We had the opportunity to talk to 3 judges that also came to Croatia back in November 2015. to judge our Coca-Cola International Flair Open 2015. We had a great time and after the competition, we decided to get the judges to talk 😉
We caught Adam Branczyk at the airport, so his answers are kind of short, you can’t blame him. We had a great opportunity to talk to Szabolcs Szoke and Roberto Gonzalez, and they talked about their careers, future of bartending, and gave some great advice to young bartenders. Thank you guys for being a part of competition in Rijeka, Croatia and we sure hope to see you soon 🙂
1. When did you start practicing flair bartending and why?
Adam B.: I started practicing flair bartending back in 2010 during my first flair class. I was introduced to this world by a friend of mine, and that’s how I got hooked.
Szabolcs S.: My first attempt was around 1989-90, and of course the reason was the movie Cocktail. But that was just an amateur experiment as I was only 15 years old, with random bottles I found at my grandmother’s. The actual flair I started quite late, when I was 28. So this is why I can tell the guys – when they have doubts with their flair career usually at the age of 28 – that they still can have plenty of years if the want.
Roberto G.: I started practicing flair in 1998 in London after I was able to work with a bartender called Dominic Kelly. I had it clear, I wanted to learn THAT. I told him: “I will be your slave in the bar, but you need to teach me how to flair”.
2. What was your first flair contest where you competed and how did it end for you?
Adam B.: My first contest went not really good haha 🙂 … Picked 1st number and I got many drops though – but still I enjoyed it 😉
Szabolcs S.: My first flair competition was a Nemiroff comp at a summer music festival called Sziget, in Budapest. It was a smaller, invitation-only international comp, where I was supposed to watch a seminar, but instead I had to compete. Luckily I won.
Roberto G.: It was in Vitoria, North of Spain, the Bacardi-Martini Grand Prix. I didn’t manage to do as I expected. I went from London to Spain with my shakers, pour spouts, speed opener, etc., but I didn’t think that in Spain the bottles are different. Most of the bottles in Spain have a doser which, once you remove it, the neck of the bottle is shorter … so we can say that I didn’t catch the bottles as often as I wanted… I learnt that you have to prepare yourself and bring all that you could need, including bottles and glassware.
3. Did you meet your girlfriend / wife / lover as a bartender? What do they think of your constant traveling?
Adam B.: Yes I did. My fiance is always angry but she understands it – that’s the way how I work.
Szabolcs S.: Yes and no. I met her during one of our bartender classes. She bought a course for a friend of hers as a present, and she came to our school party, where our students practice with making drinks to their friends. (This idea came from Zoran, who told me that a few years ago, and that is a big success in our school). As she has a totally different job (financial director) we have a very different lifestyles. Of course, sometimes it is hard to understand that a weekend is not necessarily a weekend for me, and travelling is part of my life, but she handles that great.
Roberto G.: I met my girlfriend while working behind the bar. She has been working in this industry for many years and as a professional bartender, she liked to go to different bars and check other professionals. We connected really well and we have been together for a few years now. She doesn’t mind that I travel and she tries to come with me when she can. She likes that I travel and is really proud of what I have accomplished and that I made a name for myself in the industry (I think that it helps that she works in this industry).
4. What is your favorite competition?
Adam B.: My favourite competition is Barstylez Big Match in Singapore – love this country 🙂
Szabolcs S.: That is a hard question. In general I like all of the competitons where the organizers understand that there are lots of small details that they have to take care of and provide with, where the competitors understand that they should do more than just flairing with bottles, and where judges understand that they have to be focused, because they have a big responsibility. So my favourite is always the next one based on that 🙂 As nowadays is quite hard to have the budget for a competition, I appreciate all those people who take this and make it big.
Roberto G.: There are a few comps that I really enjoy for different reasons, so this is a hard question. I really love Roadhouse Flair Competitions, I grew up as a Flair Bartender there and I have a great time every time I go there. After 15 years I´m still enjoying it and meeting great people.
Photo via: Szabolcs Szoke Facebook
5. Did you ever wish to make your career in any other occupation other than bartending? And if yes, which one?
Adam B.: Well, I’m a sportsman, so I would do anything just to be around working out. I played volleyball for 7 years. Anything that’s connected with sport – that’s what I like to do 🙂
Szabolcs S.: Years back I thought that I could be an economist or a lawyer, but today it is just hard to imagine me being a lawyer 🙂
Roberto G.: I don’t really think so, but I guess that if I decide to change my career or even think about it, I believe that it would be something that is related with customer service and education. I really like to do my best at anything I do, and it is really important to transfer that knowledge to others.
6. What is it like to work drunk behind the bar? (now, now, don’t lie, we all know you did it 😉
Adam B.: never did that!… 😉
Szabolcs S.: Believe it or not I was never drunk behind the bar. Tipsy yes, when we were on a 10 day long music festival with 14-16 hour shifts, but that was it. As I am also a trainer I have to keep in mind that there is a chance that a student can see me working, and it could be a very negative image 🙂
Roberto G.: Well, in this matter, I can only say that it is not really my case. I can say proudly or weirdly, that I have never been drunk behind the bar. Of course I had been working with people that have been drinking while they were working, but I really think that that is “old school” and something that I know is changing. Drinking is for fun. Working is fun. Drinking and working behind the bar can be fun, but it is definitely not professional. This is my personal opinion. There is always time for everything, but not when you are in charge of your co-workers, guests and their safety. So for me, is a no-go, Sorry.
7. What do you think of new WFA rules for next year?
Adam B.: Really interesting concept. I like the way they are now. We have to many youtubetenders watching too long routines on internet before they go practice. They focus only on skills not on the vibe between bartender and the guest. They also lack on creativity as they just copy the moves from others. That is helping them for quick development but it’s bad for our art. Too many bartenders are doing the same thing. Back in the days- when there was no internet – if you wanted to make a 3 tin/1 bottle routine you had to invent it by yourself, now you just type it in youtube searcher – and there you go. Hopefully with these new rules we will start changing our future.
Szabolcs S.: It was just a matter time when those would change. The whole industry is talking about the priorities and that we should move in another direction, but at the end of the day, flair-wise the routines I see are (with some exceptions of course) the same… Too much difficulty, not enough entertainment. I personally wanna see higher importance of proper bartending skills, because we are bartenders, but I do hope that the new rules can help bartenders and industry to move in the right direction. A very important message was Tom Dyer’s last Roadhouse Grand Final routine with the bottle&tin theme, hopefully the ‘new generation’ got that.
Roberto G.: I think that there are a few good changes that are focusing on making the flair bartenders better, more professional and more respectful. We are all bartenders, and that is something that means a lot! That is what WFA is trying to emphasize and promote.
Photo via: Roberto Gonzalez & Barmen.hr
8. Did you ever disappear from the bar in the middle of your shift just to flirt with a handsome guest?
Adam B.: never!! (she’s watching my answers)
Szabolcs S.: Nope. I am definitely not that kind of guy 🙂 Outsiders think that a bartender is like a playboy, but I think that that depends on the person . Of course when I work I have to be kind and nice to the guests, but I have a strict line and I stick to that.
Roberto G.: I’m sure I did when I started working in this industry, but I think that once that you work for a certain amount of time you understand that your priority is the guest satisfaction and your team. The rest can wait, unless that you know that you can handle to do both.
9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Adam B.: I see myself fishing in a small boat in the middle of a ocean 🙂
Szabolcs S.: Talent management was always a priority for me. Our new project FlairVenture is based on this as well, thanks to my business partner who shares the same philosophy. So in 10 years time we wanna have an agency that can offer the best cocktail entertainment worldwide, and can support the performers to reach their personal goals and make their dreams come true. Having a dog shelter is also on the priority list 🙂
Roberto G.: I see myself in this industry, owning a bar, keep getting involved with the new generations of bartenders and having some good chats and sharing experience. In2bar Bar Consultancy is one of many ways that I will try to pass my knowledge and experience to everyone in the industry. We will have to be in close contact with old and new generations to be able to understand which are the guest expectations.
10. What are your goals?
Adam B.: My goals are to improve myself all the time – not only in flair.
Szabolcs S.: Being happy and surrounding myself with people who have the same mentality.
Roberto G.: There are a few, but my main one is to keep learning and transferring the knowledge I have. To both motivate and get motivated through competitions, events, courses, etc. This industry has so much potential and opportunities to offer in many countries, so to keep travelling is one of my goals too.
11. What would you like to recommend to young bartenders that just started to compete?
Adam B.: Keep it going, and practice hard!
Szabolcs S.: Most important: always READ THE RULES! only a small percent of competitors do that prior to a comp, this is why we have most of the problems. If that is missing, all the rest is just waste of money, time, etc.
Roberto G.: Go and compete, don´t wait any longer, you are ready! You will learn a lot more than in the practice room and you will meet some great new friends.
Read the rules, understand them and follow them. Get the easy points, make your drinks and look after the sponsors and organizers.
Finally, be a bartender and introduce yourself to the sponsors, other competitors, judges and guests. We are bartenders 24-7 not just behind the bar. To be a professional bartender it is all about socializing, so go out there and do it. We want to know who you are and what we can learn from you. This is a community and you are a part of it.
12. What was the worst result you have ever seen on competitions so far?
Adam B.: Worst result – hard to say, the worst result is definitely the feeling that I didn’t enjoy the time performing. Doesn’t happen often, but once or twice I was quite down.
Szabolcs S.: Based on the one above, for me the worst is seeing if somebody competes without knowing the rules. If somebody brings a routine what he/she has, without adapting it to the actual comp. I just do not see the point, and that makes me very sad.
Roberto G.: One of the worst results from the point of view of a competitor, which was not long ago, and it wasn’t for a bad flair performance but for a really simple issue, he didn’t read the rules! He was more concerned about making a few extra flair moves instead of finishing the drinks and make the sponsors flair. Unluckily, he learnt the lesson in a really hard way. I had a chat with him and let him know that sometimes a flair result doesn’t represent who are you as a flair bartender, but definitely will show that you aren’t at the pro level. All details are really important. Again, we are bartenders.
Photo via: Adam Branczyk Facebook
13. Do you have any tips for future bartenders? Why should they start their career as a bartender?
Adam B.: Bartending gave me a lot – and I paid that back already. Gave me the opportunity to travel to 33 countries in 3 years and meet thousands of people… there is no other profession to do that.
Szabolcs S.: Bartending is still one of the most flexible jobs, which can be done everywhere in the world. A great springboard could bring a lot of good opportunity, money, contacts. BUT only if the bartender takes it very seriously, and works hard for it. If somebody has goals, learns languages etc., he/she can have a dream job with it. But the current generation has to accept the fact that it takes time and they have to WORK for it. No matter what they put on Facebook, Instagram, this is a job where everybody has to work hard, especially at the beginning.
Roberto G.: At the bottom if they can, looks like a step back but in this industry it’s the best way to start, you get to understand and respect all the positions, so the best way to learn is starting as as a barback or cleaner and earn your way up. Don’t feel embarrassed, you will talk about it later on with pride and respect. A bar is run by the barbacks not by the bartenders. A good bar is made with good barbacks and bartenders. One is nothing without the other.