First Steps in Flair Bartending (Start Here).

How to build your confidence (and your manager’s) in flair.

Flair bartending is one of those things that a lot of bartenders would love to do, or find fascinating, yet they’re often stuck thinking either “I could never do that” or “My manager would never agree to this”. There’s a lot of fear around beginning to flair – the fear of breaking things, spilling on your guests, wasting stock and getting in trouble, and perhaps the worst of all, losing confidence if people laugh when you drop things.

The fact is, almost anyone can flair if they seriously put their minds to it. I say almost, only because I’ve not met everyone in the world (yet, I’m working on it). Not everyone can be a world champion flaring with three or more bottles at once, but I honestly believe that no-one is incapable of adding flair to the way they work behind the bar in one way or another.

What can you flair with?

Look around the bar. We’re not going to start on day one flipping full bottles of liquor, but there is a whole bunch of items behind the bar that are safe and relatively easy to flair with. Just on the bar top in front of me on my station we have mixing tins or shakers (virtually indestructible, but potentially noisy when you drop them), soda and sip straws, bevnaps (thats what I call those paper drinks napkins, I may be the only one but I’m sure I didn’t invent the name), collins glasses (and in my bar they just happen to be nice solid plastic glasses. If I look further around the station I also have a range of fruit, other glassware, I have a bar blade opener in the pouch on my belt, muddlers, bar-spoons… the list goes on, so don’t think that if you want to learn to flair you need to be spinning bottles right away, get a bit creative!

I actually find that I get more reactions from guests with relatively simple moves like throwing a lime wedge behind my back and catching it in a drink that I do from a full working flair routine – and that move is so low risk it’s silly! If your manager is going to whoop your ass for dropping a slice of fruit, you may be working in the wrong bar (for flair at least)!

Where do I start?

Lets start with that piece of fruit – the ability to throw a slice of lime into glass. We’re not going to start with fruit, or for that matter behind the bar. The first rule of flair is that the bar is not the place for practice, but for performance. There are a few exceptions to this, but we can come to those later. So, grab yourself something that you can throw and catch, and potentially drop without damaging either the “thing” or your practice area. My suggestion would be a bean bag or a juggling ball if you have one available, if not a tennis ball, or anything else (within reason) that you can get your hands on should be fine.

Level 1:

You’re going to throw your item with your dominant hand (we’ll call it right hand, if you’re left handed you should be well practiced by now in flipping instructions) and catch it in your left hand. Do this a few times, and in fact, practice throwing it back each time with your left, so we can stay ambidextrous (or become ambidextrous). Throw it back and forth in front of your body, peaking about eye level until you do it 10 times without dropping.

Level 2:

Once you’ve achieved this, do a small but excited jump in the air to congratulate yourself, and then we can get back to work. You’re welcome to do this at the end of each section. Now repeat the same thing again, but try not to move your catching hand at all – focus on making your throw accurate enough that the object just lands where it should. Its a little trickier than it sounds, but its vital that we focus early on accurate throws rather than chasing wild throws around the bar. Again, we’re looking for 10 accurate throws and catches before your mini celebration and moving on to the next section.

Level 3:

Welcome to more fun stuff. Take your practice object in your throwing hand, and throw it from behind your back to your catching hand. We’re not catching blind here, but throwing blind. you will be running around initially to catch these, there’s very little getting away from that, but aim to throw the object directly upwards, and a little higher than we threw at the front just for now. The extra height will give you more time to see where the item is, and adjust your catching hand until your throws become more accurate. Once you’re getting the hang of this, simulate squeezing your “Lime” (substitute object) into the glass in your catching hand, then swipe your arm up and away from the “glass” and smoothly throw the item behind your back, catching in the glass hand. This looks so nice and smooth once you get used to the movement, and will become a good basis for bottle work later down the line. Don’t forget to practice throwing with both hands and catching with both hands. You’ll thank me for that later.

Level 4:

Ok, you’re ready for the real thing. Run to the store, grab a few limes, and get back here. Slice your limes as you have them at the bar (normally 1/6 or ⅛ wedges) and choose a glass or cup that has a similar size to a collins glass that you use in your bar. Now instead of catching the object in your hand, you’re aiming to catch the lime in the empty glass. Really work on not having to move the glass too much and continue to focus on your accurate throws to land that lime. You’ll see why in the final boss fight (what I call level 5).

Final Boss:

You’ll probably want to practice this in your yard or garden if you have one, or a park, as it will most likely get messy. Fill your glass with ice and water (and really stacking in the ice will help stop the liquid splashing around too much). You should leave the normal ⅜” 10mm gap at the top of the glass just like a drink you would serve. Now perform your move. Wet hands? Then your throw is probably not quite accurate enough and you’re having to move to the lime. Keep trying or go back to Level 4 to practice more if you’re really wet!

Advanced Tip:

Congratulations on defeating the final boss (or successfully catching a lime in a drink anyhow!) – but you’re not quite there yet. You could get behind the bar and throw some limes, and you’d catch some, but not all. Go in for your next shift before opening and practice in the bar you’ll be working in. You have the skills, but being in a new environment may well throw you off a little, so get used to catching it in the environment you will perform. Its the same reason while actors will use rehearsal rooms to learn their part, they still have up to a week of rehearsal in the actual theatre with dress rehearsal and technical runs before they perform for an audience. Something else they often do in the theatre is have invited friends sit in on the dress rehearsal – so why not show your colleagues your new move behind the bar before performing for the paying public (that drink price being their admission to your new show)? When you do inevitably miss a lime, be the first laughing about it and everyone will laugh with you, not at you, and just give it another go. You’ll be great!