It’s a strange thing flair is…..

Last weekend saw the finals of the Roadhouse flair competition down in Covent Garden, London. It was the 17th one and that in itself is a testament to not only the venue and the people behind it, but also to the crowd who pay for their tickets year in year out, the bartenders who compete, the judges and the organizers. For a competition to run for 17 years without a break is almost unheard of nowadays, especially when you think it is relatively unfunded and the Maxwells Restaurant group (the owners of Roadhouse) pay most of the bills with the help of some sponsors throughout the years (recent years have been sponsored by Stolichnaya). I was myself involved in the competition from the start, being a bartender at the Roadhouse in 1999 when the competition was created by Brett Seychell as just an in-store competition between Roadhouse bartenders before we challenged the guys at TGI Fridays Covent Garden and it grew from there…… My own personal involvement started as I mentioned as a competitor, then as an organizer, then to be invited back as a judge and in most recent years I have been part of the audience. Flair is a passion of mine and runs through my daily work in my events company and also in the WFA (World Flair Association) of which I am a co-founder.

At this point when writing about a competition, you would go into a review of the competitions and break down the routines etc. Well in the year of the digital age, you can view all routines online almost instantly, if not live so I wont bother. It was great and you can view it for yourself. Alexander Shtifanov won and it was a great routine, that’s my review.

There was something may more special about what happened that night on the Roadhouse stage, it was Tom Dyers last ever flair competition. Now unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years, you will know that Tom Dyer is a bartending legend. He has toured the world competing and winning flair competitions, training and holding seminars and generally spreading good vibes. Everyone likes Tom and so they should, he’s one of the life’s nice guys. Before I go into what Tom did on stage, I would like to give you a bit of background and again my involvement with Tom.

Now he probably won’t like me for writing this, but Tom used to come to Roadhouse and sit on my station and watch me bartend. I didn’t know who he was, as our style of bartending at that time was to serve lots of people quickly with style. This inevitably created a certain amount of arrogance on our part as we were dealing with the West Ends thirsty crowd and we were the best at doing it (the arrogance is possibly still there….), so getting peoples names and introducing ourselves was not high on our list unless you were a pretty girl. We multi ordered, we up-sold, we created an atmosphere behind the bar by serving with style and the multitude of guests loved it. So its not necessarily surprising that a skinny 18 year old boy with jam jar glasses would get missed……

Tom came down to the flair competitions and was one of the guys who stood at the front of the stage and was amazed at what he saw. Like many who have passed before him and the ones who haven’t yet seen it, this inspired him. He wanted to do what he saw. He went away and he practiced and practiced and practiced. Many hours, days, weeks and months were spent in his mum and dads back garden and a year later he was ready to compete on the Roadhouse stage. He came 31st.

 Maybe when he was on stage, he was mocked. He didn’t fit the mold as a flair bartender. Aren’t flair bartenders good-looking, slightly arrogant guys who can command an audience with their presence? Tom did not look like this…. After this performance he tried to get a job as a bartender at the Roadhouse, I remember Chris Spencer (bar manager at the time) saying there is no way he would get a job behind the bar as the West Ends finest would destroy him over the bar with their drunkenness, rude, obnoxious ways (the customers, not the bartenders…), but Chris had to go through the motions and sit him down for an interview, give him the cocktail specs to learn etc. I remember Chris saying to me that this guy really wants it, he’s aced the cocktail test, said all the right things in his interview, but we just cant put him behind the bar.

This is the first time I thought to myself there is something about this guy, he puts himself on stage, people mock him for the way he looks but he has this steely determination about him to do what he wants and prove everybody wrong. So he probably went away that day after another knock back and thought “Well if you are not going to let me behind the bar, I’m going to win your bloody flair competition then!”. This is what he did and it’s not only a credit to himself, but also a lesson to anybody in life. If you really want it, nothing will hold you back, only yourself.

So back to current day and the Roadhouse flair finals 2015.

A bit of a bug bear that we have in the flair world and a lot share this opinion including Tom, is the multi object routines we are seeing more and more of nowadays. Instead of thinking about creating original, stylish moves out of fewer objects, flair bartenders are thinking how they can shoehorn another object in and slightly change a move that has already been done. With this in mind Tom did his whole final routine with just two objects and it was mesmerizing. He possibly knew that this would not win him the competition based on the scoring system, so he was forfeiting the £10,000 he could have won for the sake of getting the message across. Use all objects to more effect not more objects to try and gain an effect. Tom’s routine was also a nod back to all of the other finals he has competed in, using the moves and music from past years and adding in some upgrades. The atmosphere during his routine was special, it peaked, the crowd loved it and I’ve not felt that atmosphere since the days of Nicolas St Jean competing. I’m sorry to say that this competition will not be remembered for Alexander Shtifanov’s winning routine, but for Tom’s farewell routine that earned him 4th place.

Not only was it his last competition, but what it stood for meant more and will create a legacy in the bartending world. Tom has gone against all odds and become one of the greats in his industry, laughed at when he started and adored when he finished. I have the honour of being able to work with him on a daily basis nowadays and his attitude to everything in life inspires me.

Thank you Tom Dyer, you are one of life’s winners.

Andy Collinson