In 2011, 11 years ago, I flew to a small town in the south of France near Monaco, to study exhibition flair with Nicolas St-Jean.
Nicholas is one of the founding fathers of the field of flaring. A 4-time world champion and a master when it come to the basic shaker-bottle combination. His style’s very “dancey,” groovy and crazy.
He’s clearly dancing with the bottle, literally having a dialogue with it, a man-glass tango.
In those years,Bacardi, the No. 1 rum manufacturer in the world, came out with four beautiful advertisements, called True Original. Each video in the series describes a different type of bartender, in a different atmosphere. All are highly recommend.
The first bartender is called “The samurai”. A Japanese bartender, restrained, precise, focused. They came to describe “simplicity” which is actually sublime and extremely difficult to achieve. Daiquiri.
The second barmaid is “The hamming bird”. Exotic, rhythm, desirable. She represents “coolness” which is an integral part of the bar scene in particular and night life in general. Pina Colada.
The third bartender is “the apothecary,” or in other words – the mixologist. The one who dials in each mint leaf, and tries to identify the nuances between the stalks. Mojito.
Nicholas was cast as the fourth and last, “outsider” bartender. The bartender doing flairing. The weirdest, shrouded in anonymity and mystery. A little old-school (Tom Cruise…) and a little new-age. Cuba Libre, with a vanilla stick, a classic with a twist.
In the narration of the ad, which describes those “truly original” bartenders, the client/narrator asks the viewers “Which bartender is capable of such an art?”
Here is the advertisement with his participation:
Ok, back to the beginning.
In 2011 I spent a week at Nicholas’ place, just the two of us, I even slept in his apartment the first night (don’t ask).
This man, he is an artist in every aspect, and I don’t mean metaphorically. He is painfully creative, lives his art (not to mention his faith) in a total, rather egocentric way. Did I already say Amen?
And a bartender? Mmm.. No, It has nothing to do with the bar profession. I mean there is, but in the artificial way. Nicholas does flairing, but he’s not a bartender. He dances with bottles, but does not mix cocktails. He stands behind the bar when the director shouts “action”, but not when a thirsty customer enters.
At that time, when I was there in France – I didn’t understand how the world champion in the field related to the bar, is not a bartender at all. In my imagination – it was clear to me that he maintains his art, his flair every night – in some bar. I had no doubt that he was a bartender somehow. Otherwise why would he train all day?
Only in retrospect I understand the lifestyle, and his very strange approach to life and profession. And more importantly – only in retrospect did I realize what I really learned from him, in a sentence and a half:
Nichols taught me why it would never, ever be possible to integrate show-off flairing into the flow of a shift, which honors efficiency. They cannot live side by side. And Nicholas, the world champion! Didn’t know that? Hadn’t experienced it, and why not? Because he never had to have both at the same time. He doesn’t make a living from providing a service, he doesn’t make anything, he presents. In advertisements, competitions and launches. Nicholas is an external artist to the bar. He uses the bar platform, uses it to showcase himself and his skills. He does it for himself, and not for the people sitting on the other side of the bar.
Nicholas taught me how to flair old school style : flamboyant, hard, bombastic.
He taught me how to practice, taught me the meaning of muscle memory, led me to discover new movements and helped me develop my coordination. Except that Nichols didn’t make me a better bartender not even a little bit. And without a doubt he didn’t claim to. There was no way he could improve me as a bartender. In fact, I was almost certainly a much better bartender than him while studying flairing under him.
Again, that’s fine, It’s him and his talent. He has been training for 30 years 5-6 hours every day. He makes a living from it and enjoys it! But he is unique, a Unicorn. There is no power in the world that can (or should) make bartenders work like he does in the real world. That’s why they refer to him in the advertisement as an “outsider.” For Nicholas – it’s okay to represent a niche. He didn’t think for a moment that this is how bartenders should work. In fact, unusual figures like him, who dominant like him, who existed in the pre-mixology world, created a distance between the field of bartending and aesthetics. He made Flairing look “unreachable”, and in fact his training and goals were never meant to fit into the real world, or the reality of a bartender on duty.
Nicholas had a significant part in designing the concept of Artender. He shaped my perception of what is realistic and what’s not. He sharpened a very important understanding, that there are things that are better to learn in a class model, and not in a course. He made me realize that my best teacher is the bar itself, reality. He helped me understand how “not to do it,” and although this sounds like an insult, it’s really the intention. He saved me endless time and mistakes along the way, and in his special way helped me form my own unique identity in this crazy world.
Today, when interested people contact us, they usually ask “How much does a course cost, and how long does it last?”
But we don’t do courses, what we do never ends. This is a different kind of training, and in addition to the practical, technical practice, which is the main event, it also touches on the deeper aspect, the flow of the work. When I try to remember what I learned 12 years ago with Nicholas, there was no meaning to one specific exercise or another. The memory is much more general, I remember guiding principles, directions, types of training, accents in motion.
For a ”list of drills l” you don’t need anything but YouTube (and indeed we have a YouTube channel that teaches drills). But at our gym: Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva, or any other city in the future, we don’t “teach drills,” we teach a language, aesthetic, efficient bartending and complexity. We mainly provide a platform to practice all this fun, because a language must be practiced in order to be used.
Thank you to Nicholas for teaching, as he did.