Bartending may be about the final product before anything else, but it’s also about creating a fun experience for guests, charming and entertaining your audience, as well as dazzling them with a few tricks. This doesn’t need to just be to rake in the tips, it’s also a way of showing your passion for bartending and proving that you’re on top of your game. Flair bartending is something to be done effortlessly, and as top New York bartender Chris Cardone explains, while ‘exhibition flair’ is for competitions, ‘working flair’ is more practical, ideal for those working in busy bars as it shouldn’t take any more time to get that cocktail to your customer.
There are a few things to remember before starting with any cool tricks. Practice is key; This means honing your balance, flips and spins at home to avoid any unprofessional spillages or breakages. It’s a good idea to use your own tools so that you can adjust to their weight, shape and size. Another thing to keep in mind is that in the bar, antics with bottles and shakers should always be a safe distance from your audience.
Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to add that little extra to your drink service.
Napkins – a simple flourish, but one that tells the bartenders apart from the bar staff, with practice napkins can be spun horizontally onto the bar, for a glass to be placed upon. With more practice, the napkin can be spun in the air and caught with the back of a hand, then placed on the bar when the hand is turned over. The next stage is to spin a napkin onto an elbow, before being bumped onto the hand, then the bar.
The stall – this basic trick involves catching and balancing a bottle on the back of your hand, with the bottle upright. When the bottle lands, the hand need to cushion its fall to allow it to balance. There are endless variations of this trick using different parts of the body for balancing the bottle, such as an elbow, a forearm or even a head. From the stall position, the bottle can be flipped vertically, before returning to the stall, or the bottleneck can be caught by the hand, ready to pour into a glass.
This is a great way to avoid repetition and showcase your talent at the same time. When shakers contain drinks and ice, they can be stacked on top of the next, with a strainer placed on the one at the top. Provided the glasses are at the right distance apart, the stacked shakers can be raised in a horizontal curving arch above the glasses, such that the drinks are poured from the gaps between the shakers into the glasses. This can be done with any number of drinks – if you have enough spare shakers!
Juggling and passing – bartenders will always impress with their practiced ability to throw and catch ice cubes in glasses, spin and flip bottles, or the ‘shadow pass’ of throwing and catching a bottle behind the back (with a forehand to backhand option). Once throwing and catching spinning bottles is a mastered skill, the next stage is to do more than one bottle simultaneously, i.e. juggling. First, make sure you’re comfortable with catching a bottle with one or two others already in your hand, before working up to throwing and catching multiple bottles at the same time.
Playing with fire – Make sure you don’t burn yourself! Fire is the ultimate crowd-pleaser, but also the most dangerous, so be sure you know what you’re doing before you attempt anything live. With a cocktail such as the Blue Blazer, you can really put on a show by igniting rum and boiling water then long-pouring it from one metal glass to another, before ending in a puff of smoke caused by pouring the drink into a separate glass.
The chin stack – this is one to work up to, and while it doesn’t really have any everyday application, it is a good way of polishing your balancing dexterity. Start by balancing an upside down bottle with the bottle’s mouth on your chin. The next step is to see how many more you can balance on the base of that bottle – another bottle on its side, and then glasses containing drinks. This part is the ‘stack’, and it can be as high as you can make it. There is the option to put wet napkins between the bottles and glasses to make the stack steadier. This is a real circus feat, so take it one step at a time.
If you’re looking to improve your flaring skills, then why not learn from the masters? The European Bartender School are offering a 2-day working flair course at a variety of exciting destinations across the globe, where you can learn tricks and talent from leading bartenders.