The Story of a... Flair Bartender

Santiago Emeric, 26, dazzles bar patrons—as well as competition judges—with his showmanship.

Photo by Norma Lopez Molina

There’s two types of flair bartending: “Working flair” is to grab a full bottle, toss it around and make the drink. Then there’s “entertainment flair,” what you see in competitions. There’s two ounces of liquor in the bottle, and we do a lot of crazy, cool, entertaining tricks. But behind the bar, working flair, we entertain whether it’s tossing a lime behind your back, catching your cup or balancing a shaker tin on your elbow, pouring liquor in it, throwing it, catching it and pouring more liquor in it. It’s just entertaining the guest. You have to get the wow factor.

I decided to be a flair bartender when I saw a competition at T.G.I. Friday’s near The Mall at Millenia in 2006. The bartenders were flipping bottles and I was like, ‘Man, this seems cool.’ [He’s now a bartender at the T.G.I. Friday’s/SeaWorld.]

I do a lot of cool tricks. I flip the bottle around my back and I “stall” it on my elbow—nothing stopping it but my elbow. I also do “bumps’’ where the bottom of the bottle lands on my elbow and I push up with my elbow. It continues to rotate, and when the bottle comes back down, I hit it again. I keep hitting it, and I keep rotating it in a circular motion, but I’m not using my hands.

One of the hardest tricks I did was 14 bumps with my elbow, forearm and hand.

I practice my routine at home all the time. I have a garage full of mats with a bar and lots of bottles. And I constantly practice tricks I can do at work the next day, so I can switch it up and entertain the guests a little differently. I don’t want to do the same thing every day.

Mistakes always happen, but they rarely happen behind the bar when I’m doing my show. I’m always prepared because I would never bring a trick to work if I couldn’t land it.

When you first start flipping bottles and learning tricks, you’re never going to land a trick unless you go through the necessary stages, and that means getting hurt. When I first wanted to learn the head stall, I used to knock myself out all the time in my garage. It’s definitely a process. When I started doing the mouth stall with the bottle, I busted my lip a couple of times, but I figured it out.

World competitions require bartenders to be fast, knowledgeable and to pour accurately—quarter-ounce pour, half-ounce pour, 2-ounce pour—and they measure it. The flair part is the ending concept. Everybody makes up their own tricks. The judges look at the routine, difficulty, showmanship, entertainment, precision and execution.

When I competed at the World Bartender Championship in Dallas [in March], I had a great time. But I guess I over-prepared myself. I choked in the multiple-pour test, which cost me the competition, because I did great on the flair run. If I’d had a few more points, I could have taken down the whole thing. So now I have to wait all year, and do it all over again. I tied for third place and won $2,500. It was all super close, though.

Check out videos of Santiago Emeric in action at

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