THE MAN BEHIND THE SHOW AT FLAIRCO! – Dean Serneels Interviewed

Updated: July 1, 2005

When you think of showmanship and Flair, one name always comes up… Mr. Dean Serneels. He has been around since some of the original mainstream days of Flair. He is one of the reasons while we are all capable of doing what we do behind the bar. His company and there products help our sport grow in so many different ways. All of this and he is one hell of a guy as well. So drop your Flairco practice bottles (Don’t worry they wont break) put on your favorite hockey jersey and learn about the man behind the bottles!

Age? 35.

Where are you from? Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

Flairco_logoHow long have you’ve been Bartending? After pulling out my calculator and doing the math I have been behind the wood for over 17 years now. The last 3 years have been more training and special events than actually pulling shifts in a club.

And Flair Bartending? 17 Years ago was the release for the movie Cocktail. Being young and impressionable at the time I started copying the movie. Spilling a lot, dropping a lot, neglecting my customers. Just like Brian Flanagan. I did not really see the other side of Flair until my first Quest. This is where I began to get serious about it.

Where do you work? I work at Flairco Inc and the Flairco Bartending Institute. I also do a number of bartender trainings and some consulting for BOLS Liqueurs here in Canada.

What got you into Flair Bartending? Honestly the movie had me taking a lot of risks behind the bar. Spilling and dropping were all part of it. Therefore this kind of Flair was very short lived. It was not until I started working for a restaurant here in Ontario that encouraged Flair. They were one of the first chains here to start copying TGI Fridays. I competed in a couple of bartending competitions and started to become hooked. As I wrote above. Going to Quest was what hooked me. More specifically it was meeting all of the guys. Ken, Bill, Jim and Toby. I owe a lot of my current success to Toby and his vision. Hell the name of “The Flair Bottle” came out of conversations with Toby. Soon to be “The Original Flair Bottle”. Also a prediction of his.

How did you start out learning to Flair? Duct tape; and lots of it. I remember trying to vacuum the back yard attempting to pickup the broken shards of glass.   With the encouragement of the bar I worked at there were a few of us that would practice together. Of course at that time most of our practice was at work. Our guests enjoyed watching us drop and spill stuff. We thought when they were laughing with us.

Why do you Flair now? It is in the blood and locked in to the muscle memory. I can not pick anything up with out spinning it or tossing it behind my back. It is a second nature as tying my shoes now.   It is something that you can always get better at even with just a little practice.

Dean_quote1Describe to us your style of Flair? I like to think that my style of Flair is a little unique. Although I have always tried to keep my technical skills current I feel my style lies in being able to create a complete show. I try to envision what the audience is watching and I plan my show with that in mind. I try to create Flair shows that are more than just bottle flipping. Flipping bottles is simply the medium I use to give me an excuse to get on stage. I was raised as a ham and I also worked for many years as a professional magician there fore being in front of the audience is something that I am quite comfortable with.

I like to use as many different styles of entertainment as I can on stage. Yes there is the 1, 2 and 3 bottle Flair which is different than juggling. There are the different combinations of tins, glassware etc. What I really like to do is incorporate other things into my show that I am confident other competitors will not have. Magic, Showstoppers, Glow in the dark, singing along and sometimes acting like a jack ass. My main goal when I get on stage is to have the audience remember that I was up there. I may not win the event but I always have people saying how much they enjoyed my show. That is really what motivates me. Take the Blue Man show that Martin Zikmund and I did at Legends. We did not win but people are still talking about it today.

Tell us about the Flair scene when you first started to Flair compared to now ? The whole second floor of Mannequins night club in Orlando was covered with broken glass. Covered! You could not take a step with out hearing the crunch of bottles under your feet.

As for the Flair itself. There was a time when stalling a bottle on your hand was considered not only advanced but innovative. “He caught it on the back of his hand” we would say.

In our area the competitions back then were more about entertaining the audience with costumes and antics than it was about bottles in the air. Loose Change Louie’s was one of the first bars to hold bartending competitions. This is where I met Andrew Strogh and I came second place to Mike McLean. Yes you may want to re read that last sentence. The guy knows how to put together a show.

What makes you stand out from other Flair Bartenders? Smiling and audience interaction. If the audience is not having fun watching me have fun on stage I am not doing my job. I find many other Flair bartenders work 100% on new moves and catches. I spend just as much time choreographing music, planning punctuation and incorporating new ways to connect with the audience as I do on my Flair. Ken Hall often talks about breaking down the imaginary wall between you and the audience. I do not try to break down the imaginary walls as much as I am throwing imaginary ropes into the audience and pulling them on stage with me.

Tropicana_DeanWhat do you hope to get out of Flair ? At this point I can not ask for anything more from Flair. What I want to do now is give back. Sounds corny.   Flair has already given me so much. From my own business’s to a roof over my family’s head, the ability to be as creative and inventive as I can be to the rewards that come from watching students gain their own success in the Flair world. Not to mention that fact that I am working today and writing this interview while still in my pajama’s.   One of my personal and business goals is to find new ways to give back to the community.



FBC_Video_ButtonWhat is your favorite Flair Bartending competition ? I am such a fence sitter. I like them all. Every mainstream competition is set up and scored with a different goal in mind. From the “Let’s find the best bartender in the world” that Legends is to the “Let’s find out who is the best bottle flipper in the world” that is Roadhouse. I have 100% appreciation for any event where the organizers are considering more than one persons perspective. You must take into account the point of view of everyone involved when developing a competition. From the sponsors to the judges to the competitors, and their girl/boyfriends. The most important perspective that I feel is still not 100% addressed is the audience’s perspective. I believe that if we were to only make a competition that the audience liked, we would inadvertently satisfy all of the other perspectives.


Who do you look up to in this Sport? I must say the people I respect the most in this sport are the rookies. NO! The rookies that get on stage and drop bottles like bowling pins, spill like Niagara Falls and do not even finish their drinks. I respect these people when they sign up for their next competition. “Shitting the bed” is the industry term. You need to taste the sourness of defeat to be motivated enough to fight for the sweetness of victory. People that know and respect that, are the people that I look up to the most on the Sport side of Flair bartending.

Others I look up to are those taking the risks to move forward. I have taken plenty of risks over the years trying to get where we are now. Those in the industry that are striving to move it forward and are not just following the crowd are who I respect the most.   For example. Jim Allison of the FBA quit a great “Job” to make the time to grow the FBA, Rob Husted and Rick Barcode for publishing this great magazine not only for the challenge but more so because they know the industry needs it. Then there is the Toby Ellis‘, Chuck Rolms, Ken Halls and Mark Hastings of the world that have supported the industry from day one and did not walk away when it was challenging.   These are the people that I look up to and respect the most.

Dean_quote3Tell us what Flairco does and what services and products it offers ? You do not what to get me started. Flairco is dedicated to the development of the Craft of Bartending world wide. With so many bartenders now stepping up their skills in all aspects of bartending from Mixology to Working Flair to Exhibition Flair to Magic. We are dedicated to sharing our experiences with others ensuring that they can develop their skills from a   strong base.   We are here to lend support in any way we can to a bartender, competition organizer or sponsor. What we do at Flairco Inc is supply bartenders and our international distributors with our products. Developing new products and upgrading our service is a commitment that we have never let slide. Mike McLean speaks with more contest organizers and has assisted more bartenders that are trying to make a living at Flair than anyone I know. He has judged more competitions around the world and I think he deserves his own front page on Flair Bar.  




Dean_quote4The Flairco Bartending Institute is focusing on the execution of a new program created by Matt Jones. We are confident this new way of approaching training will set a new standard. Our facilities although modest at this point are close to expanding into a larger market and a second location.   Right now Niagara Falls is trying to be the next Vegas and we have just signed up two casinos and a number of other properties in the area for Advanced bartender training.

The Flairco Bartending Institute is now enjoying a huge growth in special events and other on site trainings as well. These events alone are enough to keep Matt and me hopping all over the place.

I am very excited about what the next year is going to bring for both of these companies. One thing I am certain of is now that now that we are all treating the craft with more respect, many others are treating us all with a new found respect!




What new products can we expect to see from Flairco in the future ? I need to take a research and development break to recharge my creativity. With this new launch of the Flairco Box set, the Vortex portable bar and the DeKuyper bottles all happening in the same month I now need to change my focus into marketing these new products.

What I am sad to say is that the open lines of communication about other new products must be closed up. There was a time not too long ago that I would go on and on about the new products and ideas I am working on and what I would like to see develop in the Flairco catalogue. However I have over 10 knock off plastic bottles in my office right now. (I am happy to say that the Original Flairco is still the number one for overall quality, durability and flip ability.) I just read an article about a competitor’s bottle. It was a very fair article and compared the apples to apples very well. What I found humorous was when the article stated that the competitor’s bottle could be melted back into shape with a blow torch. I thought “Now I have to learn to use a blow torch just to learn a stall.”  I have seen pictures of knock off portable bars and I anticipate a few other un inventive entrepreneurs to rise out of what we have achieved. It is one thing to inspire to invent something new or even to make a product better. I can respect that. However ripping off a product simply to cash in does not seem to have the same rewards.

However in the constant effort to make lemons into Lynchburg lemonades I have to admit. It is about time that the rest of the world realized that there is so much promise in the community of Flair bartending. All of the people trying to copy us now just proves that everything we have worked on for so many years is about to explode into a world wide phenomenon.

What I can promise is a whole bunch of new products that you will need and think WOW how did I live with out this. Now that the new Flairco Box set is done I have another 5 new projects and products just waiting for the right timing.   The FBI is one of my next projects to take to the next level.   I promise Flair Bar will be one of the first to know about it.What are your plans now? Next step will be to get through the extremely busy summer we have ahead of us and plan for new growth in the Fall. With Matt Jones at the helm the FBI is very close to becoming what I have always dreamed it to be. We just need to give it an extra little push.   I am also moving in July. Anyone visiting Canada is welcome to join me at my new home bar. Reservations are required.

Dean_quote5Tell us how your invention of the Flairco Flair practice bottle came about and the history behind it ? Just before Quest ’97 I was working for The Museum chain Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I was working in the art department making wax and plastic moulds and figures for the museum. We actually had to do a life cast of a nude model one day. The only day I was not late for work. Anyway back to the story. I was also bartending and doing a little Flair at the time. That summer I did some bartender training for Kittling Ridge winery. Kittling Ridge sells their vodka in thin plastic bottles. I combined the mould making techniques I had learned with these bottles and the first Flairco bottle was born. I took a few of them to Quest to see if anyone thought it was worth perusing. We now have bottles in over 100 different countries. With feedback from the bartenders over the years we are constantly evolving the bottles consistently making them better. Thanks to the Flair bottle we now have a world wide distribution network that expects new products from us and we now need to deliver on that expectation.





Megan_Ryan1How often do you practice? Flair? Not very often. I am on the computer or on the road all day and four out of the last six months have seem me in the editing room. My back yard practice area is now always full with my children and my Golden Retriever Jasper that flipping is just too dangerous. Then my daughter Megan wants me to push her on the swings and that becomes a little more important than practicing bumps.   When I try to practice at work the phone rings or Matt and I get into a spirited conversation about … well Spirits. I still flip a little every day. However life has become a different type of competition for me now. It seems to have gotten ahead of me and practicing Flair is not what I need to do to stay ahead anymore.   I still compete aggressively. It is just a different type of competition right now.


Ryan_JasperWhat is your advice to some of the new people wanting to get into Flair? Do it for yourself. There will be hundreds of negative people that will try to knock you down. “Why do you do that? Why do you want to flip bottles?” Let it bounce off of you. You have to find the motivation within yourself. DO it because you know where it can take you. DO it because Adriano travels around the world working in the best bars around the world. DO it because you will meet hundreds of people that will remember you the next time you meet them even when you do not remember meeting them. DO Flair because you want to be the best at what you do. It is not about being the best bartender as much as it is about doing what you do to the best of your ability. However, you must remember that to bartend to the best of your ability means far more than being able to flip bottles like the Delpechs or to have the speed of Tony Cogburn, the pour test of Rick Barcode and the knowledge of Matt Jones or Dale De Groff. The bartenders that truly take this craft to the upper echelons are those bartenders that have equal amounts of each discipline. The true craftsman are those that are not the very best in any one category. Like a great cocktail they are perfectly balanced. All of the different flavors work together to create one unique and fantastic new taste.

Tell us about your first Flair Competition and your experiences there, what were you feeling, did everything go as planned?  My first Flair competition was a tandem event. I was still breathing fire then. We actually won the event even though the ball of fire I blew came dangerously close to my partner. The Flair was very simple compared to today. The goal was the same, entertain the crowd. I can not image what a three bottle juggle with a tomahawk would have done to that audience. 

Tell us all about your involvement in the Flair scene and the direction this sport is going? One of the things that Flairco has allowed me to do is to give back to and encourage the development of the Flair scene.   Our mission is to grow the sport of Flair bartending and encourage the development of bartending.   We work very closely with Jim Allison and the FBA trying to make our contests even better and more fair.

When I started competing judging panels were full of “S” list celebrities.(17 lists away from the “A” List) I believe they were paid with drinks because they were all drunk by the end of the night. There was one Quest where one of the judges puked beside his chair.   I believe that my involvement as just one member of a very large team has helped Flair Bartenders become a professional group that now deserves respect from the whole hospitality industry. We are no longer the renegade out of control “Hey can I just get a drink?” bartenders we used to be.   People are starting to respect us and if I had even a small part to play in that it is cool.

Disco_DeanWhat would your ideal Flair competition consist of? Tough question. There are so many aspects that need to be included in this answer. A side from the technical elements that you normally have in a contest I would love to see an event that was designed specifically with the audience in mind. This would be a contest that was not set up to prove anything to our critics and was not there to do anything accept to entertain the audience. The crowd interaction of the whole show needs to be addressed from an organizers point of view. We need to have special effect lighting, smoke, other musical effects etc. We are actually working on a competition just like this for the spring of 2006 in Toronto. We are planning a huge promotional blitz ahead of the show that will attract an audience of non industry people as well as the industry folks that already travel with us.   You can expect an announcement of this show within a month or so.


Tell us how you handle a full time career in the Flair industry, compete and train for competitions, research and develop new ideas and still have time for your loving family? Multi tasking, prioritizing, alternative filing and sometimes working like a scatterbrain are the tools I have been using behind the bar for years. That is how I get by now. It is definitely not 9-5 five days a week.

The harder I work to find time for my family the more work comes my way to take me away from my family. The thing is, I really love what I do and because of technology I can work just about anywhere. The nature of what I do allows me to take a day off when it suits me and I can organize my own schedule as I wish.   If I want to spend a few hours with my family I will do my work at night.

I admit that I sometimes sacrifice my family for business. Sometimes I sacrifice business for family. I suppose there is a better “glass is ½ full” comparison to be made here. Bottom line is the support team on both sides is great. The Flairco team is extremely strong and work extremely efficiently when I am somewhere else (sometimes they work better). My family understands and supports what I have to do. They may not like it all the time but it is making for a brighter future for us all.

When I can incorporate them it is great. My kids still talk about Panama City Beach Florida. I was distracted from my duties at the competition a bit but the experience my kids had was great.   It is hard to balance and hard to say what is wrong with this balance. Hey, my son Ryan is 4 and can throw a 1 ½ to a pour. He also competed in the TC BAM. Megan still has a crush on “the guy with the long hair”. Once they are older I will travel with them so that they can experience the parts of the world I am experiencing. One of the toughest things is being somewhere like New York or Vegas having the best dinner or drinks of my life knowing my wife is at home with the kids. I would love to be able to share these experiences with the people that will be around me for the next 50 years.

Are we ever going to see Flairco practice ice? I have actually done a fair amount of research on this already. I thought I was close at one point. However it turns out that the guy I was working with just thought I was a complete freak and wasting his time. This is a tough job to describe to the lay man.

If a liquor company wanted to develop a Flair bottle after their product, How would they go about it? If anyone wanted to develop their own Flair bottle they have a couple of different ways of doing it.

1) Spend a ton of money only to have your first attempt shatter on the ground or you can also finally make a copy bottle and then attempt to create the infrastructure needed to ship the bottles. Packing boxes can take you away from practicing pretty quickly.


2) You can also call us at Flairco and we can make sure the bottles are made properly the first time with our very strict attention to quality and detail and then have them distributed around the world virtually over night.   It is actually quite a simple procedure for us now.

What is your favorite drink? Tennessee Villa. 1 part Jack Daniels and ½ part of BOLS Vanilla Liqueur (International recipe. The BOLS in the US is a completely different product than the international flavors.) Served on the rocks the BOLS Vanilla really draws out the vanilla flavors in the Jack Daniels and softens the alcohol bite at the same time.

I just wanted to give a tremendous thank you to everyone around the world that supports Flairco and the Flairco Bottles. Thank you for your kind words on the forums and for sticking behind us. I owe you all a great deal of gratitude and I will do my best to repay it. If it doesn’t say Flairco.com on the bottom. “It just ain’t the same.”

Thanks again to Rob and Rick at Flairbar.









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