Recently I was out for drinks with a few friends. We were sitting at the bar, drinking and chatting and just generally having a great time when behind the bar I noticed the bartender pull down from the shelf two unlabeled plastic bottles. Ah shit, I thought, here we go again. My fears were confirmed as the bartender threw one of the bottles up in the air and caught it, wobbly but more or less balanced, on the back of his hand. I knew we were in for a demonstration of a tedious yet increasingly popular trend; flair bartending.
The bartender began to toss and spin the bottles around. Over his shoulder and behind his back, under his arm, between his legs etc. this went on for a while before eventually the show ended with the bottles caught and inverted over a tumbler rapidly filling with coloured water, this accompanied by the bartender’s smug grin and the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the various mooks sat at the bar. My friends included.
I gritted my teeth.
I hate flair bartending. Flair bartending or ‘flairtending’ is just juggling by another name and- juggling? Sucks. It’s playing catch, with yourself. Just because it’s difficult enough that most people can’t do it doesn’t mean it’s exciting to watch. When was the last time you saw a juggler and were honestly impressed? Probably not since you were a child. If it’s been since then, the juggler most likely had to go to some pretty great lengths to make their act entertaining, like juggling flaming chainsaws or something. And even then I wouldn’t be surprised if down in a deep, dark corner of your soul the real reason you felt so compelled to watch was the possibility of seeing that juggler running around in circles, screaming and flapping his handless stumps to try and beat out thefire now engulfing him…
Ahem. Sorry, that may have been a bit harsh. My beef here isn’t with jugglers, as such, so long as they confine their antics to appropriate locations such as children’s birthday parties and small town fairs. It’s the absurd combination of juggling with bartending that I really take issue with.
Juggling is in no way related to, or assists in, the core tasks that it is a bartender’s job to perform. A bartender makes drinks and serves them to customers. I’ll even expand the list of duties to ones that are expected but not essential, such as the ability to make small talk with customers, be quick with a joke (or a light up your smoke) and to have a sympathetic ear for customers who have a story they need to tell. None of those things require a bartender to be able to throw a bottle and then have it come back to exactly where it was before he threw it. A juggling bartender makes about as much sense as a plumber who does card tricks or bus driver who swallows swords.
Maybe you doubt whether I’m qualified to expound on this topic. Maybe you disagree with me and you love flair bartending or you’re just indifferent and think as long as it’s not hurting anyone, who cares?
First- lest you doubt my authority on this subject, know that I speak as someone who not only drinks in bars but who also works in them. I’ve pulled more than enough pints and mixed enough martinis to speak from a position of some authority. I’ve worked with other bartenders who ‘flairtend’ and they fall in to two groups. Either they are very young and it’s their first or second bartending gig. They still consider the profession ‘romantic’ instead of ‘vaguelydepressing’ and have seen the movie Cocktail more than once. This type of flairtender eventually matures, realises their folly and outgrowstheir brief dalliance with flair. The other type of flairtender is just an irredeemable assholeand closeted busker.
Second- If you love flair bartending- it’s probably only because you’re drunk when you see it and drunk people are generally pretty easy to impress. But you shouldn’t love it because flair bartending hurts everyone who enjoys drinking at bars. It does so in several ways. For one, time spent juggling is time spent not making drinks, so it takes longer to get your order. Secondly, flair bartending is the sort of useless ‘fluff’ that gives bars an excuse to charge you $10 for a $4 drink. And finally, flair bartending is a dangerous liability. People just shouldn’t be throwing bottles around in the bar. Most bartenders who attempt flair aren’t very good at what they’re doing. And on top of that it’s probably takenthree or fourvodka redbulls for the bartender to loosen up enough to be around drunk people until three in the morning. Together these things mean that there’s a good chance that at some point the flairtender mightscrewup his act. And screwing up his act means spilled drinks and broken glass which, granted, will probably end up being more entertaining than the flair itself but not if you’re the guy whose pint ends up in his lap.
A digression and confession; this happened to me once and, besides my professional objection to the practice, is probably my biggest reason for hating flair bartending.
So what can you do, as a consumer, to help put an end to this practice? My first suggestion would be to try and avoid the sort of places that condone flair. This isn’t always going to be possible, so my second suggestion applies to the way you tip. Never don’t tip. Most people don’t tip enoughand it’s no good trying to solve the flair problem if it means adding to the chintzy tipper problem. Tip the flair bartender the same way you would tip a single mother with three kids working at a diner who only came by to refill your coffee once; out of pity instead of as a reward.After you put your money on the bar, take the bartender’s hand and give it a slight squeeze,put on a concerned look as you make eye contact and slowly shake your head ‘no’. Eventually he’ll figure it out and stop juggling. Or save up enough to finally run off to join the circus where he belongs.