more than just another drink. Forget everything you know about the 1988 movie Cocktail. Marshall Fox, bartender at Bo Restobar, is the real deal. While he may not be prancing around Jamaica with Elizabeth Shue or catering to New York City elites with silly poems, he's doing something Tom Cruise never does in the movie - actually making great drinks without spilling alcohol all over. And did I mention he lights stuff on fire?
According to the Flair Bartenders' Association (FBA), flair has been practiced for over 150 years in the United States. In the mid-1800s, bartender Jerry "the professor" Thomas would pour flaming streams of scotch and water from one bar mug to another while making his famous Blue Blazer. Popularized by chains like T.G.I. Friday's in the mid-1980s and then blown up by the movie Cocktail, flair bartending quickly became a global bar phenomenon. The FBA started in 1997 and hosts competitions throughout the world proudly spouting their motto of "Service first, flair second, competition always."
Fox is bringing this alcohol-infused competition to Bite of Bend this weekend for your viewing pleasure. Professional flair bartenders from Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle and even Bend will go head-to-head in a six-minute battle, during which each bartender must make two drinks. Between competitors, Fox will pull members from the audience to teach them some flair and give away prizes.
Even though Fox is a member of the FBA, he will not be competing in Bite of Bend. Fox will enter his first competition in July in Las Vegas, the city where he first saw flair bartending and decided it was something he wanted to learn just over a year and a half ago.
"Competitions are not just about flair," says Fox, "They're about making a good drink."
During competition, judges rate bartenders' drinks based on taste, appearance, and difficulty as well as their ability to send bottles flying through the air and catch them ala Cocktail.
"You can't do the same move over and over, or you get points deducted," says Fox. "When you have to fill six minutes of time will all different moves, it's hard."
The clock says it's after ten on a recent Thursday night, and Bo Restobar has a good-sized crowd at the bar. Fox throws ice cubes behind his back and catches them in a small, thin glass for one couple and then throws shakers, rolls full liquor bottles down his arm and catches a delicate martini glass on top of his hand and proceeds to balance it there while pouring a drink into it for another customer. The piece de resistance of his performance has to be when he makes Spanish Coffees. Maybe I'm just a sucker for bar pyrotechnics, but there's something about the smell of burning cinnamon, the flaming alcohol and the showmanship that never fails to impress me.
Fox says that flair bartenders have a love/hate relationship with the Cruise classic because even though it brought popularity to the practice, it also painted an unrealistic picture. Flair bartenders want to be known for more than their showmanship, says Fox. They want to be known for making great drinks. And in case you were wondering, Fox has indeed seen Cocktail, three times actually.
"The first time I saw it as just the movie when it came out," says Fox. "The second time I saw it was when I first got into flair bartending, and by the third time, I realized that it's actually really lame. They do really basic moves and they spill so much alcohol."
Bar Flair Exhibition - Bartending Competition
7:00 pm, Saturday June 21, Bite of Bend (downtown)