Discover The History of Flair Bartending

Flair Bartending, we all know it well but do you know where it came from? Inspired by our adoration of all things bartending we have used various articles and news stories from across the world wide web to put together the history of this glorious thing we call flair bartending.

Sometimes referred to as ‘extreme bartending’, ‘bar tricks’ or ‘flairtending’, the word flair rose to fame in the mid 1990’s. Flair can include almost any manipulation of a bar tool such as a cocktail shaker or even a bar napkin. Often employed to differentiate establishments and entertain guests, flair bartending in today’s world has become more than just a marketing technique for bar and club owners or a past time for bored bartenders. Flair Bartending has evolved into its own discipline attracting bartenders from around the world to understand its secrets and its tricks – however as with all impressive skills, practice makes perfect.

The History of Flair Bartending

The earliest record of anything that would come close to a flair bartender is the mention of a man called Jerry ‘The Professor’ Thomas who poured firey streams of boiling water and flaming whisky, mixing an original called the Blue Blazer in the 19th century. Other than this early mention Flair Bartending is thought to have emanated out of the T.G.I Fridays Company, specifically at their establishment in Los Angeles with a man called John Bandy.

As the story goes, John Bandy was awfully bored at some point in the ’80s and was tired of the same old meet and greet with the customers and so, he decided to switch it up. He began experimenting with all manner of bar tools, teaching himself how to frisbee toss bar napkins and catch a flying cocktail tin behind his head. In fact it was John Bandy who taught the actors in the only other great contributor to Flair Bartending in history, the film Cocktail.

Love it or hate it, the film Cocktail featuring Tom Cruise helped spread flair bartending across the USA and eventually the world. Within 8 years of the film, there was a huge demand for training in flair bartending and John Bandy found himself performing training seminars in over 30 countries. This represented the birth of flair bartending as a mainstream discipline and something any professional bartender would need to have within their skill set. When the classic cocktail revival which came roaring back in the late 90’s early 2000’s, flair bartending proved itself to be more than a fad, flair was here to stay.

history of flair bartending

Taking Flair to the Next Level

In the mid 2000’s flair bartending would be taken to the next level with the formation of the World Flair Association and eventually a grand slam system with a worldwide league table. Flair had now officially evolved from a form of entertainment for customers and a matter of differentiation for bar owners and bartenders, to become a discipline in which you could compete and master. Over the years flair bartending would grow around the world with the WFA putting on or supporting competitions across almost every continent.

International flair bartender competitions such as The Roadhouse World Finals in London have been running for over 16 years and the winner can take away a cheque for £10,000. With the advent of competition flair bartending via the WFA we have also seen flair bartending grow, with new faces, new moves and new styles as the discipline evolves year on year. Competition is a great way to incentivise creation and innovation and with flair bartending this is no different.

Flair bartenders are employed all over the world as it is now widely recognised as a dramatic, skilful and entertaining discipline. Often employed for promotional purposes, flair bartenders are great at attracting crowds and are even better when actually making and serving drinks for people as well – hence why a flair bartenders optimum environment will always be behind a bar, rather than on a stage.

There is a belief that flair bartending is purely for show, however this is not the case. Any bartender that is undertaking flair bartending training or has mastered the discipline already will know that it can in fact make you a more precise bartender and certainly a quicker and more efficient one!

In order to perform the moves you have to first organise the order in which you are going to perform these actions in your head. This thought process links each move together in an organised way, making you faster and more efficient behind the bar. You almost build a routine in your head and then perform the routine step by step as you go ahead to make the drink that has been requested. After all being efficient or achieving maximum efficiency is something that has always been at the heart of working flair, ensuring that each and every flair move you perform behind the bar has first and foremost a purpose and secondly an entertaining factor.

The days of cheesy Tom Cruise in an aloha shirt are thankfully over, but the spirit of flair and its innate ability to engage and interest the guest and audience are more alive than ever.  At the heart of it bartenders will always be entertainers, whether that is flipping a bottle or building a perfect Old Fashioned, and that is really what bartending is all about – entertainment and enjoyment.

history of flair bartending