Updated: May 1, 2006
The man behind the microphone at almost every major Flair bartending competition to date… Mr. JD Spradlin. The original voice of Flair talks to us about the early years of Flair competitions, some of the major players, events and the direction we are headed. So sit back, enjoy and ask yourself… “Are you ready for this…? In 3…2…1…GO!”

Age? OK, why do you have to start there?

Where are you from? I was born January 12th, 1964 in Tallahassee, Florida. I think that makes me 42.

How Long have you’ve been Emceeing and a DJ? Way back in 1985, I started spinning 45’s in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, at a 50′s and 60′s club called Studebaker’s. This was a very interactive DJ gig, with the DJ doing a lot of visual and physical entertaining (pantomimes & lip sync stuff). I would say, that was the fist time I emceed too, but the only thing I ever said on the mic. was “last call”. But, with the DJ booth so in the spotlight, as a “look-at-me-Party-Host” kinda guy, I felt like an emcee the whole time.

Technically, (not counting weddings and such) the first time I started to really emcee was not until I began with Disney in 1989. Pleasure Island had been open for 4 months when I was hired as their first “On Air” personality for a new street show. Now I was spinning CD’s, and expected to use the microphone as part of my show. I later moved (indoor) to do an interactive happy-hour-style show. For the first time, now I only had “Host” responsibilities, as someone else acted as the DJ. That’s when I knew that I liked it.

And an Emcee and DJ for Flair Bartending Competitions? I started in 1992 at the first “Quest for the Best Bartender in the World” competition, when it was held at Mannequin’s Dance Palace at Pleasure Island, Downtown Disney, Orlando, Florida, USA, North America… Earth. Now you (too) can find it on a map.

Where do you work? The only “full time” thing that I am, currently, doing is 3 nights with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at City Walk. Aside from that, I am a “Mercenary on the Microphone”. I work for my accountant… and for anyone who wants my services. I still DJ for Disney, on the side, (as well as Universal, through a DJ music service called Promo-Only) doing mostly corporate events. And, like most DJ’s, I still do the occasional wedding reception. But like a lot of competing bartenders, I depend on Bar Competitions throughout the year, to supplement my income. I don’t have to tell you, that there are “A-List” competitors who can now live (mostly) on the amazing purses that are available at these Events. I guess that makes our people true Professional Athletes. Thank you Ken Hall. Thank you Jim Allison. Thank you John Niekrash, of Skyy Vodka.

What got you into Emceeing Flair Bartending Competitions? A broken ankle. Back in the day at Pleasure Island, all the emcee shows where handed out on, a rotation basis, to all of the guys (I think there were 3 of us at the time) who doubled as emcees and hosts. Once you got an event, it would be yours every time that event was repeated (as long as you did not suck). The year before the Quest went “World”, it was held as a local event as an “experiment” for Disney. It went well (did not suck). The DJ who was up in the rotation that very first year was my partner, Mr. Dick Tracey (yes, that is his real name). He would have done the first ever “World Quest…” too (the following year -’92), had it not been for the ankle that he broke during one of our DJ shows. I was next on the rotation list. I got the Quest.

How did you start out learning to Flair? I do not bartend. The closest that I ever got behind the bar, was as a bar back at Studebakers. I always wanted to be a bartender. That’s why I applied to work there. But then I learned you have to bar back, first, to learn the bar (duh). I don’t know if you know this, or not, but a bar back works really hard. Being a DJ was a much easer way to take home about the same amount of money and the bartenders and DJ’s (I also learned) get laid about the same.

So my knowledge of Flair comes from watching it live, and trying to explain what I was seeing (over the microphone) so that others could understand it. I feel very lucky in the fact that I learned about Flair, at the same time guys were learning how to Flair. What we called “flair” during the early years was by today’s standards, laughable. Go back and watch some tapes (of any show from the early 90’s) and you will see what I mean. On behalf of those trailblazers I must say, that they had to start this sport from scratch. And they only had the heavy glass (liter bottles) to work with. When the Argentineans (as an example) joined in, they had bootleg tapes to learn from (and a bag full of 750’s).

Have you ever had a desire to learn how to Flair Bartend? I do know how to juggle, but not with a “bartender’s grip”, so I thought that I had a chance to learn. Ken Hall gave me his first training tape, and to his credit, even I (a non-bartender) was able to follow along. I got about ¾ of the way through, and was doing pretty good, but even that little bit of effort, took more time then I had the patience for. Plus I knew I could never use this knowledge to make money… so I gave up. Now, as far as getting good enough to perform in front of people (much less bartenders whom I respect)… forget it. The funny thing is, when I go back and view the early “Quest” tapes, I feel I could have hung with those guys. That is if I could cheat with 750’s, while they stuck with liters. (OK, maybe full liters).

JD_tapDescribe to us your style of Emceeing? I think my “style” comes from the complete admiration of today’s class of competing bartenders. I am truly in awe of what goes on, up on stage. I guess I just try to explain what I am seeing, and why I think it is so damn amazing. Most of what goes on during a Flair routine is so subtle, that I am afraid most viewers simply miss it. I just try to bring the crowd along for the ride.









JD_quote1Tell us about the Flair scene in Orlando and how it has changed in the last five years? What Flair scene? The closest thing to a scene in this area was the “Hard Rock Casino” in halfway to Tampa, and I am afraid that has gone the way of the Dodo Bird. Orlando simply does not have a “Flair-bar” to speak of. The last time I saw local talent Flair behind a bar was over in Tampa, at Ed Hibbert’s and “Alcohol” Paul Riebenack’s bar, The “LA Hangout”. Wait, that’s not true, you and I just spent some quality time at “Cheers” (off I-Drive) where Tin Man works. He pulled out some Flairco’s for us, and did some stuff… but did you notice all the dust he had to blow off of those bottles? He looked good, but I think the dust proved he only did that for our behalf. I think it will take someone with Rob’s knowledge (and strong name) to get a good local tradition starting up again in Orlando. We need to get the Flair community to get on Rob Ford’s ass to get the Orlando area hopping once more. I would love to see him involved, once more.

So, I guess I haven’t given up (yet) for a new local scene. A really good test (for the talent left in this area) will be down at Islamorada’s “End of the Season, Bartender Bash” on May 15th. I know you’ll be there, Rob. That’s right… you’ve never won this one, Mr. I Make Music Videos… huh?

What makes you stand out from other Emcee’s?  Thank you, but if I stand out, I hope it’s because… I don’t stand out. By that, I mean, that I try not to be the show. If I stood out at an event, then I probably got in the way. I look at my job, as the person that gets the night from point “A” to “B”. From, “Hello, Welcome to…” – to – “Goodnight, drive safely…”. Besides “stroking” the sponsors, the stuff in-between should be about helping each bartender to give his or her best performance. I know that every bartender can (and has) hit every move that they attempt; I just want to do everything that I can do, to get them to hit those moves (again) for us under the bright lights. And should they get off-track? I try to get them back on track by keeping the crowd involved. Sometimes, just establishing the right / friendly environment for the performer, can make the difference between a good or bad night at the office. If a competitor feels that the crowd wants them to succeed, then they just might.

What do you hope to get out of Flair? Fame and Fortune. Oh, you’re being serious? One of the most surreal moments I ever had, was when I found myself at a “meet and greet” around a pool, at a Grand Cayman Island Hotel, with friends that I had know for years. That was the first year of two competitions (2001 and 2002) held in the Caribbean, called the Grand Cayman Masters. I think we all looked at each other, and realized (at the same moment) that it was “Flair” that got us there. So to answer your question, I guess I would say: To go to cool places with this traveling circus that we call a family, and do the thing that we all love to do.

JD_mic_FBAWhat is your favorite Flair Bartending competition and why? That’s a real tuff question. They all have their charms, and a different place in my heart. I am very proud of the tradition of the Quest. A lot of people consider the original “Quest for the Best”, as the Father of modern competitions, and the launching platform for the Legends of today (pun intended). To have been there (in the beginning) to watch the epic battles between Ken, Alan, and Bill, then watch the sport morph with the influence of the Canadians, and then the Argentineans, was very cool. It was at the Quest that I (and the Flair community) first met Jim Allison, and the FBA was (really) born, and look how far that has come. Some how, today, Jim and Ken have been able to re-capture that tradition, and I am proud to be a part of the rebirth of “The Quest” at Universal Studios, Orlando.

But, how could I not mention Ken’s “Legends”. It’s the best of the best. Not only is it in Vegas (baby), but truly… it is the “Super Bowl” of our sport. “Legends of Bartending” also gives me the chance to live up to Ken Hall’s expectations. Can you think of a bigger challenge?

JD_quote2Now… if by “favorite”, you mean: The Least Pressure vs. The Most Fun, it has got to be working with Bill Long at the Holiday Isle during the “Bartender Bash” each year at Islamorada. We have been doing this event (together) since 1998, and this event Is what every locals contest should be… clothing optional. I know of a lot of bartenders (including you Mr. Husted) that first cut their teeth in the Florida Keys during this (pure-party) weekend every May.

Do I have room for one more?

How about, The FBA’s “Triple Challenge”? This is the one that I am the most proud of. This one-time-annual-event at Panama City Beach, Florida had so many “firsts” (for a bar competition) that it has to be mentioned. Jim Allison started with a blank-slate, and then just seamed to ask everyone what they would like to see as the best part of their “dream-comp.”… And then he tried to make it happen. I can’t believe he let me get away with so many of my ideas, things we had all been dreaming about while unwinding (getting drunk) after each event we had just finished. This show, also gave me a chance to work on the Mic. (for the first time) with Dean Serneels. One day, we will re-introduce the “Kiss & Cry” couch.

JD_prelims_Legends6What are your thoughts on gaining more exposure with Flair Bartending on television and the media? Why does is it seem so hard for this to happen, and what can we do to help make this happen? We NEED TV and media. We need the money that the sponsors will give to us, for that large market exposure. Look, again, at beach volleyball. With out the support of “Speedo” and “Oakley” these guys would never have gotten where they have. I believe we have the potential to get there. Maybe we need to put our bartenders in Speedos, and Oakleys.

I noticed at the FBA Triple Challenge you seemed to make the event more entertaining and added a certain show aspect that in my opinion was lacking in certain competitions. Do you have any plans in the future to add to the show aspect of Flair Bartending Competitions and if so what would you like to see? It was not just me, but thank you. This was a real team effort. As far as repeating this type of show, or even elevating it from there? Jim will be the first to tell you, that all it takes to put on a show like that, is; 1) Money, and, 2) Man Power. And you need “1″, before you can have “2″. The 3-C was unique in that, I was able to bring the stage set, lighting, and a lot of the video equipment, up to Panama City Beach from Orlando – at the lowest possible cost. I pulled in all kinds of favors, and got a lot of the gear for free. We started with a blank Banquet room (at the Resort) and were able to build our Dream-Room.

The rest was the FBA’s staff (mostly Jim) busting ass to try to hold it all together. His hard work made it so that the rest of us could let our imaginations run wild. If not for some technical glitches (making us having to abandon some of our ideas), it would have been even better. Even so, I think that this was the best all around (bar comp) production and show that I have ever been involved with. I just wish we had gotten the crowd that we deserved. After all the bills were paid, I think we (Jim) wound up “taking a bath” on this one, after. But we had a blast, and learned a lot for next time.

JD_juggleYou more then anybody else in the world probably have seen more Flair Bartenders compete then anyone else. What advice would you give to competitors to remember while they are competing? While they are competing? That’s easy. Breath… smile, and have fun. If things go wrong, (and they will) don’t let it show. Roll with it. No one wants to watch a person that is in pain. If you are having fun in the “moment”, it will show. The real trick to have a good round, is to compete as often as possible. Get used to how it feels. To now be a performer on stage, is a very different experience than performing at your home bar, or garage. The more you do it, the more natural it will feel, and ultimately look.

Oh yeah… add more music choreography, I love Choreography.





Ken_JDWho do you look up to in this Sport? If I had to name just one, then Hands Down… Ken Hall. Anyone who would bother to read my ramblings, knows of his importance to this sport, and has their own reasons for the respect they give him. I simply believe he is the “Soul” of Flair Bartending.




You seemed to have coined certain catch phrases during Flair Bartending Competitions. How do you feel when you hear other Emcee’s using your same catch phrases, Is it a compliment or do you look down on it? I love it. It’s like… what I said during the throws of a show has been woven into the fabric of Flair. It’s not like I spend any time writing this stuff. Most of the time, it’s just something that I said… simply because I needed something to say. Example: When Finest Call came on-board with Legends, all we got from them was the product that we used to make the drinks during the show. Every sponsor wants (and deserves) “Bang-for-Their-Bucks”, and what they really want, is to have our audiences walking away with their Brand on the tip of everyone’s tongues. With our other sponsors (like Skyy) that year, we had SWAG to give away between each round (thus, many chances to say their Product’s Brand name). With Finest Call, we got squat. We barely had banners. So, the only thing I could come up with; was to point out (to everyone) every time the bartenders touched their F.C. Store-and-Pour as they made the drinks. What came out was, “Finest Call… It’s In There”. Tim Black and Bill Hinkebein were both very happy. I knew that phrase caught on, when after this past Legends, I was over at the Trade Show, and watched Christian Delpech perform at the Bacardi booth. He was rigged for sound, making “Mojitos” (with Flair), and explaining (for all to hear) the 4 easy steps to build this refreshing drink. When he said, “Barcardi… It’s in there”. I just about spotted. And you know, it’s about time HE got a chance to steal from someone else. What an honor for me.

I’ve had Argentineans (who spoke little, to no English) run up to me, and yell… “Are you Kidding Me? … Are You Watching This?”, then I meet them. I’ve seen Japanese competitions (on tape) where the only English you hear, is (in my cadence)… “3, 2, 1, GO!” If another MC sees me at their show, they say “hi”, by working in… “As Sharp As The Day They Were Forged”, then they make eye-contact and smile. I Love It!

What is it like being considered as one of the best Flair Bartending Emcees and how does it feel to help grow this sport in so many different ways? What do you mean, “one of the best”… ass hole! [Wouldn’t it be fun to live life being that cocky?] First of all, this sport has legs of it’s own. I think that the work and passion that we all have for Flair will one-day push it over the top. Look at all the face time our guys are currently getting on TV.

Second. It’s a big honor to have someone know me, even before we’ve been introduced. All of this is (of course) because of event tapes and DVD’s (Bill Long’s kids knew me as “the guy that bounced across in front of Daddy when he was on TV”, at the show he won in Orlando). When guys introduce themselves to me after a show and share that they also emcee events back home… and then ask me how I make it look so easy during the actual “live” event… I just gotta smile. I know that the fact that they noticed how it looked (compared to how it feels when you are actually doing it), tells me that they will be a better emcee in the future.

JD_quote3What are your plans now? To finish this interview, my good man… how many questions do you have?

Where would you like to see our sport of Flair Bartending progress to? I heard “Flippy” use the “O-Word” during an interview on the Food Network. Just Imagine: Team Japan – Team Canada – Team Argentina – Team USA. Why not the Olympics? The stuff you see at our shows is way more entertaining (not to mention challenging) than some of the crap they have now. Did you watch any of the Winter Olympics this past year? Every stupid thing they could do with a snowboard was an event. Are you Kidding Me? Who’s Watching This? I have always pointed out that Two Man Beach Volleyball, started out as tall-out-of-work guys bumming around in the sand. They got sponsors, look at them now. How far behind could we be?





JD_huhWhat is your advice to some of the new people wanting to become an emcee/ DJ, any secrets? First, love it. There is no way to fake sincerity. Then, don’t force it, or push to hard. Being a DJ or MC is like riding a wave (“wave” being the energy of the room). You need to paddle to get it started, then once it’s going, you better be aware of It’s flow and energy. Then, you need to stay one step ahead of it all, by giving it an occasional “pump” to keep you going in the right direction. If the room is at a “6″ (in energy), then you need to be at a “7″ or “8″. Any less, and you loose any momentum you have built to that point. But if you over-shoot, then you run the risk of looking stupid – thus, loosing your credibility with your crowd. A – ha – ha… Wipe Out.






s there a way you practice your craft or do you just go out there and wing it?
At this point, we ALL just put it into “automatic”, and go (tweaking along the way). I know that the next step (for me to have a better show) is to have an actual “Stage Manager” calling the shots for an event. Great Example: At this past “Legends”, as with all of Jim and Ken’s events, they rely on me to run the pacing and timing of the show (from point “A” to “B”), and all the “stuff” that goes on in between each bartender. I had planned a whole beginning for the show, when things stated to go to hell, starting with the fact that “Club RA” had no DJ for the room… as the doors opened. (Chico saved the day by coming in from home –unprepared -, and then hit a home-run for the evening). That was just one of the many “fires” we had to put out that night, before the show could even start. After the DJ surprise; getting 12 Skyy Girls on page, sound issues, bartenders to places, bartender’s intros, getting Chico up to speed, Ken’s needs, judges to places, judge’s intros with bios, music cues, trying to get the show started on time (so we don’t run long or loose the room), and trying not to look (at all) like any of this phased me (it needs to look effortless, right?), I had to abandon all preconceived plans for a cool “Vegas” opening, and just wing it.

Result: I did NOT come off Brilliant. The worst mistake (of many) was when I introduced Roadhouse’s Tug Van den Bergh, as “Tug Van deF$-@&%”… I don’t know what I said, but it was – not – even – close. This is Tug, for piss sake! I’ve known (and respected) Tug for years now. It’s bad enough to screw up an Americans last name (I should know, I’ve done my share – and then some), but to “F-up” an Englishman’s Sir name, is nothing less than a slap in the face. And, this is Tug! Had I had a “Stage Manager” talking to me (in an ear-piece), he / she could have said, “V-A-N D-E-N B-E-R-G-H, you puttz”.

I would hope that by having someone on staff in a Stage Manager position (if only just to put out show “fires”) would clear me up so that I could just focus on just being a Host. Money and Man Power… right Jim? One day we’ll get there. Hey, Tug! … grovel, grovel.
What are the differences between Emceeing a Flair Bartending competition and Emceeing a club, bar, special event? What are the different positives and negatives? The “skills” are the same. A room is a room, and an event is an event. The only real difference is (that with a Bartending Competition) there is so much money on the line; so visible credibility and fairness are paramount. You must not give one bartender the edge (ether real or imagined) over another. People always ask me how (or why) I seam to have the same energy at the end of a show as in the beginning. Simple. To do otherwise, would not be fair to anybody in between. You tell me. Is that is a positive or negative? Who cares… I’ll take a Bar-Show, any day.

Describe to us what your ultimate Flair Bartending Competition would consist of? Wow. I would love to see us at a point where we have a Traveling Set for a Stage, not unlike the World Poker Tour. No matter where they go, the stage is the same. We need a stage that we can take with us from event to event. The bar set-up, the lights w/ cues, the sound system… the whole works. The Judges would be hard-wired to each other so they could communicate. The video (with multiple cameras, and angles) would be pre-determined, and mixed live-to-screen for the audience. We would be able to call back a move (or sequence) in slow motion (B.A.M). I get a TelePrompTer, Stage Manager, and a Director. The audience would have the capability to Vote for a special award (all they would need is a cell phone). We could catch Ken’s, Jim’s, and the judges comments for a (separate DVD feature) running (edited) commentary. WOW, what a package!

JD_FinestcallWhat are your predictions for Quest this year? Someone will get naked; it might even be Frank the Tank.

Other than that, it’s gonna come down to whoever had the most time to practice. As far as an early “Prediction” for Quest 2006… No disrespect to Christian, but I would kinda like to see the “Quest” as the place where the Student becomes the Master. I know that no one else in the room would be more proud of Rodrigo, if he could take home the big hardware, than his own brother. I think that Rodrigo is currently ranked 4th in the FBA Pro Tour this year. That just might be enough motivation for him to steal it away from the Champion. It sucks that we have to wait ‘till October, huh?

JD_SkyyWhat is the hardest thing about your job? Staying busy.

If you couldn’t Emcee or DJ anymore, what would your line of work be? Porn Star, (when, in reality, I would probably wind-up as a Fluffer) so… my (other) dream job, would be as a performer down in the Keys. Just sitting on a bar stool, playing guitar and singing drinking songs to drunk people. Now, all I need is singing and guitar lessons. If performing was not an option… then I might try my hand as a Lock Smith. I hate the word “No”.

What are your thoughts on the FBA Pro Tour? When I first met Jim and he told me about his vision for the FBA, one of my first questions to him, was, “Can a NASCAR-like tour be done?” As I remember, his answer was, “one day”. Guess what? Way to go FBA!

What is your favorite drink? I LOVE ALL THE FLAVORS OF SKYY VODKA… but, I drink whisky rocks.



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