Flair Play

Style still counts in bartending, as the revived Nations challenge proves

On Aug. 16, 50 internationally ranked flair bartenders will go tin-to-tin for $25,000 as new arrival Rock & Rita’s revives the Nations International Flair Challenge from its one-year, recession-induced hiatus.

Yes, flair is still going strong, despite the long rift over the merits of this flamboyant bartending style. Mixologists and cocktailians curl their lips at the mere mention of those on other side. No one understands this chasm better than Ken Hall, who, along with colleagues such as Tobin Ellis of BarMagic of Las Vegas, has spent his career straddling that chasm. The six-time world flair champion bartends and  develops cocktails for Light Group, but he also has been successfully running flair bartending competitions since 1993.

Hall attributes the negativity toward flair to the early 2000s, when the Strip was saturated with flair bars and the mandate to put on a good show overtook good service and quality drinks.

“There’s a time and place,” argued Ellis at a recent seminar on the “Flair of Mixology.” The Flair Bartenders Association co-founder, Ellis explained that flair, in the hands of an unsavvy bartender, can sour guests to the entire notion. It takes “discipline and maturity” to know when to break out the moves.

In an effort to bridge the gap, this year’s Nations challenge will feature a round allowing contestants no more than two items in their hands at any given moment; and the freestyle round has been cut to just three minutes, making it more like the typical guest interaction at a bar.

And if you’re wondering whether flair is still relevant, Mark Green invites you to witness a flair showcase at Kahunaville or Rock & Rita’s. Green, co-owner of both places, says no one in the cheering crowd appears to give a hoot that service stops for four and half minutes.