Saturday, June 7, 2008

Standing Engagement: Teach at the Beach flair bartending class

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, June 7, 2008.]

Serving up flair, on the rocks

It's not unusual for objects to be flying around at Woodbine Beach Park on a weekend afternoon. Stray Frisbees, volleyballs and footballs were just a few of the objects whizzing through the air last Saturday. However, once a month, you can add weighted bottles to that list of items.

The popular Teach at the Beach flair bartending course kicked off its summer session last Saturday. Now in its fourth year, the free program is run by Bartender One, a private bartending school co-founded by Gavin MacMillan.

"I'm not under the any illusion that if you stop giving back to the community that the community will continue to give to you," says MacMillan, who was anointed Top Canadian bartender in 2005 at the Legends of Bartending championships. "If we really want to grow the sport of flair, we have to give people an easy way to get started."

Displaying moves that Tom Cruise could only dream of in Cocktail, Teach at the Beach provides participants with an opportunity to learn nifty bar tricks, such as tossing a bottle behind your back, over your shoulder and into a mixer, or tossing a bottle, catching it on the top of your hand and then flipping the bottle to your arm.

Typically, between 20 and 50 participants attend each session. "We have about four or five instructors that go around," instructor David Jennings says. "We can't do much one-on-one but we do a little bit with everybody. You learn something new and the next time you come, we'll build on what you learned the first time."

The class is unstructured with participants learning a new trick from an instructor and then taking to practise the moves individually. It leads to a lot of dropped bottles, laughs and shouts of encouragement among participants.

"Basically you start off one trick at a time and then combine them," explains instructor Dimitri Kobrin. "Anybody can pick up one of these tricks if they put in a little bit of effort and like 15 minutes. The reward does come rather quickly and a lot of bartenders are missing that 15 minutes of patience."

Participant Ming Lee was happy for the chance to "enjoy the sun and learn how to flair-tend." Lee passed by the class two summers ago, and has returned for every session. He sagely warns: "Don't go bare feet because when you throw those bottles and they drop, it's not a good thing."

Watching MacMillan, Jennings and the other teachers, it's hard to imagine that they have dropped many bottles in their training. The instructors often freestyle a variety of movies in five-minute bursts that display a grace more related to Tai Chi than bartending. However, MacMillan says, "The biggest thrill I get is seeing how fast people pick up on the stuff we teach them. We went through way more frustration learning the stuff ourselves than we ever do teaching somebody new."

Teach at the Beach runs on the first Saturday afternoon of each month at Woodbine Beach Park. E-mail to sign up for a session.

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