An interview with the Grandfather of Flair, John Bandy

Recently we had the pleasure of talking with the Grandfather of Flair himself, the man behind everything you see in the movie Cocktail, and thought to be original creator of flair bartending – John Bandy:

How did you start flair bartending? And how did it lead to your role in the film Cocktail?

“The funny thing is I started flair purely out of boredom one day. I was working in TGI Fridays in Los Angeles and I was new there, so I was getting all the jobs no one wants to do and the boring stuff. I was getting a little tired of saying the same things over and over again when people came in so I thought I would try something new!

I started by messing around with glasses and shakers at home, flipping them whilst standing on the couch so I didn’t break anything or cause too much damage, eventually I took it into the bar as I got better and started doing it with bottles and other stuff. I was making work fun for myself and as it happens it was making it fun for the guests as well, I noticed that what I was doing was catching their eye. Before you know it some of the other bartenders who I worked with started having a go and TGI Fridays decided to take it up a notch and hosted the first flair bartending competition I knew of at that time, the Bartending Olympics.

Anyway, I happened to win the contest and then a few weeks later a couple of young ladies walked into the bar. I approached them to ask them what they wanted to drink as normal and they replied that they didn’t know what they wanted. This can happen a lot when working behind the bar so I gave them my usual answer which was, ‘I’ll make you a drink, if you don’t like it, I’ll buy it’. It would always go down a treat and they always seemed to like it!

So I made the ladies their drink in my normal way, throwing in a bit of flair and next thing I know one of the ladies is telling me she works for Disney Studios and is actually looking for someone to train Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise for an upcoming film. So I gave them the video of the Bartending Olympics contest from a few weeks before and I got the gig! Before I knew it I was being flown out to all these places, spending 1 month filming in New York, another month filming in Toronto and another month filming in Jamaica – it wasn’t a dream come true, it was beyond my wildest dreams!

Jamaica was really great but challenging as well. I used to do this trick when I worked in the bar (bearing in mind this was when you used to be able to smoke in a bar). When someone pulled out a cigarette at the bar I had this basket full of match books next to the register.

This trick was great because it would make me so many tips back in the day. I would light up a match on the book of matches, leaving it attached and then slide the matches down the bar to the person with the cigarette. You may remember this from the film? In Jamaica though it was too humid so the matches wouldn’t light – in true Hollywood style we had a guy behind the scenes with a hairdryer keeping the matches dry so we could pull off that trick for the film.

Well that was it for me really, Tom Cruise was a hot ticket at the time as this was just after Top Gun has been released. From then on I spent the next 8 years being asked by juice companies and beer companies across the US to go around the world flipping bottles and teaching seminars in over 30 different countries”.

(From left to right: Bryan Brown , John Bandy, Tom Cruise)

What it was like to train Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown?

“Yeah both Tom and Bryan were very capable, ambidextrous guys. Tom was a real guys, guy and Bryan Brown was really cool and laid back. The two had a bit of a competition between each other over the course of the filming to see who was going to break more stuff – Tom won!

Seriously though they were great guys, very easy to teach and get along with. They were agile and worked hard although most of what you saw in the film was for the cameras. Quite often Tom or Bryan would get the trick right just enough while the camera was on them and then they would drop it off shot.

A great example of where Hollywood would use their tricks was the famous Long Island Ice Tea scene at Fridays Bar, when they do the shaker bounce off the rubber matt and it pops back up into his hand. In reality the shaker never left Tom’s hand. When the shaker went below the bar and out of sight of the camera – Hollywood did the rest, inserting the sound of the shaker bouncing off the floor, etc. I think we may still be there now if we tried to actually pull that one off!

Do you think Tom or Bryan still pull off any of the flair moves you taught them?

“I highly doubt it!”

Do you still watch any flair bartending these days?

“Unfortunately I don’t really keep up to date with it like I used to. My son plays Major League Baseball now so I spend an awful lot of time watching Baseball as you can imagine! I have been invited out to the Legend of Bartending in Las Vegas a few times and judged a few competitions over the years. Don’t get me wrong I still spend a fair amount of time in bars – just on the other side of the bar now!

I hear there are a lot of great things going on with flair bartending all over the world today and I wish I was up to date with all the technology so I could watch more of the competitions on the live streams and such. Nevertheless I am really proud of the young guys taking on the mantle of flair and developing all sorts of new moves and styles – it is really cool to see it evolve from where I started.

I flaired for 25 years and really enjoyed it, some of the moves I have seen people pull off these days I don’t think I could do – it is just amazing.   I quit bartending in ’06 but it is great to see how flair bartending in particular has really grown into a cult following.”


What tricks did you create that you are most proud of?

“It had to be catching the shaker around the back of my head (blind shaker catch behind the head). I came up with that in ’86 and it is still one of my most enjoyable moves”.


Do you think you could still pull off the moves like you used to?

“I don’t know about most of them, it has been a very long time and I hung up my bottles in ’06 but I reckon I could definitely still pull off the Long Island – five white spirits and a smile”.