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PERFORMANCE BARTENDERS FROM THE SLOVAK AND CZECH REPUBLICS DUKE IT OUT AT BRATISLAVA'S GREMIUM RESTAURANT

The Czechoslovak art of bottle juggling

THEY wear tailored suits and long faces. But once they are in their environment - a bar - they know how to start the ball rolling - or the bottle flying.
As soon as they remove their suit jackets and hear the first beats of the music, the show starts: Bottles twist in the air, glasses roll down arms, ice jumps into jars and tossed olives impale themselves on toothpicks held in a mouth. They are the ones who juggle with bottles - they are the flair bartenders.
Ten of them, from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, gathered on March 22 at the Martini Flair Competition in Bratislava's Gremium Restaurant to demonstrate their skills in three categories: creativity, speed mixing, and flair.


ANDREJ Kašicka, one of the Slovak contestants at a flair bartending competition in Bratislava, demonstrates his skills.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová

THEY wear tailored suits and long faces. But once they are in their environment - a bar - they know how to start the ball rolling - or the bottle flying.

As soon as they remove their suit jackets and hear the first beats of the music, the show starts: Bottles twist in the air, glasses roll down arms, ice jumps into jars and tossed olives impale themselves on toothpicks held in a mouth. They are the ones who juggle with bottles - they are the flair bartenders.

Ten of them, from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, gathered on March 22 at the Martini Flair Competition in Bratislava's Gremium Restaurant to demonstrate their skills in three categories: creativity, speed mixing, and flair.

While there are around 800 such competitions held around the world every year, this event, according to its organiser, the Black Eye Agency, was the first official one in Slovakia. And despite the existence of a local bartenders association, whose ranks include some 200 members, the term "flair" is almost unknown among the patrons of bars.

"I hope that the situation gets better," said 20-year-old Dušan Kubica, one of the participants at the Gremium competition. He has spent four years learning, what the MC of the show, Michal Sabo, calls, "the art of throwing bottles". Last year, in a competition in Hungary, he notched up the highest score among foreign participants.

Before the bartenders at the Bratislava competition actually started flipping the bottles, they first had to create a drink from the ingredients available at the temporarily built bar and mix a given one on time. Only then did the real entertainment begin.


THE CONTEST also judged creativity and speed mixing.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová

"One cannot count how many bottles I have broken while learning this," said Jozef Fuska from Bratislava, while juggling three bottles at once. He learned the art of flair on his own, and, unlike many of the other participants, who have represented their countries in competitions in places as far away as Rio de Janeiro and Singapore, this was the first time he was performing in front of an audience.

Kostka says he does not mix drinks at home. Similarly, most of the performance bartenders do not work in bars. They have other jobs, but get invited to perform their skills as bartenders at private parties or larger social events.

"I work as a waiter. If I had to do this regularly, I would not enjoy it as much as I do now," said Slovak bartender Andrej Kašička.

Some performance bartenders begin their shows with a short theatrical performance; others get straight to the point - flipping the bottles. But they all work with the audience.

"What is important is the originality of the tricks, the quality of the mixed drink, and the communication with the audience," says Czech Tomáš Žitný, one of the four jurors.

Apart from judging the entertainment value of the performance, the jury also counted how many things were dropped and how many tricks had to be repeated. They observed whether the liquids spouted from the bottle and whether the tricks ran smoothly.

Despite the fact that the host country was Slovakia, all three winners of the competition were from the Czech Republic. The Slovaks, though, scored high when it came to creativity: The refreshing summer drink named Ammon Bac(k) was mixed by 23-year-old Vojtech Tomori, who has been in the field for seven years.

"Slovaks should travel the world more, to gain inspiration," said Žitný.

Observing the friendly atmosphere that prevailed during the competition and commenting on the fact that the Slovaks often travel abroad to competitions with their Czech counterparts, he added: "It seems that [Czech and Slovak bartenders] are becoming a Czechoslovak family."

The winning drink
Ammon Bac(k)

Smells like almonds and tastes like citrus fruits.

Ingredients:
Monin Lime juice
Bacardi Limon
Tonic
Monin Amaretto

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