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Life in the Bar Game after the Death of Segregation

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Bar Industry vs. Basketball

Travis Kuhn and Kurt Schlechter at the Polynesian Pearl Diver

I’m not really one for watching movies on a plane, but I do love the documentaries that
they have. I recently watched a documentary on the basketball ‘Hall of Famers’ who made up the 1984 NBA draft. In case you’re not so familiar with the sport in general, this is widely considered to be the best draft year in NBA history largely thanks to the global superstar that is Michael Jordan.The documentary catches up with them now, all well settled into their 50’s and gives a glimpse of what life is like for them after professional sport.

The documentary catches up with them now, all well settled into their 50’s and gives a glimpse of what life is like for them after professional sport. Immediately I thought of the bartending industry, and I considered how well we preserve our legends of the game like Peter Dorelli and Salvatore Calebrese, Nicholas St. Jean and Christian Delpeche. I was really proud of our hall of fame as it were, and the respect we have for each other. Yes, we may not be doing any BBC documentaries on it, although I do think that it would be more fascinating, we do have our own way of preserving legacies of certain personalities within our industry and I was happy to be a part of it.

Segregation within the bar industry

The one thing that I really don’t identify with is the segregation with which we have placed in the game ourselves, according to different styles of bartending, namely flair and classic mixology.

Making a bridge to Basketball, there is no such segregation. Any basketball player worth his salt must be able to do it all, some will be better at some skills and others will be better at other skills, but everyone must be able to both dribble and shoot. You will never find dribblers who don’t shoot or shooters who don’t dribble. Everyone must be capable of doing it all because they are all part of the game. You will never find a player who is devoid of a certain base skill which is an absolute necessity to play. Furthermore, you will not find them separating, or distancing themselves from each other because they are a certain type of player.

There is a significant segregation of skills, within the industry where a certain skill is seen to be reserved only for those who practice it. I see this type of thing coming mainly from the classic mixologists toward flair bartenders, in which they are constantly boxing the flair bartenders very neatly into one skill set and treat them as if they can’t offer anything to the bartending world unless it’s flair orientated. You’ll very rarely find a flair bartender acting in the same way toward a classic mixologist, as there is no real boxing of classic mixo’s in this way. I fail to see why a world-class flair bartender can’t also have a trained nose or palate or be able to speak well and present in front of a group, or heaven forbid they may actually be able to make a decent drink.

In a lot of ways though, the flair bartender himself played a major role in this perception. Flair bartending has become so competitive and move concentric, that in most cases the drink is neglected or even sometimes disregarded in order to perform really difficult moves. This way of looking at bartending was a gross mistake on the part of the flair fraternity, whether it was purposeful or natural. It has played its part in portraying the flair bartender as no more of a bartender than he is an extremely well-practiced performer. The segregation is the problem for me, I see every bartender doing little flair moves no matter which side of the fence they lay their bar tools, in as much as I have seen flair bartenders make exceptionally well-made drinks.

The future of bartending

In the near future, I see a form of bartending which incorporates all the different styles of bartending together, and may even disregard them as different styles in the first place. There comes a time where a truly amazing bartender will be able to incorporate all sorts of skills while making and preparing a drink, and the winner at the end of the day will be the customer. The future bartender is as much a performer as he is a drink maker, and gone will be the days where flair bartenders will battle to make a simple Gin and Tonic and similarly gone will be the days where champion mixology bartenders are winning global competitions but can’t even perform a simple palm spin. But for now, wouldn’t it be nice for everyone to focus on their own interests in the game and stop boxing other bartenders as purely flair bartenders or classic mixologists. You might just be surprised at how many skill sets one bartender can actually perfect.

One love, I suppose…Now go and flair, or don’t, or do both if you can. It’s not important, what’s important is that you enhance the guest experience with all the skills you have all the while making great drinks.


Guest blog by Travis Kuhn, owner of The Polynesian Pearl Diver and  The Perfect Serve Mobile Bar Company.

Life in the Bar Game after the Death of Segregation
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Life in the Bar Game after the Death of Segregation
Travis Kuhn is a big player in the SA Bar Industry, but he has a concern with the trend of bartenders boxing each other into limited skillsets. Read more.

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