Is it a plane? A bird? No, it’s a cocktailThe life of a flair bartender was captured by Tom Cruise in the movie “Cocktail,” in which his character spins and tosses bottles in the air with moves that dazzle and amaze.
What makes a flair bartender different from the ordinary variety is the art of mixing drinks while flipping, spinning, throwing, balancing, catching and juggling bar tools, shakers and liquor bottles, usually accompanied by exciting dance music. It is a form of showmanship and entertainment for customers and a way for bartenders to win their own band of dedicated followers.
The intense competition among Korea’s flair bartenders gets tougher at the Korea Cup Championships on Nov. 25 and 26. Hosted by the All Korea Bartenders Association, the event is a way for Korean flair bartenders to win local awards in several categories and gain entry to international flair competitions where the high standards of Korean competitors have been noted in the past.
The preliminary match takes place on Nov 25 at ZZYZX and M Bar in Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul, and the finals on Nov. 26 at Club Garden in Apgujeong-dong, also in southern Seoul. The winner of the professional round will win 7,000,000 won ($7450) and the winner of the creative round will win 5,000,000 won.
Jin Pan-min, aka Martin, 27, has been training hard for this year’s Korea Cup. He is an international award-winning flair bartender and the manager of a well-known franchise bar, called “The Flair,” located in Daehangno in northern Seoul. This year, Martin won first place at Planet Hollywood Guam’s seventh Annual International Bar Flair Challenge and was awarded the Golden Shaker Cup. For this year’s Korea Cup he has been practicing three to four hours a day.
For Martin and other flair bartenders, what they do is more than just juggling bottles. It is like they are taking their lives in their hands every time they perform. The countless injures and scars each has endured are a testament to the daunting and dangerous practice rituals they must go through. “I once went to a flair bartending competition on the very same day I had five stitches near my eye,” said Martin with a smile.
“I’ve been working as a flair bartender for seven years and the best part of this job is having the chance to meet new people,” Martin said. “To be one of the best flair bartenders you have to have the talent to be an all-around entertainer.”
If drinking is fun, then watching flair bartending transforms fun into excitement. In Seoul, there are several bars that offer high quality flair bartending performances. Most are found in night club districts like Daehangno, Hongdae and Apgujeong. Flair performances start around 9 p.m and continue until 11p.m.
Raucous cocktails at The Flair
Tel.: (02) 763-1739
Hours: 5:30 p.m. - 2 a.m. Open everyday
Location: Haehwa Station, line No. 4, exit 1. Walk to the opposite direction until you find I-River and Paris Croissant. The bar is located in the alley between the stores. More information at www.theflair.com/theflair
The Flair is a franchise cocktail bar that was first established in 1997.
Since its opening in July, 2000, the spacious bar for up to 100 customers in Daehangno has become a popular spot because of its festive atmosphere. The flair bartenders create a good rapport with the vibrant, youthful clientele who are mostly local college students.
For businessmen looking for a sophisticated cocktail bar, this place may not be the right choice, but for those who just want to have some raucous fun, The Flair is a great destination and it’s easy to feel the passion of their accomplished bartenders.
The drinks cost between 6,000 won to 10,000 won. Martin, the bar’s crew chief, is proud of The Flair’s specialties: “Cassis Frappe,” “Peach Crush.” “My Name is Kim Sam-soon” is a favorite among female costumers. The flair exhibition takes place each night at 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Flaming bottles in Hongdae
Tel: (02) 324-9155
Hours: 5 p.m. to 4 a.m. Open everyday.
Location: Hongdae station, line No.2, exit 6. Walk straight down the KFC alley for 100 meters, and turn right. The bar is located 50 meters down on the left.
Hongdae is definitely the place to go for wild parties and cool clubbing ,but the area has only a couple of bars that will please flair seekers.
Shooters Cocks is a Western-style bar, equipped with a foosball table, a terrace, a bar and dart boards. The seven bartenders, four male and three female, juggle with dexterity.
Im Hyung-sun, aka Shinju, 26, has been a bartender for six years and specializes in flair with flames. He juggles flaming bottles and blows fire out of his mouth with effortless skill. Sometimes this comes with a price. He once swallowed a huge mouthful of Bacardi 150 by accident and, not being a drinker himself, was rendered almost instantly unconscious. When he awoke he was embarrassed to find out he had been sick all over the bar.
With his winsome smile and his people-friendly manner it’s no surprise that Shinju once suffered from a stalker who would wait for him to finish work at 5 a.m. and frequently followed him home. In less extreme ways, many female customers often show some interest in him, but his bartender ethics seem to say “don’t get personal with customers,” so no matter how friendly they are, he always tries to maintain a professional distance.
Glass bottles can be risky
Tel: (02) 332-0303
Hours: 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Location: Hongdae station, line No.2, exit 6. Walk up the street leading to Hong-ik University. The bar is located next to Starbucks.
Bulldog’s small entrance, just wide enough to let one person through at a time opens up to a cozy bar in the basement. This 11-year old establishment has placed its bar in such a way that most customers can enjoy the show comfortably from their seats.
The manager, Kim Jung-il, who has been a bartender for eight years, performs every night, His show is followed by generous offerings of cocktails and free beer for those who show the greatest support.
Physical injuries can’t be avoided by flair bartenders. Ari, the most experienced female bartender at Bulldog with six years on the job, once received a serious burn. After a fire show she could not get the flames to go out. She panicked and tried to put them out with her hands, forgetting that they were covered in alcohol. The fire spread all over her hands, and everyone cheered, thinking it was a part of the show. Fortunately, her colleagues came to the rescue and the fire was controlled before it became life threatening. Even so she had nasty burns.
Another common problem that most bartenders must deal with is the loss of friends. “We work when they’re free and when we’re free they work. Naturally, we see less of them, something most bartenders experience, and they eventually have to make new friends who work in this business.”
K2 is king of Cheongdam
Tel: (02) 515-0015
Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. everyday
Location: The bar is located in Cheongdam dong, across from the Galleria West Building. Walk past the Hanguk Ceramics and turn right at the first alley.
Named after a road in California, ZZYZX has maintained its unique style as a classic bar, which also presents flair shows since 1997. Located at the heart of trendy Cheongdam dong, the bar has its own peculiarities ― a dark and tranquil atmosphere where guests can engage in conversations. Most of the clientele are young professionals in their 20s and 30s. Four bartenders greet guests as they enter the club, which can accommodate up to about 40 people. Cocktail prices range between 9,000 won and 15,000 won. The daily flair show takes place between 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m., however, the performance time depends on the atmosphere in the bar. The manager, Park Jong-cheol, aka K2, 29, was named after Mount Karakoram in India. He has already won awards in various contests in his five- year career as a flair bartender. He was the winner of Planet Hollywood Guam’s 6th Annual International Bar Flair Challenge and won third prize in the 2006 Gold Shake Cup. He also teaches flair shows at the school run by the All Korea Bartender’s Association.
Reporting by Chang Sun-young, Im Sun-young