Jason Maher launches a bottle of SKYY Vodka into the air and catches it behind his back in one fluid motion. He tosses the bottle once more, catches it midair on the back of a palm and with his other hand, flips barware over his shoulder. There isn’t a great deal of space for flipping bottles too high from behind the VIP Bar of Lost Bar & Nightclub, but there’s more than enough room for Jason to twirl tins of a Boston shaker, spin bar spoons between his fingers, and toss Illyquore and Franjelico from hand to hand behind his back as he prepares an Espresso Martini. Yet, for all the showmanship and action, there’s plenty of efficiency. The martini appears in less than three minutes.
You could say this is like Tom Cruise from the 1988 movie Cocktail. But then that would be like going up to an air force pilot and telling them they’re like Val Kilmar from Top Gun. Still, it’s that association – and every flairtender is going to get it. This is acrobatic showmanship that produces an alcoholic beverage – extreme bartending for the drinking set. In the 27 years since the movie smashed the world, the theatrics of flair bartending have not aged well – not even close to any of the whiskies we so love where bars have become shrines dedicated to serious drink-making. In the day and age of bartenders where mixology is a no-no word, too much drama is not cool. Good old-fashioned bartending respects ingredients, classic recipes and tools. As they see it, superfluous moves designed to please the crowd have no impact on the taste of the cocktail.
But at Lost, Jason isn’t about things being complicated. “We’ve aimed for a tasty cocktail menu that’s offered an aesthetically-pleasing presentation with a delicious spin on the classics,“ he says. “Our Tommy Margarita has that amazing margarita taste without all the bitter salt around the glass. We also keep the list short and sweet with options to appeal to everyone’s unique tastes,” Jason declares. “It’s all about simplicity – a menu that even inexperienced palates can get acquainted with. And they all taste great. Our Espresso Martini has a wonderful hazelnut taste with a lovely foam. For our twist on the old South Side, we give it some fizz. Really, the flavours of the cocktails are simple and direct.”
While flairing peaked not long after the film in the nineties, the art still remains. Serious hospo bartenders have frequently frowned upon it, leaving flairing to retreat underground, practised by a dedicated few. Still, every passionate bartender can do it as it’s something that happens naturally. At its most gaudy, flair lifts tricks from the circus juggling manual, alternating glass bottles for balls. Flips, stalls, rolls and midair catches are fundamental moves. Flair adds spirit and energy to the mix and demands a reaction. It just became the cringey ‘F’ word at the turn of the century. “People love bar tricks, flair and magic,” Jason proclaims, “but they never get the chance to experience it first hand. I offer ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ while trying to get them have fun with me. Maybe I’ll pull their change from behind their ears or juggle their drinks. One way or another, they’ll leave drink in hand and a smile on their face.”
Flair’s history is in mixology, pioneered by Jeremiah ‘Jerry The Professor’ Thomas – the godfather of bartenders and the trailblazer of mixology and the American cocktail. The 1862 edition of The Bartender’s Guide depicts Jerry mixing flaming whiskey between mugs while preparing a Blue Blazer cocktail. So clearly, flairing and bartending go hand in hand. Mixing a good drink with a grand show were on both sides of the bar but the craft of making drinks and the glitzy art in delivering them somehow became subdivided.
With Cocktail, flairing rose again in the 1990s – to the point where competitions featured prize money into the tens of thousands – with the usual evolution of rock stars rising to the forefront. But as with every wave, tastes change. Just like Furby, Tamagotchi and NSYNC, flair went out of style. Serious bartending was serious business with the impassive Prohibition-style of bar and tender as whiskey and bourbon flooded in, and vodka dried out. Flairing flies in the face of austere drinking, seemingly to have devolved with the generalisation that flair tenders don’t know how to mix a drink.
But perhaps times are a’changing, again with flairing once more on the rise. The Laneway already focusses on interactive theatre behind the bar promoting high quality spirits, fresh local ingredients and the purest ice – which you can check out here from our snapshot gallery. And in the same vein with Jason, flairing is more than a drink, it’s an art form. “The bar is a stage and I am the show,” he states. “When someone walks up to my bar, I perform my duties with flair and a touch of magic. People will find they won’t just be enjoying a beverage or two, they will also be taken on a journey and an experience along with the music, design and the service.
At the end of the day though, it’s all about the bar. “It starts with the staff,” Jason declares. “A good drink is important but before that can even happen the bar needs to be approachable with happy energetic staff making people feel welcome. It’s unlikely people talk about the drinks they’ve had before mentioning the bar staff. And of course, let us not forget the atmosphere.” he conveys. “Every bar needs personality. This will only come about by the pretty smiling faces and personalities driving it.”
Find Jason Maher behind The VIP Bar, Friday Saturday and Sunday nights at Lost Bar & Nightclub.
Photographer: Lady Lex