It is interesting to see how flair bartending changes over the years, as the world changes around it. Perhaps flair bartending itself will not change hugely from what we recognise today but one thing that is certain to change is how people discover, watch and learn flair bartending. If you talk to some of the most successful names in flair bartending today you will discover that many of them have a similar story about how they discovered flair and then learned to be a professional flair bartender. It often involves much of the technology, or lack of technology, for the time. For example, you will hear about flair bartenders watching VHS videos of the big names of the day, over and over again. Or moving to a big city such as Paris or London, getting a job as a bar back in a bar, meeting other bartenders and discovering and learning flair this way.
With the power of the internet, smart phones, affordable video cameras, YouTube and more – the technology of the day has transformed how the next generation can learn about flair bartending. We sat down and talked with professional bartenders, Luca Valentin And Marian ‘Sikky’ Chmel who are both using this technology in their own way to pass on their knowledge of flair bartending to the next generation:
Luca Valentin, tell us about what you are doing…
With our company Exquisite Bar Solutions we have set up a closed group on Facebook just for Exquisite Flair Students. Myself and Ionut Ivanov take care of flair within Exquisite Bar Solutions and we wanted to create an online group where we talk to, post tips and create challenges for our students. Facebook was the obvious option and the group has been growing year on year, having started it 6 years ago – we have almost 400 members now, all of which are young people in Romania who are interested in flair bartending. Different challenges seem to attract different people and it is great to see them competing for points and stars.
The points and stars are our own way of rewarding the students for what they post on the group. I started by giving out the t-shirts and other prizes I would win or be given at competitions but I soon ran out with over 20 challenges a year! We may put out a challenge for a move we want to see with 1 bottle and 1 tin. This is the challenge and the time it takes you to put something together and post it makes all the difference as well. This pushes the students to be proactive instead of waiting until the day before the challenge ends and posting it all then! We reward people for the amount of posts they do and the quality of the post rather than the difficulty of the move or how advanced they are, this way it gives all students a chance to win the grand prize. The grand prize being a chance to be part of the team of 5 students who accompany me on the Italian Tour, which we started 3 years ago.
The Italian tour covers all of the Flair Bartending competitions that happen in Italy over a short period of time. All of the 5 students who win a chance to come on the tour will take place in the competitions as well as me, as the cost of the travel and accommodation for the students is covered by a sponsor. As well as the flair competitions we also try to do some educational things to make sure the Italian Tour is productive as well as enjoyable such as visiting the Prosecco House in Verona and the Campari Galleries in Milan.
What are you trying to achieve?
The great thing about our online group is that you don’t have to be there in person, our students can take part from all over Romania. This is really important as it eliminates most of the costs involved with learning flair bartending, as well as many of the risks. I think this is important to make sure everybody has a fair chance of being able to pursue something like this. The Facebook group works well for me too, allowing me to manage it from wherever I am in the world – whilst still being able to prepare for my competitions and other things.
Really, this is all bout take care of the next generation of bartenders, particularly in Romania. When I started flair I didn’t really have any support, if I had been given some of this support that you can get today from online and other places I think it would have seen me progress a lot quicker. I am really excited to see what the next generation of bartenders are going to be coming from Romania, I feel very proud to be passing on the baton from my generation to the next through our company Exquisite Bar Solutions.
How are the next generation in Romania responding to this?
The reaction, since we started the group 3 years ago, has been really positive. Many of the guys and girls seem to be really enjoying this way of learning and interacting through Facebook and posting videos. I certainly think these sorts of online learning spaces are the future because you can do it with people anywhere in the world with no cost to the student. It means they can continue to work behind the bar during the night and learn their trade and pick up lessons and tips during the day just through their phone or laptop.
Sikky, tell us about what you are doing in Slovakia…
I have been putting together a number of Vlogs (video blogs) on my new YouTube Channel: StreetFlair1. In these Vlogs I try to give people who want to learn about the world of flair bartending, what it takes to be a professional, and what happens before a competition, an experience and understanding. I cover some great topics for people who are just starting out with flair bartending, such as how to approach the Roadhouse stage for the first time and how to be a great bartender, even if you are a bartender working behind the bar every day. At the moment these are in Slovakian to help the younger generation of Slovakian bartenders who may not yet speak the best English, although I am putting subtitles on some of the videos, such as this one:
Why did you start doing these Vlogs?
Firstly, it was about promoting flair bartending again in Slovakia, that is why I have done all of the Vlogs in the Slovakian language. When I first started bartending my English was very poor and although I had access to the internet, I couldn’t understand any of the videos I saw. By doing these vlogs I can give the young generation everything I have learned and everything I missed at this age.
Another reason is flair bartending has fallen away in Slovakia with everyone more focused on mixology. I believe the best way for any bartender to start is with the skills and ability to hold bottles, shakers and every tool behind the bar and use them to entertain – and this is exactly what flair bartending is. From there a bartender can go on to specialise in cocktails or flair or something else, but I think every bartender should at least have this basic skill set and that is what I am trying to promote with these Vlogs.
These Vlogs are certainly a trail for me, as I am the first bartender in Slovakia to be doing this. In Slovakia in particular we are seeing less people training as bartenders as it is not an industry that people think is cool or pays well. In the last 3 flair comps we have had in Slovakia, 80% of the people entering were international bartenders and the Slovakian bartenders are not making much progress whatsoever. I ask myself why this is, and the Vlogs were born. I think it is important to show people who want to be flair bartenders the real life behind flair, many of them want to be superstars right away but what I try to show them is that there is a lot of hard work to get there.
I want to pass this understanding of flair bartending, my love and passion for it and the knowledge I have built up over 8 years with the next generation to give them a shortcut to success and a balanced picture of what they are getting into if they decide to follow the flair path. And hopefully I can do that…