like a lot of fun! Of course being 17 I didn’t know a lot about making drinks or alcohol at all really. Seeing this inspired me to find out more so I attended a course at a local bar school in Long Island where I grew up – I learned some of the basics but looking back now the cocktail recipes were garbage!”

However, I came out the other side 18 and ready to work in my first bar! I found it hard to find a job but in the end managed to secure something at the Roadhouse Pub, which was basically a beer pub. A lot of the time I would be serving bottles of beer, no cocktails or anything special – there was one thing I picked up from the manager though that would awaken the flair bartending beast inside of me – a very simple flat throw behind the back from my left hand to my right hand. I would do this with the empty beer bottles and soon the regulars noticed and would challenge me to do different things, do it with two bottles, etc. My tips started to go up and this is when I knew I needed to look into this properly.


diageo world class


This was the year 2000 so before youtube and a lot of other great online resources that now exist to teach yourself flair bartending. So I turned to the only flair manual I had – my VHS of the film Cocktail. I would copy as many moves as I could, this was also before the flair bottle so I would put duct tape on empty beer and liquor bottles and practice with them. Eventually I got hold of a tape from a flair bartending competition by TGI Fridays and this is when I really started to discover what was possible with flair bartending. My next target was now to compete.

I entered my very first flair competition on the Cayman Islands in 2001 where I came 13th out of 26 and by 2003 something had clicked and I was consistently placing in the top three or winning national and local competitions. During my first experience of a proper flair competition I not only discovered that I could do this and I didn’t suck – which gave me great confidence – but I also discovered the fraternity within flair bartending, at my first competition I made 25 new friends for sure.


diageo world class


I had my first experience of proper exhibition flair bartending when I was invited to the Legend of Flair Bartending in Vegas where I saw the likes of Tom Dyer, Neil Lowery, Neil Garner and more – not only was it my first experience of exhibition flair but also the European style of flair, which I loved and still use to this day. I continued to compete in international and national flair competitions, even running a local competition called the Big Apple Showdown for a number of years, until 2010 when I started to transition into judging and organisation of flair competitions. I took part in my last flair competition in Pensylvannia in 2011, coming second but it was after this that I knew the time was right for me to hang up my bottles”.

Hanging up your bottles…

“At the time I was also working at a place in New York City called the Beatrice Inn, a very well known place that had reopened as a restaurant and cocktail bar. This is where i started to take a real interest in the different liquors, alcohols and cocktail creations – following some eye opening experiences in London and other places that made me really start to appreciate cocktail creation.

As the bar was an up and coming cocktail bar in NYC I had a lot of room to experiment and try out different things such as all manner of cocktail creations, infusions and my own recipes. It is almost impossible to experiment and learn at home without all the resources at your fingertips, at the bar I was set free however and this is where I developed my love for cocktails.


diageo world class


A year or so later, in 2013, I started entering drinks into cocktail competitions such as the Diageo World Class. My first submission didn’t even get through the video submission online, the next year in 2014 I had more luck making it through to the national finals where I saw the likes of Charles Joly and again learned so much from the long time competitors that were also there. What was really interesting to see was the level of intent focus these guys showed on stage, this was exactly the same focus I had seen in the likes of Neil Garner and the others at the flair competition in Vegas. There really are a lot of similarities between the bartenders who rise to the top of flair and those who rise to the top of cocktail competitions”.

Bringing Mixology and Flair together

“Come 2017 I had been entering the Diageo World Class every year, never getting any further than the national finals and I had made it to the national finals again in 2017. To get to the national finals twice was rare but three times was almost unheard of so I decided that this was going to be my last attempt – all or nothing. I had always been of the understanding that you are either cocktails and mixology or flair – to start flair bartending at a serious cocktail competition such as the Diageo World Class would almost certainly be suicide, right? Wrong.


daigeo world class


I purposely didn’t go over the top as it was still a cocktail competition not a flair competition so kept the flair bartending quite simple, more like working flair than exhibition flair. It turned out that the judges absolutely loved the touch and it really made me stand out from the other 14 competitors, couple this with the fact that I had placed highest in the speed round and it meant being crowned winner! I couldn’t believe it.

The winner is awarded a golden cobbler shaker and I was so happy with my win that without even thinking about I started throwing the shaker around and doing a few rolls. The photographer snapped me doing this flair bartending and used that as the main image for the aftermath of the competition, which of course has a massive following. It was a beautiful moment as the flair bartending and mixology world came together. And like I said quite unheard of for any flair bartender to make its way into the Diageo World Class at all. Overall it was a great day for me and a great day for flair bartending.

I will now go on to Mexico City to compete in the Global finals where 65 countries will be represented and you can bet I will be bringing a touch of flair again as I represent the USA!”

Check out Chris in action in this video: