Long Time Coming

Updated: June 15, 2017


Being a bartender is so much harder than most day-walkers will ever realize. Being a flair bartender in America (outside the surreal bubble that is Las Vegas) is doubly hard. Harder than most including not just mugglefolk but other bartenders realize. And no city on earth is harder to be a flair bartender in than New York City. For thirty years I’ve called Manhattan “the black hole of flair.” Because New York has not only never embraced flair, it has consistently eschewed it, semi-politely patronized it. Even if unknowingly at times. It takes a very brave soul to flip bottles in Manhattan for even a summer, let alone a lifetime. Which makes this moment so much sweeter, and important. For everybody who stands behind a bar. Any kind of bar.

It is an extremely small club, the bartenders who have risen to the highest levels of achievement in both the flair community and the craft cocktail community. At least in this country. I’m not sure that crew would fill up the stools at PDT. Or even Mini-Jimmy’s, The Worlds Smallest Speakeasy. I remember my first Tales of the Cocktail about 10 years ago being in a seminar talking about “the craft.” A very famous presenter openly mocked flair bartending with obvious joy and the room of some 200 bartenders laughed along with him. It was the smallest I think I ever felt in a room of what was supposed to be part of the “bartending family.” A place where literally everyone preaches “you should always be learning. check your ego.”

BBN_Cardone_pourAnd yet a small group of people who have always held a passion for both flair and mixology, moved forward. Smiling through the poorly-veiled and sometimes overt jabs. Biting a lip or two at the “you’re less than” asides that seemed oddly en vogue for so long. And doing what bartenders were put on this earth to do: take care of people by way of making great drinks, with style. Whatever style you damn well choose. As long as service is first. As long as you put the guest ahead of yourself. And as long as you remember it was always supposed to be fun.

In all this time, I know of only one bartender who took on the most flair-hostile market on planet earth and never backed down. Not only that, he spent a good part of the last 15 years committing himself to the craft world. But he never, ever shied away from his true self. Fall down seven times, stand up eight. With a smile. And a dream. And a stall heard ’round the world.

For every bartender that has ever felt like an outsider from the “cool kids club” because of how they dress (or don’t dress), look, talk, move, or make drinks, this is a moment for you to share in. The moment when a flair bartender from Ronkonkoma, NY who was affectionately dubbed “Rookie” some 20 years ago in the Cayman Islands took the hardware at what many consider to be one of, if not the most challenging craft bartending competition in the world. And in that moment, when the entire industry would be looking, he chose, as he always has, even when nobody cared… to be himself. He chose quite naturally to send out a perhaps unintentional message to the world, that flair and mixology can co-exist. In fact, they always have. Yin and Yang.

BBN_CCardone_World_Class2017He reminded the world, that bartending is supposed to be both professional and fun; kind of like a reverse mullet: business in the back, party in the front. That’s why everyone of us got into bartending in the first place, isn’t it? No for the mullets, for the fun. Because let’s face it: “if you’re not having fun behind the bar, you’re not taking your job seriously enough.” Chris Cardone takes bartending very seriously. In many different ways. And that’s the message I take away today, once again. Nobody gets to tell you, as a bartender, how you’re supposed to express your passion for the craft. There is no one “right” way to tend bar and there is only one wrong way to do it: joylessly.

Today is a win for bartenders everywhere, no matter what style, what form of personal expression means the most to you. It is an undeniable testimony not just to the hard work to achieve a dream, but when that work is made so much harder, and ultimately, tastes so much sweeter, because you did it your way and against the odds. You were you when it mattered most. Last night, Chris Cardone showed respect for the crafts. All of them. He proved a lot to himself and also to the rest of the world. And then he raised his freak flag on one of the biggest stages in American bartending for everyone to see, once more. Proudly. Inclusively. With joy.


To everyone who has shared a dream of a day when all bartenders, from the most esteemed cocktail dens and chain restaurants to the dirtiest dives and the most insanely busy clubs, celebrated every style of bartending genuinely and openly and more importantly has publicly worked towards that day their entire careers, from the bottom of my heart– thank you. It is a day I have dreamed about my entire career and that I hope I see come to full fruition before I die. Thank you Dean Serneels, Sam Ross, Christian Delpech, Steve Schneider-Hadzismajlovic, Cheryl Charming, Ken Hall, Philip Duff, Simon Ford, Juan Llorente, Christian Self, Luis Herrera, Naren Young, Cache Bouren, Christian Oldan, Jason Jelicich, Francesco Leoni, Dario Doimo, Trevor Schneider, Rob Husted, Robyn Closson, Robin Weiss, Graham Kimura, Steve Dorsey, Neil Lowrey, Neil Garner, Nicolas Saint-Jean, Fabio Milani, Ati Grinspun, Tom Dyer, Mike McLean, Matt Jones, Scott A McIntosh, Adam MacDonald, Brian Miller (skull and crossbones is flair bro), Alfredo Kao, Leigh Miller, and the scores of other Jedi who have shared both the passion and the burden for being in love with both the AC and the DC of bartending. And please forgive me if you didn’t see your name here, there are truly too many bartenders to list who love craft cocktails, taking care of people, and also just cannot help themselves from expressing it with their tools and their very being.

But most of all, thank you Chris.


This is your moment. You did this. With years of sweat and hard work and then a single second in front of a camera, you helped build a bridge, instead of a wall. You made the table bigger. For everybody. And we are -all- forever in your debt, for the ripples you don’t even know you’ve created that will perhaps forever change the way people within our family will look at the esteemed profession of tending bar. Somewhere Jerry Thomas is smiling. And lifting a dram to you. Cheers, “Rookie.”

p.s. Now go-fight-win in Mexico. No pressure.

#keepthefaith #yourestillrookie #yourejustaworldclassrookie #family #bartender

“It’s really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It’s going to become more and more difficult, and it’s going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to fuck the next guy to get what they want. There’s so much stepping on the backs of other people in our profession. We’ve been so lucky that we’ve never had to do that. Part of it was because of our own tenacity, and part of it was because we were lucky.” – Chris Cornell.


Tobin Ellis

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