We are sure there will be many of you out there that will know of, or will at least heard of, USA flair bartending legend Alan Mays. A flair bartender who certainly falls into the ‘Flair Legend’ category, Alan stands among the first wave of flair bartenders in the USA and around the world that paved the way for the industry we have before us today.
Alan first started flair bartending in Church Street in 1987 and to this day still breaks out the bottles, such as at the Las Vegas Yard Day that you can see in more detail further down. For now however let’s start with the Flair Bartending contest involving Alan that kicked it all off almost 26 years ago:
Quest for the Best
“From what I recall – The “Quest” was the first bartending contest held annually that was open to any bartender regardless of where they worked. It incorporated what is now known as “flair” into the event. I remember it starting in 1991 at Disney World’s Pleasure Island in Orlando, Florida. In 1991 it was an Orlando City Championship and seeing that there were already a number of bartenders in Orlando using this style of bartending, the contest was a success.
The next year Disney teamed up with a promoter named Patrick Henry. This is when it became a National Championship with a Florida finals, and other qualifying finals held throughout the United States. Shortly after this it became an international contest, and soon after that a world contest.
There are many stories, and positive things that happened to flair bartending during this time frame. Many of these things were a result of the interactions between the people attending the “Quest for the Best”. A really great case can be made that the “Quest” was the genesis of modern day flair bartending contests. Here’s just a few reasons why:
- It was the first contest held annually that was open to any flair bartender regardless of where they worked.
- First contest where flair bartenders had input in how it would be setup, run, and judged.
- First contest where flair bartenders were given the opportunity to do an exclusive exhibition round on stage.
- First contest where flair bartenders were given the opportunity to do a specialty drink round with a drink of their own creation.
- First contest where flair bartenders were able to choose their own music for their exhibition round and specialty drink rounds.
- First contest of this format where flair bartenders interacted with an audience and professional MC during the round.
- First contest where a flair stage was setup especially for the show.
- First contest where this “flair stage” was used as a model for almost all flair contest to follow.
- First contests where barbacks were used to catch items thrown to them by the competing flair bartender.
This list could go on, so you can see how “Quest” set the bar for flair bartending competitions moving forward. Scores of people from this era could easily add to it, and so then these are just some of the reasons why many may choose to reach the conclusion that… the beginnings of the modern day flair contest can be traced back to the “Quest”. The “Quest” from a global competitive flair bartending standpoint (in the opinion of many) started the game, and the points above stand testament to this.
As for the current situation and standing of the “Quest”… It certainly has the opportunity to make a dramatic comeback and my gut tells me there’s a good chance that the “Quest” and other contests like it will. Time will tell”.
Tell us about some of your favourite ‘old school’ moves and how they have influenced today’s flair…
“Well, it starts with the building blocks: flats, single rotations, multiple rotations, different throwing plains, different body moves, spins, rolls, stalls, other balance moves, bumps, taps, contact moves, different objects, exchanges, variety of exchanges, and so forth. I was doing, or watching others doing some of these ‘old school’ moves even before the movie “Cocktail” came out. I can remember when a group of the bartenders I worked with all went to see the movie “Cocktail”, and after watching it we were like, “Jeez! They made a movie about us!” But…If I were to have to say, what were my favourite ‘old school’ moves? I’d have to say this – multiple object flair.
You see, I was very lucky on many different levels at the place I started bartending at. Some of the bartenders helped me out right away. We were already working at a place that considered us “entertainment bartenders“, and as a young green bartender there was a strong desire to learn, and stand out. Here’s where I was also very lucky. The tourist attraction I worked at had a number of very talented street jugglers as part of the entertainment. I became friends with some of these jugglers, and they showed me how to get things done.
This in itself would be a long story, but taking this back into the bartending world… I wanted to stand out from the older more experienced bartenders, so while I was learning the fundamentals of how to work a high volume bar as an entertainment bartender I also wanted to do things these other bartenders were not doing, so I could work my way up the ladder, and get better shifts. Multiple objects was part of that solution.
Since there were already a plurality of bartenders in O-town (Orlando) that would partake of this style of bartending, once the movie ‘Cocktail” came out it was like a match to gasoline. It wasn’t long after this when Disney started their contest and bartenders began gravitating to their own preferred styles. Bill Long from south Florida also came onto the scene as a multiple object bartender, and others followed. The best way I can sum up my favourite ‘old school’ moves is with a quote that is a version of something I heard another flair bartender say, (cough, cough – Billy H.):
“Get as many objects into the air as you can. Figure it out correctly before it all comes down, and keep the liquid in the bottles except when pouring.”
And well, how have these old school moves influenced today’s flair? Well that in many respects is for today’s flair bartenders to decide”.
Tell us about some of the old names that were an influence to you back then and perhaps how they have influenced today’s flair…
“This could take awhile, but let’s give it a go. Many of the people who were the biggest influence on myself are in all likelihood not that well known in today’s flair world. The people of influence I feel compelled to initially mention are coworkers at my first bartending job. So then, if this question were to be answered properly a brief description of the venue where I first worked would be in order.
The bar was Rosie O’ Grady’s which was one of several bars that were a part of a complex known as Church Street Station located in downtown Orlando, Florida. The front of the house employees of this establishment all had their entertainment rolls – the cocktail waitresses were can-can girls, and the servers and bartenders were encouraged to spin, balance, throw things, and expected to sing multiple times throughout the night. The singing was at the beginning of each show featuring a live Dixieland band along with other entertainment. This place was a hoot and the person who was the biggest influence for me would be a guy named Dennis Green.
Dennis Green was the man that gave me my first bartending job, and encouraged me to take my entertainment bartending skills to whatever level I desired. Dennis was in fact the first guy to show me a stall move on the back of the hand which he had picked up from another bartender. Take into consideration back then it wasn’t called a “stall“ but something more like, “Hey, what’a you think of this?” Another good trick Dennis Green showed me back in the 1980’s was if you received a big tip stick it to your forehead, and keep bartending. This little strategy made me a lot of extra money over the years!
Anyway, there was plenty of other bartenders at “Rosie’s” that showed me the basics. A couple of others that stood out were David Frazier and Weir Alexander. Dave’s abilities to socialise and have fun on even the busiest of shifts was a huge influence, and Weir was the most advanced high volume service bartender I’ve ever know. Dave’s social skills were genius, and Weir’s abilities to work with both hands, as well as his memory recall…even to this day the only way to logically explain it was he must have been a cyborg.
As a young bartender with a desire to stand out from the rest of the bartenders… I was instantly drawn to multiple object moves. This is where the street jugglers helped me immeasurably, and their help came not only from the juggling, multiplexing, and object manipulating moves, but also just as equally important was how to work with an audience. Max Winfrey was one of these professional jugglers. Bill Whitmire was another. Both of these guys were a blessing to me as an entertainment bartender. They would answer my questions, demonstrate ideas, give me advice, and introduce and make me aware of other jugglers that could help me out. Max and Bill were not the only two jugglers that worked at Church Street Station. There was quite a few more, and some with technical skills that included world records. There’s really no way around it… all of the jugglers at Church Street during this time frame had a huge impact on me as an entertainment bartender. Their willingness to show me the “how to” of their skills is something I’ll always be very grateful for. These are definitely not all the names of the people that influenced me early on at Church Street be it bartender, or juggler, but looking back it’s easy to see how lucky I was to be around everyone there.
I was also very lucky to begin meeting other bartenders outside of Church Street. When the contests took off that’s when everything began to accelerate rapidly. I had already been bartending for quite some time using this style, which was later to become known as “flair”. However, when the “Quest” started that’s when I began meeting other bartenders around the country, and other countries that had the same passion for this style of bartending.
There are so many cool people and so many great stories there’s absolutely no way I can mention all the names in a short article, and therefore I’m really not doing any justice to this topic. Nevertheless, here is a very short list of some people who were influential to me. Perhaps other flair bartenders around the world may have heard of:
Bill Long, another multiple object bartender. If people really realised all the cool moves this guy first pulled off during contests they would be shocked. Nathan Taylor, very classy guy, and very coordinated. Nathan is from Houston, Texas, and was always a force at the major contests. He won the first Legends contest, and even went to Europe in those early years and won the first IBA world flair championship, a contest held in Poland. Dean Serneels, everyone knows who Dean is, and if you don’t (highly unlikely) you better not be flipping a Flairco bottle because it’s my understanding he invented it! Besides, Dean still has an active roll in flair bartending today and he seems to be getting physically younger every year that goes by.
However, seeing that I had a stint with TGI Friday’s in the mid 90’s it’s very appropriate to reference some names of this time. A reminder… many names here will also be missing including some very popular ones, but here are some bartenders of that period who would time and time again win their way to Friday’s highest level competitions:
Luis “The Ice Man” Herrera, John Fiore, and Dan Robbins. All of them are off the hook, incredibly knowledgeable and highly skilled bartenders. My time with Friday’s also allowed me to meet someone that was no longer bartending for the company but one of very great importance in the flair bartending world, “Magic Mike” Warner; and even though I already was an entertainment bartender for a number of years before I met him, he was the first bartender I witnessed that made me realise I had a whole lot to learn with regards to free pouring. His accuracy and precision were mesmerising… not even human.
So… in an attempt to finish naming these people of influence… here’s a few more that I’ve worked with from the past: Ken Hall, famous world champion flair bartender with the focus and tenacity of a pit bull. Jim Allison, FBA president, and Tobin Ellis, a fantastic flair bartender in his own right, highly skilled communicator, and marketer. A quick internet search would show he has the ability to land on his feet whatever the situation.
As far as how these names have influenced today’s flair bartending, it is hard to say. It’s definitely a subjective thing to a large degree. However, I would suppose sometimes the best way a person can determine the influence of any one person is to find out more about the person and how they treat others through their actions not just their words. So there you have it. I gave it a go, but like I said… I’ve done this absolutely no justice. The list of names I’ve failed to mention is larger than the list of those names I did mentioned… for example Mr. and Mrs. Mays. That would be my Dad and Mom”.
Tell us about any flair moves of your own making…
“First and foremost, I could get into some real tall grass in a hurry, so it’s probably a good idea to kind of stay away from this. Although, at this time I will say – Tom Dyer recently created a post on Facebook that indeed gained a lot of traction, and touched a bit on this subject.
It appeared Tom (with some information gleaned) was then brave enough to create an additional post on the WFA website. He was also generous to include my name as the first to do a “4 bottle juggle” at the “1996 Quest”. Now, as I remember I was already juggling four objects, four bottles, and doing four bottle multiplexes during this time frame about a year before Todd Connell, Steve Bushur, Ken Hall and myself began working at the VooDoo in Vegas. Even so, am not completely sure of the first year I did this at the “Quest”…I would have to check the videos, and it would certainly make for an interesting project for myself. Nevertheless, I’m fairly confident about the picture currently being used as a depiction associated with this move on the WFA post. The year was 1999 and at the end of that exhibition round I do recall doing something with 4 bottles.
Anyway, even to this day I enjoy flairing, and in my own way like to feel creative. I’m generally not one to post a lot of videos, but do enjoy getting together with others, and flairing at Yard Days, and the like. While I’m on the subject of Yard Days, this would be a great time to say that a guy named Billy Hitchcock was the first I’m aware of to spread the term know as “Yard Day”. These “Yard Days” have been around for decades. However, Christian Olden, and myself attempted our first official “Vegas Yard Day” a few of months ago. It was crazy windy, so the flair that day was limited, but it was still fun talking, eating, and just having a great time. We’re looking forward to doing the same again next year, yet without the wind. Thanks to all that came out to the Yard Day. What a memorable experience!”
Alan Mays seen doing some flair in a 2017 Las Vegas Yard Day promo video.
Where would you say flair is going?
“I am not completely sure. It depends – I am pretty much convinced of one thing though – flair / entertainment / show bartending isn’t going away any time soon. It’s been here a long time, and it’s probably here to stay. There are numerous flair bartenders in the world today that take this very seriously. Now granted, it’s not the most important thing in life, but… at a certain point this style of bartending gets in your blood and really doesn’t come out… with that said, I would imagine flair bartenders themselves will to a great extent determine which direction this vessel will be going moving forward.
From my standpoint here is how some flair bartenders from different ages are already doing this:
- Ken Hall is the first world champion flair bartender that I am aware of who ran numerous different international flair contests allowing more than one flair bartender out there to rack up world titles.
- “Magic Mike” Warner was a TGI Friday’s flair bartender and contemporary of John Bandy. He is a founder of a business that’s been successful for decades named “Showtenders”. If one is truly serious about knowing where “flair” has been, and wishes to consider where it’s going… he absolutely must be a part of any discussion.
- Tom Dyer and Andy Collinson are the driving force in how the WFA is run. Has this business helped determined the course of flair? Of course it has. They are both flair bartenders and understand the necessities and subtleties needed to run an organisation of this nature.
There are countless other examples that can be given both past, and present of other flair bartenders around the globe that were, and are known to have made, and make “flair” a part of their business. Again, when it gets in your blood it really doesn’t come out. Consider for a moment all the very talented flair bartenders located around the world. Also think about the depth, talent, intelligence, and social skills of the flair bartenders currently in eastern Europe and Russia. Easy to conclude with a little thought, flair bartenders from this region of the world, and other regions will have a major stake in its future. In fact it is already happening. Taking this all into consideration, I’m right back where I started. The future of “flair” rests in large part within the hands of the flair bartenders themselves.
I will conclude and finish with this. “Flair” as a style of bartending and serving has been around for a very long time. Whether it’s an image of Jerry “The Professor” Thomas making his blue blazer, or those fabled bartenders in the old wild west saloons sliding beers down the bar. It may be performers in the vaudeville era known to have used bottles, serving trays, and other tools of the trade, or just that unknown bartender that concluded, ‘Hey, I could just pour these two bottles with one hand, and do something with the other to save time‘. People have been talking about the style of serving drinks for hundreds of years if one were to reflect on this. In fact, isn’t there a written record of some guy turning water into wine about 2,000 years ago. Think about it… that’s a pretty impressive way to offer up some adult beverages, wouldn’t you say?”