Something in the Flair

Two upcoming competitions bring “flair bartending” to Cincinnati

Aug 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Sometimes deciding where to go have a couple of drinks can be a tough decision. There are so many bars to choose from in downtown Cincinnati alone. Do you go to your regular, familiar bar or try a new place for something different?

Some bartenders know people struggle with this decision. And because they want customers, some of them have upped their game. They don’t think that just pouring and mixing drinks is enough for a customer. But what if they flipped a bottle of Three Olives Vodka over their shoulder to make your Cherry Bomb?

Greater Cincinnati residents will have the chance to see this happen in-person over the next few months at a couple of flair bartending competitions in the area.

“Flair bartending” is making drinks with your own style for the entertainment of customers, according to Nick Gonzalez, a flair bartender in Cincinnati. “Flair” can include anything from dancing behind the bar to flipping bottles to make drinks.

Gonzalez has been flairing for a little over a year. He says most flair bartenders try to be as original as possible and even have signature moves. This process might sound dangerous, and most flair bartenders will probably assure you it is. At least at first.

Flair bartenders have to practice being able to flip a bottle into the air and have it land perfectly on his or her arm. According to Gonzalez, learning to flair can be pretty painful if someone tries to advance too quickly. Gonzalez has plenty of scars from practicing and performing.

“I’ve been hit in the head more times than I can count,” he says. “I have seen guys juggling and their bottles hit in the air and glass shatters all over their face.”

Gonzalez is head of the Cincinnati Summer Flair Tour competition, a five-stop event that has been making its rounds across the Greater Cincinnati area, with the final dates at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind., at the end of September. In the Summer Flair Tour contest, each competitor gets four minutes of stage time to make two drinks. The first has to be made using a quarter-full bottle and is called “working flair,” meaning no cheating with empty bottles. The second drink is the competitor’s choice and each of the bottles only needs to have a half-ounce of liquor.

Chico Garcia started his flair-bartending career when he worked at a TGI Friday’s restaurant and won first place at a Friday’s flair competition. (According to Garcia, Friday’s is credited with training Tom Cruise to flair in Cocktail, a film that magnified attention and elevated flair bartending to the highest extreme.) The win led him to compete at a state level and soon Garcia was No. 1 in Ohio. He even competed in the world finals in Las Vegas.

Flair has opened a lot of doors for Garcia, who now owns an entertainment company based out of Vegas and organizes flair competitions and events, including the “Flip$ 4 Tip$” competition that will be held in Cincinnati for the first time this year. It’s scheduled for early November at Garcia’s bar, Mynt Martini on Fountain Square.

Garcia started “Flip$ 4 Tip$” in 1996 in Columbus. It was held there for a few years before moving to Las Vegas, back to Columbus and now to Cincinnati. In the competition, bartenders will have five minutes to perform their flair routines. In that time, each bartender shows their own individual personality while making drinks using the products of their sponsors. When they are finished and cleaning up, the drinks they made are auctioned off to the crowd.

Garcia says competing bartenders can be as creative as they want. Some have upbeat music to which they choreograph a routine, but there is no right or wrong way to do flair.

“The only thing that’s wrong is if you spill or break something or don’t make people a drink in the allotted amount of time,” Garcia says.

The contestants are judged on the quality and variety of moves, stage presence and the overall entertainment of the show. The top eight competitors receive a monetary prize.

Along with the freshly made drinks, several donated items will also be auctioned off. The competition raises money for a different cause each year. This year, the event will benefit Work Vessels for Veterans, a foundation that works to help veterans with their civilian careers.

Garcia says flair bartending is all about offering club-goers something stimulating.

“At the end of the day, when people go out, they go out to be excited, energized and entertained,” Garcia says. “I don’t know anyone that goes out to have a bad time.”


wraps up Sept. 28-29 at Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg. FLIP$ 4 TIP$ ( takes place Nov. 7-9 at Mynt Martini.