COMPASSIONATE FLAIR! – Rob Turek Interviewed

Updated: November 1, 2006
From starting with the movie “Cocktail” to judging along side with the man that trained Tom Cruise for the movie to becoming a competive Flair bartender with a Flair based company and still being a loving and caring father… Mr. Rob Turek. He will be the first to tell you he chooses to be a dad over a Flair bartender. Rob has been in the Flair scene for quite awhile enjoying the fun, love and excitement of our sport but still manages to take care of what is most importatnt to him… his son Dakota Turek. As you read on you will get to know more about Rob and his son’s current challenge and how we can all help…

Age? 35 years old.

Where are you from? Cleveland, Ohio.

How long have you’ve been Bartending? 10 years.

And Flair Bartending? 9 years.

Where do you work? At the Spy Bar in Cleveland’s Warehouse District, and I also run a performance bartending company called StarTenders All American Bartending.

What got you into Flair Bartending? When I saw the film “Cocktail” I thought it was really cool, but I wasn’t a bartender then.   I started getting serious about Flair after I became an instructor at the Professional Bartending School of Cleveland.   We would get Patrick Henry’s newsletter, and it sometimes advertised Flair, which led me to being curious about competitions, and thus learning as much as I could.

How did you start out learning to Flair? I started learning from a VHS tape entitled “Olympic Bartending” by John “JB” Bandy.   I used to think he was the greatest.   It was wild seeing him at Legends 7.

Rob_Turek_quote1Tell us about the Flair Bartending scene in Ohio? Ohio has surprisingly yielded some decent talent, especially since it really isn’t a tourist attraction.   Flair bartenders are few and far between, but a good number of us have made a name for ourselves within the industry.   Some of the bigger names include myself, Chico Garcia, Derek Jones, Randy Ruiz (now Reyes), Lloyd Reasor, and newcomers such as Knockout Nick Houck (who now resides in Vegas along with Chico and Randy), Brian Hannis, Josh Goldurs, Craig Mills, and David Neeson (his mother left a note… and maybe he’s from Indiana, but so what, we’ll leave his name here anyway). The are a few others such as Chad Rayl and Andy Walsh who are StarTenders as well that are getting into the scene competitively.   I created StarTenders All American Bartending in efforts to organize potential talent into something that could make a statement.

Describe to us your style of Flair? My style of Flair is energetic.   Not any where near the energy of Mig, but I’m having fun doing what I do.   I’m a showman at heart, and an artist.   I like to be visually appealing with what I do.   So it is fun to be creative and contagiously happy with customers.





Rob_SkyyWhat makes you stand out from other Flair Bartenders? Getting kicked out of the Rio for being drunk… Just kidding.   Being pro-Flair with more emphasis on contributing to the growth of the sport rather than individual accomplishment.   Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win a comp, or just make the finals (4 out of 5 world major FBA comps, I missed the finals by one placing), but to me this is a selfless sport that generates much more than trophies and cash.   My friendships that have come from this are by far more worthy than any competition victory.







What do you hope to get out of Flair?  More growth.   More opportunity for my company to strive, so that I can do what I love, and make it a profession.   I personally trained Knockout Nick, and now he’s starting at the Rio next week.   I feel like a proud parent when these guys move forward towards success.   I’d like that to keep happening.

What is your favorite Flair Bartending competition and why?  I would have to say that I have two favorites.   One is Legends because it is the most legitimate “bartender” competition.   You have to truly be the best of the best if you want to do well.   The other one I enjoy is Roadhouse, even though I’ve never been there.   I like the styles of Flair that you see in that comp, and of course, you can’t go wrong with Quest.

Accordian_pourWho do you look up to in this Sport? Ken Hall, Chico Garcia, Toby Ellis, Dean Serneels and Christian Delpech.   These people have done great things for the Flair world in their own ways.   I also admire Levi Donaldson because he has come such a long way as a competitor, and Mike McLean, because it seems he can never make a mistake. Also kudos to Jim Allison for single handedly running the FBA.

What are your thoughts on the FBA Pro Tour, (likes and dislikes)? I like what the tour does for the sport.   It pretty much organizes the stats of Flair bartenders, and balances consistency of efforts with unbelievable talents.   I think it would be good, however if the FBA could work like a union to help bartenders that rank on the tour, with support towards higher wages and opportunity in the job scene.

If you could help influence Flair to change our sport somehow, what would it be and why? I think it would be a great thing for the FBA to support Flair training schools, that could yield more “newbies”.   Giving back to the Flair community that keeps growth continual.   Endorsing or sponsoring Flair schools would help to do that.

Rob_FlaircoWhere do you see the future of our sport? I see it consistently growing.   Hopefully one day it will get to where the X games is at today.   That would be nice.

What are some common myths about the profession of Flair Bartending? The biggest myth is that we’re not professionals.   Flair bartending is so cool to watch, that most people forget that world caliber Flair bartenders are also experts in service and mixology as well.   The average person doesn’t view bartending as a career, however most Flair bartenders do.   It’s like we are diamonds in the rough…







How often do you practice? Not as much as I should.   In fact, I get my practice while I’m working.   If I were to get back on the competition stage, I would have to increase my practice time.   It’s just that it is hard now, having partial custody of a little boy who is disabled.   When he gets better, my practice time will probably increase.   I want to do Blue Blazer in April, but we’ll see how that goes.

Rob_fireWhat is your advice to some of the new people wanting to start competing, any helpful hints? Number one, join the FBA.   Plugging in will get you better faster.   You’ll be connected and everyone in this business supports you.   Get organized and use your own equipment.   Don’t be afraid to ask questions either.   And stay modest.   You may be the best in your town, but once you get to an FBA comp, it can be humbling.   Educate yourself and then put the practice time in.   There are no excuses for not practicing if you’re going to compete.

Tell us about your first Flair Competition and your experiences there, What were you feeling, Did everything go as planned? My first big time Flair competition was the “Quest for the Best Bartender in the World” competition in 1998.   I stayed within my boundaries, and surprisingly took 13th in the world!   (one placing away from the finals…) I was shocked by the welcome wagon of bartenders.   Everyone was so cool.   And for the record, my sponsor bar backed out last minute and my wife and I took a Greyhound bus from Cleveland to Orlando.   That sure was a trip!

Tell us about Startenders and what they do? StarTenders All American Bartending is an effort to utilize the art of Flair in a business.   We do promotions, consulting, training, private functions, etc.   I had the chance back during the big Vegas Flair boom around the year 2000 to move out there and audition for a job.   I probably would have gotten one, but my son’s residence for shared parenting is here in Ohio.   I choose to be a dad over a Flair bartender.

Rob_Turek_quote2Tell us about your son and his condition? My son, Cody (real name is Dakota), has an extremely rare epileptic disorder called Landau-Kleffner Syndrome or LKS.   The technical term for it is called “Acquired Epileptic Aphasia”  which is language loss due to seizures of the brain.   When Cody is asleep, his brain seizes non-stop.   The seizing has caused the part of his brain that controls language to not work properly.   It is overworked or “fried”.    Other related problems besides speech and comprehension are autistic-like behavior, and now, some motor skills and coordination.   The cause of LKS is unknown at this time, but it usually begins with the onset of a seizure.   Cody had this seizure on June 5, 2005, and over the next 2-3 months, completely lost his language.


Tell us about his needed surgery, the procedure and the potential outcome? We were quite fortunate to have the Cleveland Clinic here, one of the nation’s best hospitals.   I went online to search for a connection between epilepsy and autism, and found LKS.   I told the doctors that I believed that was what Cody had, and they had already been leaning towards that diagnosis.   You see, this illness is heavily mis-diagnosed as deafness, or autism.   When that happens,   many children don’t get the proper care they need to stop it.   LKS is a hidden illness, and can only be discovered by an EEG test that is run during sleep.   I’d like to encourage parents to get an EEG done if anything strange occurs with their child, that reflects no language.



Cody_bookThe Cleveland Clinic tried a number of medicinal treatments, and have exhausted management of Cody.   We are at our last option, and that is Multiple Subpial Transection or MST surgery.   This will be done on November 20th at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago Illinois.   Any Flair bartenders that live in the Chicago area are encouraged to come visit Cody if they’d like to.   I will run correspondence through Rob Taylor of BarTrix.com.   He will have the necessary info.   Now, the way this surgery works is that small cuts will be made across the fibers of his brain surrounding the source of electrical activity (seizure source).   The cuts will prohibit the electrical activity from spreading and hitting the area that controls language.   In no time, he should be able to regain his speech, behavior and cognitive skills.   The prognosis looks good, as, number one, this medical center invented the surgery, and number 2, out of 22 surgeries, 21 of them went perfect.   As far as the cost, it is easily assumed that neurosurgery is not cheap.   Fortunately, we have health coverage that will cover about 90%.   We had some testing done in Minneapolis a month ago, and that is only covered 70%.    We’re expecting our total cost to be somewhere around $15,000 to $20,000.   However, I don’t know for sure until after the surgery, and then there will be follow up costs and therapy expenses.



Rob_Cody_stepsTell us about Dakota’s Challenge? Wow Rob, what a grand two days that was.   I had an interest in putting on a charity event since I do regional comps with StarTenders.   My ex-wife Sara (whom a lot of you Vegas bartenders know) works for a salon that put on a hair show which raised a good amount of money, but it still wasn’t enough for all the bills.   I contacted Chico, because I know he does Flip$ 4 Tip$ and that is charity affiliated.   He told me how it works, because I wanted to do a competition for Cody’s charity.   Later I spoke with Toby Ellis and he suggested that we do a showcase rather than a competition, because it is for a cause and there would be less stress for bartenders, we wouldn’t have to hire judges, etc.   I get a phone call about a week later from Chico, and he said that he would make Cody’s cause part of Flip$ 4 Tip$.   I mentioned that I wanted to bring Christian into town and everyone pretty much had the thoughts that it was almost not possible, unless I had a lot of money to offer.   So I personally called Christian, and he had an interest.   Probably because he is a parent now as well.   Then over the next few weeks, this project exploded with support.   There are so many contributors and Flair companies involved in the journey to Cody’s well being, it is astounding.   I’ll let you list the people who were involved, and I thank them tremendously.   We had an amazing showcase featuring bartenders from Las Vegas, Florida, and Canada.   It was a three city showcase in Cleveland at my home bar, the Spy Bar in Columbus at Chico’s bar, Major Woody’s and in Chicago at Rob Taylor’s home bar, Goodbar.    Sources of money came from auctions, of which BarProducts heavily contributed towards, Flairco bottle sales that featured Dakota’s Challenge on the bottle, bottle opener sales that featured Flip$ 4 Tip$ and www.codyschallenge.org , donations, door money, and something quite special, Tobin Ellis of Barmagic, donating a gourmet cocktail mobile bar service featuring his award winning drinks.   Each drink sold for $20 and $16 of it went to Cody’s fund.   The other $4 paid for Toby’s assistant and the cost of product. Toby didn’t take anything.   That was awesome.   Chico is also raising money from Flip$ 4 Tip$ 8.   One amazing thing that just happened, was all but one bartender in the Flips finals donated their prize money to Cody.   That pulled tears from my eyes, and sent a major message to anyone in the Flair world.   I’m still so humbled by it.

Dakotas_challengeWhat are your thoughts on the event and how it went? The event was a huge success.   Way more than I imagined.   We may have raised enough money to cover the surgery from these events alone.   I’m not sure, but we did quite well.   You donating a DVD is tremendous also.   We didn’t plan on a DVD simply because of the costs associated.   That will help I’m sure with additional costs incurred through therapy and other medical follow ups.   Flairco, who also donated a commemorative “Dakota’s Challenge” Flair bottle will be selling those special bottles through their online bar store.   Amazing, absolutely amazing.





Cody_hospitalOne more thing I’d like to make mention of, was the 7 minute video that introduced my son Cody.   It was a heart wrenching 7 minutes, that left everyone crying, including some of the Flair performers.   To see tears in Flippy’s eyes did me in.   He doesn’t even know Cody.   It was truly inspiring.   (Click on the picture to the left to watch the 7 minute video… It will take a while to load but it is worth watching.) Then the very next day, we went to visit Cody.   Seeing my friends from the Flair world show my son compassion was way cool.   He was sitting on Christian’s lap and he was calling him “papi”.   That did me in as well.   I can’t thank all of you guys enough for being such an integral part of making this all happen.



Flyer_frontIs there any other way someone can’t help donate? Yes, there is.   You can donate by going in to any US Bank or 5/3 Bank and using the name Dakota Turek donation fund. Another way is by logging on to www.codyschallenge.org and clicking on the donate link.   It is through Paypal.   And the last option is you can send a check or money order made payable to Dakota Turek.   Send an email to me at robbiestartender@cox.net for the mailing address.

What are your plans now? I’m preparing to fly into Chicago on Friday the 17th for pre-surgery monitoring and consultation with the surgery team. I won’t get back until Thanksgiving.   Great timing isn’t it.   I know what I’m giving thanks for… Other than that I’ll keep working with my boy’s speech recovery and moving forward with StarTenders.   I’m hosting Rock and Rail 3 at The Red Clay in Vermilion Ohio in February, and a portion of that will go towards Cody as well.   I’ll let everyone know in January if they are interested in competing.   The last winner was Jeff Clark?

FBC_Video_ButtonWhat obstacles do you see our sport of Flair Bartending encountering in the near future and in your opinion, how can we overcome them? That’s a good question.   It seems that we’re on the right path.   Unless they bring back prohibition, we should be alright.   The only other thing I can think of might be overcoming stereotypes to get more television exposure.   What we do is difficult, more so than people believe.




If you had the opportunity to convince a skeptical Bar manager to hire a Flair Bartender, How would you go about it? I would tell the manager to contact Tobin Ellis of Barmagic.   Consider the bartender hired.   Just kidding.   I would specify that Flair bartenders are passionate about the craft of bartending, that it’s more than just flipping bottles.   Tom Cruise’s Flairing was a mockery of professionalism, and it’s sad that naïve managers base their decisions on that type of Flair.   I would also convince the manager to see the numbers with Flair compared to the bartenders whose only goal it is, is to ring, and give it a shot.   Word of mouth is the best form of advertising and what better way to cause a stir, than by having a bartender wowing customers with Flair and great service?

What are some common obstacles you face as a Flair bartender opposed to a regular bartender? Other bartenders behind your bar who do not Flair.   Those are extreme obstacles.   Overcoming stereotypes, because of uneducated managers or idiot bartenders who try to Flair and they do it wrongly in the face of business.   Another one is convincing people that “Cocktail” was a movie, not reality, and that we’re much better than that.

What is your favorite drink? Skyy 90 and Tonic, however I really enjoyed Toby’s Aspen Mint Martini, so If I’m at his bar, that’s what I’m asking for…





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