Flair Bartending

Part 2
Starting Out

- written by Val Schirmer

So, you've come to the decision that standing behind the bar and mixing drinks the way you always do has become monotonous. And, to combat your boredom and mix things up a bit (so to speak), you're going to try your hand at flair bartending.

Did you come to this decision after watching the movie Cocktail or catching a flair bartending competition on TV? Or, were you so inspired by the first part of this article series on flair bartending that you decided you just had to get out and learn it for yourself?

Perhaps you haven't even made the decision yet, and you still need a little bit of convincing. Maybe this will help:

Both amateur and professional bartenders can be at a great advantage if they have the skills and knowledge to perform flair.

If you want to step up your bartending game at home, you'll impress your friends and be the person that everyone wants to hang out with. But, the greatest benefits are for those of you who bartend professionally.

Think of all that being a flair bartender could mean for your career. Your customers will keep coming back and will be more willing to stuff your tip jar full of money. Plus, if it ever comes between you and another bartender while applying for a job, who do you think would be more apt to get it- some Joe Shmoe who pours a drink just like everyone else, or the one who can make drinks as exciting as possible?

Have you made up your mind? Good! Now, let's get you started.

But, don't think you're going to go right to the bar and attempt to start showing off your flair prowess. There are some things you need to know.

Although you think you can just pick up a bottle and start flipping it like a pro, there's actually a lot involved in the learning process.

First things first, you need the right equipment. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT use what you already have stocked in your bar when you start training. You'll encounter a lot of broken bottles, dented shakers, a huge mess to clean up, and probably even some injuries.

What you need to get are practice flair bottles. They look like real bottles, are shaped like real bottles, but are made of plastic so that you don't have to worry about shattered glass and puddles of expensive liquor all over your floor when you drop it. Some are plain, some are made to look like the real thing, and others are conveniently adorned with flair instructions to help you along. Whichever type you choose, you'll want to get at least two or three of these bottles so that you have extras if you misplace one, and can practice juggling. While you're at it, pick up a few extra plastic spouts since they have a tendency to get pretty beat up while practicing.

Metal tins are great for learning to flair, but you want to make sure the ones you get have no rubber or coating on them so that they can be easily caught, stacked, and separated. Weighted tins are recommended.

Lastly, you'll need a speed opener, or two or three.

You've got all your equipment, now you need to find a good location to practice - someplace spacious and with little breakables in the immediate area.

Scott Young, President and Founder of ExtremeBartending.com, suggests starting in your backyard. That's what he did!

Once you've found a large, open area that's free of obstructions, you need to come up with some type of schedule that sets aside time during each week to practice. And don't just create the schedule, actually stick to it!

How long it will take you to get the moves down pat really depends on what exactly you want to learn, and just how quickly you can catch on.

How much time will you need? No one can say for sure, but Young has a suggestion:

"One day. For one move. I say that only a little jokingly. If you take a few basic moves and work on them for an hour or so, you'll be really amazed at how fast you learn. Just make sure you're learning the right habits."

If you think you might have a problem setting a schedule and sticking to it, set a goal that you want to attain for each session. For instance, do you want to learn how to throw a bottle over your left shoulder and catch it behind your back? Don't stop for the day until you can do is smoothly at least twice.

Also create rules that can help you through frustrating times. When you drop a bottle, which you will, don't get frustrated. If you immediately pick it up and keep going you'll drive yourself so crazy, you'll never get it right. Resolve to take a breather when an accident happens that can not only help you to possibly figure out what you did wrong, but will give you time to get your confidence back.

Not everyone has the skills or fortitude to learn such a tricky task on their own. No one will think less of you if you ask for some help. Buddy up with someone you know and practice together. You can help each other out if one of you learns a move faster than the other. And, you can cheer each other on when frustration starts to set in.

But, if stumbling through moves with one of your friends watching doesn't seem like the best idea, then you can get the help you need through instructional DVDs. Sites like ExtremeBartending.com offer a wide array of tutorials that feature skilled teachers who can walk you through even the toughest moves step by step. The best part? You can go back and watch them again and again until you get it right.

If you'd prefer live help, look for classes that are being held in your area. You might even find one at your favorite watering hole.

You know about flair's history and you are armed with all you need to get started. Now all you need to learn are some moves.