John Bandy: The Grandfather of Flair

10 July, 2018 by Tam Allenby

The 1988 film Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown, undoubtedly inspired a generation of bartenders and helped embed flair bartending in the popular consciousness. In this interview courtesy of the World Flair Association – published in the Winter issue of BARS&clubs – the man behind the magic, John Bandy, reflects on his experience.

HOW DID YOU START FLAIR BARTENDING?

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The funny thing is I started flair purely out of boredom one day. I was working at TGI Fridays in Los Angeles and I was new there, so I was getting all the jobs no one wants to do and the boring stuff. I was getting a little tired of saying the same things over and over again when people came in so I thought I would try something new!

I started by messing around with glasses and shakers at home, flipping them whilst standing on the couch so I didn’t break anything. Eventually I took it into the bar and started doing it with bottles and other stuff. I was making work fun for myself and as it happens it was making it fun for the guests as well – what I was doing was catching their eye. Before you know it some of the other bartenders who I worked with started having a go and TGI Fridays decided to take it up a notch and hosted the first flair bartending competition I knew of at that time, the Bartending Olympics.

AND THAT LED TO YOUR ROLE IN THE FILM COCKTAIL?

I happened to win that first contest, then a few weeks later a couple of young ladies walked into the bar. I approached them to ask what they wanted to drink and they replied that they didn’t know. This can happen a lot when working behind the bar so I gave them my usual answer which was, ‘I’ll make you a drink, if you don’t like it, I’ll buy it’. This would always go down a treat and they always seemed to like it!

So I made the ladies their drink in my normal way, throwing in a bit of flair, and next thing I know one of the ladies is telling me she works for Disney Studios and is actually looking for someone to train Bryan Brown and Tom Cruise for an upcoming film. So I gave them the video of the Bartending Olympics contest from a few weeks before and I got the gig! Before I knew it I was being flown out to all these places, spending a month filming in New York, another month filming in Toronto and another month filming in Jamaica – it wasn’t a dream come true, it was beyond my wildest dreams! After Cocktail I spent the next 8 years being asked by juice companies and beer companies across the US to go around the world flipping bottles and teaching seminars in over 30 different countries.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO TRAIN TOM CRUISE AND BRYAN BROWN?

Both Tom and Bryan were very capable, ambidextrous guys. Tom was a real ‘guy’s guy’ and Bryan Brown was really cool and laid back. The two had a bit of a competition between each other over the course of the filming to see who was going to break more stuff – Tom won!

Seriously though they were great guys, very easy to teach and get along with. They were agile and worked hard, although most of what you saw in the film was for the cameras. Quite often Tom or Bryan would get the trick right just enough while the camera was on them and then they would drop it out of shot. A great example of where Hollywood would use their tricks was a scene where the shaker bounces off the rubber mat and it pops back up into his hand. In reality the shaker never left Tom’s hand. When the shaker went below the bar and out of sight of the camera, they did the rest, inserting the sound of the shaker bouncing off the floor. I think we may still be there now if we tried to actually pull that one off!

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