“Fire it Up!” – Chad Tocco Interviewed

Updated: May 1, 2014

From starting out learning Flair after performing a thumb roll throwing out a bottle and meeting a future Flair mentor to being one of the premier fire Flair bartenders in South Florida… Mr. Chad Tocco. He has been in the game for awhile and created a niche for himself down in Miami and now in the pages of Flairbar.com, we get to know a little more about “Taco” with “Fire it Up!” as he shares with us his insights on the world of Flair bartending & Mixology… So sit back, relax and indulge in a Finest Call cocktail made in a Flairbar.com tin sold on BarProducts and enjoy… ;-)


Age? 33.

Where are you from?

How long have you’ve been Bartending? My first bartending shift came when I was 19 working on South Beach as a server in an emergency situation. I made 440 dollars (the season bartender next to me made over 1,200),  and I knew from there, I needed to be behind the bar. So technically, 14 years, but steadily from the age of 21, making it 12 years.


And Flair Bartending? I was a Flair server two years before starting bartending. I would spin trays like a basketball and catch them behind my back, palm spin ketchup bottles as many times as I could working at Johnny Rockets, thumb roll glassware (I broke a lot of glasses and ketchup bottles). So needless to say, I started Flairing behind the bar the moment I stepped back there.


Where do you work? I work at two distinctly different venues on South Beach. I work on 929 Washington Avenue where club “Bed” used to be, which is now called Room Service and is a hip hop club. I also work down the street at 323 23rd Street, at a place called Treehouse, which is like an underground, deep house, very non commercial venue. So I have two completely opposite client bases that order completely different drinks, and I get to listen to the highest quality of totally different genres of music, and that keeps things interesting for me.


What got you into Flair Bartending? After my first two years of experimenting with Flair I started hitting a wall in what my imagination could come up with.
One day while working the day shift at a place called Mr Moes in Coconut Grove, I did a thumb roll as I threw an empty bottle away and a guy sitting at the bar turned out to be a Flair bartender (Skip T Corona). we began talking about Flair, and he invited me to practice with him. For he would be training for an upcoming competition in a few weeks called Bartenders Bash. Excitingly I started practicing with him, borrowed some training videos he had, and a couple of weeks in, he convinced me to compete.


FBC_CTocco_quote1How did you start out learning to Flair? I put a routine together, executed all my moves as planned on stage, ate up the experience, and definitely caught the stage bug and have been addicted ever since. I also got to see a lot of bartenders from all over the world compete that day, which gave me tons of moves and motivation to practice from there on.


Tell us about your nickname “Taco”? I told the MC (JD, the best MC alive),  “don’t worry if you mispronounce my name, everybody does, but its pronounced, T-OH-CO, not Taco.” Well he ran and with that, and introduced me as taco, and was like taco this, and taco that, how many girls like tacos? So for the next two days everybody called me Taco in the Keys because they had seen me on stage, and all of my friends and coworkers were there and brought the nickname back to Miami. Thanks again JD.


Tell us about the Bartending scene in Miami? Firstly, getting a job as a guy isn’t easy. Its probably 80% girls down here which really sucks. But if you do land the job only two things really matter from there on;  how much you ring, and how many people you can bring through the front door. Nowadays being a bartender also makes you a promoter. If you are lucky enough to be in a place that doesn’t apply pressure on your guest list, you as one of the only guys, is expected to be the high ringer every night. On the bright side, Miami adds 20% gratuity automatically to all checks. We’re talking about $20 drinks and 10 dollar beers. ($) The clientele in Miami has plenty of money, the DJ’s are top notch, and the girls are among the hottest in the world.


Tell us about the Flair Bartending scene in Miami? Flair bartending in Miami has two sides; on the one hand, nobody has been exposed to Flair, so any move you do is highly impressive to them. On the other hand, it’s harder to have everybody’s attention towards the bar, because venues provide such an engulfing experience with the music, lighting, big name DJs, that people are more occupied with what’s going on in the club than what’s going on behind the bar. And sometimes trying to get people’s attention because you’re Flairing your heart out, is going against the vibe instead of helping it. So you have to pick and choose the time to bust a couple moves, but never slow down service, or just light a couple bottles on fire and take over the club for a few minutes. It’s all about timing.


FBC_CTocco_sm8What makes you stand out from other Flair Bartenders? Fire is my forte.I’ve taken fire to level that I’ve never see before, I cant say that about any of my other Flair.
Also, I have developed a working Flair thats  impactful with big moves, but are always working towards making a drink. I never give somebody a chance to be like, “that was cool, but I just want my fucking drink.”


What do you hope to get out of Flair?


What is your favorite Flair Bartending competition and why? Bartenders Bash because it was my first, it’s geared towards having fun on stage instead of being so serious, and when you get off the stage there’s a great party going on that last for two days. A perfect way to let go after practicing everyday for weeks leading up to.


Who do you look up to in this Sport? Christian Delpech, because I studied his smooth, precise style when I was learning, and I still think there’s nobody smoother.


FBC_CTocco_quote2Tell us about being part of the older side of the newer generation of Flair Bartenders and how you differ from the newer generation? I do have a foot in the older generation and the new. I think that’s given me a unique style. I love old school Flair because it’s all about hitting the big move, do or die. New school is all about flow and basically your routine is one big move. So my style is about keeping the flow, but having show-stopping moves, that if I land I’m a hero, but if I drop, I score 0.


Tell us with your involvement in Elite Bartending Schools? I help out with Elites Flair Program (flairhardprogram.com), from time to time. the Flair program is like a camp you sign up for. You pay your tuition and you’re a lifetime member. We practice once a week on the beach, and there’s always a couple seasoned Flair bartenders there to help you on what you’re working on, or to teach you something new.


How does Elite Bartending Schools differ from other bartending schools?


What is something every bartender should know for their first shift behind the bar? You’re only as good as the number you turn in at the end of the night. Keep your sales high and you can do whatever you want.


In your opinion, what makes a good bartender? What makes a good bartender depends on the venue. In my world, clubs, its speed. At a lobby bar or speak easy for instance, it would be your personality. In a mixology bar, your knowledge. In a Flair bar, your skills. What makes a good bartender is being able to mold yourself to your audience and what the venue expects from you.


What are your thoughts when you hear remarks about Flair bartending or craft cocktails slowing down service? All it takes is one douchebag that thinks he can Flair, to form an impression on somebody that’s never seen it before. The same goes with creating a craft cocktail; execute it wrong, or take too long, and that person or persons will hold that experience in their head about what a Flair bartender or mixologist is, until someone proves them otherwise. So if you’re a prepared Flair bartender, or a prepared mixologist, you’re only going to enhance the experience, not slow it down. So go to your shift prepared, and keep the experimenting and practicing for the sidelines.



What are your thoughts on bartending competitions today… what would you change and why? I just wish there were more local competition and somebody can get any competition on a major network so Flair blows up. People aren’t exposed to Flair. If they were, it would be expected skill in the industry and bars would be a much more fun place to be. I can sit at Carnival Court at 2 p.m. in Las Vegas for hours.



FBC_CTocco_sm9What are your thoughts on the Bartenders Bash Series? The series is great. The audience is tuned up from all the free booze and is already having a great time as you step on stage. A perfect crowd to perform for.


What would it mean for you to win the Flair round this year at one of the events? It’s been a part of my life for the last 12 years. Winning would give me a feeling of completion and validity. I’ve come close, I even won the series championship coming in second place in both events, but never first place. But I think it’s my time for it all to come together and bring home the gold.


Why should someone compete in the Bartenders Bash Series? It’s the perfect competition for a beginner. Great stage, great audience, relaxed rules, short stage time and an awesome MC  that keeps things loose and entertaining, even if you’re struggling. I recommend it to anybody thinking about competing or growing as a Flair bartender. There’s nothing like a competition to get you to practice.


Any predictions for this years Bartenders Bash Series? ME ME ME!



How often do you practice and how do you structure your practice? I practice sporadically until an upcoming competition. A couple months out, I’ll put a routine together in my head or on paper that I think can win. Then I practice as much as it takes to get that routine down solid. Inevitably, as the competition draws nearer my practice hours increase. A week out from the competition, I practice my whole routine with the music and real bottles with the appropriate amount of water in them, and I drop any moves at that point that I don’t have mastered. You want to bring a routine that you are 100% confident with on stage. I also visualize my routine with the music as much as possible, especially on competition day. When I’ve trained properly, the moves are second nature, allowing me to put my attention on the crowd and being entertaining. People feel what you’re feeling, so you have to be in a good state or you are hard to watch,  even if you’re hitting every move.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a Flair bartender rather then a regular bartender? It gives you the tools to break the ice with a customer, build a tip, impress a girl, set your self aside from other bartenders, and it makes it makes work a lot more fun. The disavantage is, sometimes you get labeled as a “Flair bartender” thats like some kind of magician like performer, not a bartender, when you’re looking for a job. So you have to be careful how you sell yourself in an interview.
Also, other bartenders that secretly wish they had your skills, but lack the hand eye coordination, discipline to practice, or flexibility because they’re a juiced up meat head, sometimes hate on you.



FBC_CTocco_quote3What is your advice to some of the new bartenders wanting to learn Flair Bartending? Only bring moves behind the bar that you have mastered. Your demeanor while you’re performing the trick is more important than the trick itself. Mastery equals confidence, which is much easier to watch than you struggling.



What are your thoughts on the United States Bartenders Guild? I like the idea of being part of a group, and being able to travel and find jobs through the guild, but honestly I don’t know that much about it and I’m not a member.



Are you a current member? Not yet.

Do you plan on joining the USBG to compete in the World Cocktail Championship in Miami in July where the winner gets flown to South Africa to represent the United States in the finals? I enjoy making great, balance drinks. I think I have a good feel for putting ingredients together, but I’m just not passionate about mixology in a competitive arena. I need to be passionate about something to be good at it, so no USBG for me, for now.


FBC_CTocco_sm5We have seen you do some amazing fire shows… what are some secrets to a great fire show? Practice with wicks in the bottles, (bev naps), and any time you grab the wick, realize you would have been burned. Make a note of which moves you can do and not do on fire. I find that you can perform any move as long as its one you are really comfortable with. Also, learn to spit big ass fire balls, and you can put on a show with just a couple of one bottle moves and  people will love it. Especially in a dark night club. Then just keep adding to your show. Try and have a good finale. An easy go to is jumping on the bar and doing a waterfall pour.


Have you ever gotten hurt doing a fire show and what happened? A bartender and I were blowing fire at one another and he was apparently drunk, and his fire ball came out real chunky instead of a spray. So the chunky liquor went through my fireball and lit my face on fire. Luckily I went straight for the ice well and rubbed  two hand fulls of ice all over my face. I only lost my eyelashes, some eye brow and singed my hair, along with a few minor burns. If you do get burned make sure you apply burn cream repeatedly throughout the night. Burn cream should be in the first aid kit at any establishment. If not your skin dries up it makes things worse and leaves scars. The ice bin has got me out of quite a few situations, so don’t forget it’s there. And don’t blow fire with an inexperienced bartender or drunk one, unless you keep plenty of distance.


What are your thoughts on a new way sponsors can partner with an individual bartender to help promote their brand and how would the sponsors better benefit? I think we are going to look like Nascar drivers when Flair hits the mainstream and people follow bartenders like athletes, but for now sponsorship really only works in a competitive setting as far as I can see.



FBC_CTocco_sm4What are your thoughts on the FBA (Flair Bartender’s Association) and the WFA (World Flair Association)? Are they working towards the same goals and can we work together more in the future for the overall better of Flair bartending? Well, I’ve never heard of the WFA, so that tells you something, and the FBA doesn’t seem to have much drive or direction behind it, but I do think the Flair tour is a great idea. Something needs to happen to set Flair off, a reality show, network coverage, something. And then it’s up to us to keep the interest  alive. So the question remains, “how do we achieve the exposure?” .

But I don’t think that’s the question that the WFA or the FBA is asking themselves. I think they’re just trying to squeeze whatever they can from the interest that’s already there, instead of looking for ways to expand the industry.


Do you find it difficult being a bartender to maintain a serious relationship? Not really, but I find it hard to find a serious girl in the nightlife scene (which isn’t so bad until you want something more).


Any tips on dating a bartender? Don’t even try if you’re insecure, jaded, or not a trusting person. Our opportunity is endless, and that’s hard for some people to deal with.


What are your thoughts on Flairbar.com and what would you like to change about it? I think Flairbar.com is great. I would like to see it maintained and up-to-date more is all.


FBC_CTocco_sm2What are your thoughts on Finest Call products and Why? Finest Call provides several easy options to enhance any cocktail. I think it’s a fast approach to infusing flavors without having to muddle fresh fruit and so forth.


What is your favorite Finest Call flavor? Finest Call Lime juice, because I use that shit all the time, and because Finest Call is a sponsor in all of my Flair competitions, I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve with it.


What is your favorite cocktail you created and can you share with us how to create it? Lately I’ve been making the same drink anytime a girl gives me the cliche,“make me something good.” I call it Ciroc punch. It’s an ounce of Ciroc peach and Ciroc berry, half ounce of Ciroc coconut, half ounce of peach schnapps, equal parts Finest Call Sour Mix and pineapple, splash of Finest Call Grenadine. Shake and top with Red Bull . Works as a shot or bomb also. Never had one complaint. Mostly end up making them a second, or for their friends that try it.


What is your favorite drink? An aged single malt scotch with a couple cubes of ice. 25 yr Macallan all day if I had it like that, but a 12 year old is just fine. Glenlivet works too.






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