Updated: November 1, 2006

A few months back an old friend who was once a rising star in the world of competitive flair called me asking for help. When I say old friend, I mean a guy I’ve known for pushing 10 years now before Flair blew up into a huge media-frenzied, multimillion dollar business. He wanted to put on a competition to help raise some money for a charity that hit home… for his son. He told me about what was going on with his six year-old and you could hear in his voice a mixture of conviction and apprehension. He wanted to do something, but just didn’t quite know what it was or how to pull it off on the scale he was hoping for. So he reached out for help. We talked for a while and it quickly became clear he didn’t have even close to the budget to pull off anything close to what he needed. So what do you do when you don’t have the money, you don’t the have the means, and you don’t have the firepower but you need to raise an army in a hurry who can get the job done? You call in the 4-star general of the traveling small-town showcase. The original hometown hero flair bartender and his 21-ring circus.
dc-spyadIndeed, when you need somebody to turn a couple of lemons into lemonade service for a thousand, you call Chico Garcia. And that’s what Robbie Turek needed to help raise the money his son, Dakota “Cody” Turek. Cody needed more than $20,000 for brain surgery just a few months away. Cody has LKS (Landau-Kleffner Syndrome), which is a rare form of epilepsy. Explained quickly: Cody’s brain is firing off way too much electric impulses and it is essentially “burning out” his ability to process language. So he went from being a pretty normal boy who could talk and socialize, to someone who can barely speak now, and yet is aware of everything around him. There is a lot of much more serious damage going on in Cody’s brain as well, things that are making his life very, very hard. I was touched that Robbie turned to me to organize the fundraising effort, but if I have any one skill that has served the world of flair well, it’s knowing who’s just right for specific events. And this one had Chico written all over it. Chico accepted the leadership role with grace and passion and did an phenomenal job of organizing 1000 tiny details on very short notice and almost no budget.

He is our P.T. Barnum, standing in front of his crazy caravan of All-Stars and special effects machines, wild outfits and his modern-day megaphone: “Step right up… The show’s about to begin…. Witness the Tin-Tossin’, Bartender Flossin’, Lemon-Lime Flair Time….” You can almost smell the hot-roasted peanuts. From the time we met at the airport in Vegas until the minute we landed back home again at McCarren, Chico and his wife Amber had every detail dialed, every contingency plan covered. Traveling with Chico and his band of Flair Bartending All-Stars is an absolute blast. And if you know Chico at all, you know that any road trip with him around is going to be funnier than Cedric the Entertainer‘s family reunion… and just as fashionable.
robbieandmeThere’s a part of me that wants to tell you the touching story of what we all did and how we helped Rob’s son, Cody. But what is there to say that can be summed up as simple as this: in three days a group of friends pulled together and did what hey do best and raised more than $20,000 to help save a little boy’s life. And it was all because of Rob Turek, Chico Garcia and John Neikrash of Skyy Vodka. Those three led the way and the rest of us fell in behind, followed their lead and did what we each do best.
But this isn’t Reader’s Digest and after this week, most of us have had enough tear-jerking videos and heart-felt moments that made us all weep like little schoolgirls, so I thought it might be a lot more fun to share with you the -other- side of Dakota’s Challenge, the stuff you probably won’t see in the video or read about anywhere else. I’m hoping maybe you’ll appreciate some of the less celebrated moments and unsung heroes of the event and also of course, what I like to refer to as “the aftermath.” Someone tried to correct me and say “you mean the After Party?” No, I repeated… the aftermath.

I spent a few weeks putting together flyers and print advertisements for the three events we were holding: Spy Bar in Cleveland on Wed. Nov 8th, Goodbar in Chicago also on Nov. 8th and Major Woody’s Nightclub in Columbus on Thurs Nov 9th. Rob Taylor was coordinating the Chicago event which had Jonas and his “PourBoys” coming up from D.C. and the rest of us from Vegas and elsewhere were marching in Chico’s little army to run the events at Spy Bar and Major Woody’s. Thrilled to finalize some client travel that left those exact days free for me, I called Robbie and Chico and volunteered to bring my mobile gourmet bar service to the events. In the seventeen years I’ve been providing private party bar services, I have had only two events that provided the proper product and setup, exactly as I requested. This was one of the two.

aspenmintmartinis2What a joy to be able to walk into a room and have everything exactly as you need it, to do what you do. And so with a beautiful backdrop of an old fireplace and Chandelier lighting at Spy Bar I poured my heart into hand-crafted Aspen Mint Martinis which we sold for $20 a pop. Erin, one of the bartenders at Spy graciously offered to be my assistant and sold 32 of my cocktails to the generous guests in just a couple of hours. Spy Bar oozes with character and warmth. The multiple-level nightclub is encrusted in hand-carved bookcases and paneling, warm booths with soft couches and elegant chandeliers are abound. The VIP level is refreshingly underneath the main floor, a subterranean hideaway with two more bars. And the bartenders at Spy are some of my new favorites in America: the perfect mix of old-school technical skills, modern-day eye candy and midwest charm. And several of them had their own subtle styles of “stealth” flair including some old school glass-stacks and very fast tin-work which any Flair Bartender has to appreciate.

The first unsung hero of the events deserves some recognition. I was making my way to the front of the stage just as my old friend Christian Delpech was about to light up the night with his magical hands when I caught Chico in the middle of an auction. I heard him point to a guy I was passing as he said “Looking for $125….I have $125….” as this gentleman raised his hand to signal his bid. A girl next to him asked “What did you just bid on?” to which he replied with a hearty laugh “I have no idea….” What a great guy, just bidding to help the cause, without a clue as to what his money was getting him. (See picture, below left). That was the mood of the entire two nights. Good people just out for a good cause, having a great donatortime doing it. It was such a welcomed departure from the sometimes all-too snobbish events I find myself in the middle of in some of the bigger cities where people are more concerned with what labels they are wearing or who they should and should not be seen talking to, than doing any actual good for the world. I love the Midwest for the goodhearted people you find there. And it was everywhere. Raj Singh, part owner of Spy Bar was a very warm, generous man who thanked us again and again for coming to his bar and showered us with hospitality throughout the evening. The entire Spy Bar staff including promoter Arnold Hines, General Manager Chris Radzinski, Asst. Manager Tom Maibauer, VIP Manager Aaron Stuzer bought half the bar my cocktails and all the great bartenders including Renee, Dawn, Lara, Erin and Ksenia were a joy to work with and be served by. DJ Blaze put together a way-too touching Cody video and kept the party going all night. Thanks also to Spy Bar’s other owner, Chris Praiser. Amanda Heiser was a life-saver, helping me with set-up from the moment I walked in the door. And how could we forget the unsung heros working the door/security… Dan, Ronnell, Jose, and Tim?


Speaking of unsung heros, shortly after Wednesday Nights showcase wrapped up, Robbie Turek hopped behind the wood and let out a nice big blast of fire from the bar top, reminding everybody that he will always be Cleveland’s top rockstar bartender. In all the entertainment and hard work with so many “name” bartenders in the room, I worried perhaps some people forget who was the one person who pulled all of this together, from the local side. Chico put the teams together and made the big picture work, but it was Robbie who was the backbone and the heart of this whole experience. I can’t tell you how many people I talked to in Cleveland freely gushed about what a great guy, father and bartender Rob Turek is. So it was beautiful to see him poised high above the bar crowd, blowing a great big ball of fire for everyone to rally around.

spy-dawn Spy Bar’s Dawn had a few moves of her own and poured us more than a couple tasty shooters, save one grape koolaid shot that I couldn’t even pawn off on Delpech, though I tried. We were then summoned down to the VIP level where we inhaled a couple of pizzas and that’s when the mayhem, the aftermath began. You see, when we’re working: we’re working. It’s 100% professional, on-point service, shows and best behavior. But when the bottles go back in the bags and the ties come off, we’re bartenders. Vegas Bartenders, many of us. We like to… unwind. Or is it… wind up? Not sure. Either way, it’s nice after an event to have a private VIP room to let it all hang out, just out of the public eye a little. That’s where the great stories and inside jokes are born. And this night would prove no different. Let the games begin.

At one point, I ran for my life as I saw Josh Nemerow running at me full steam with a glass of Captain Morgan. Bad Josh. Down boy. Joey Stepp hopped behind the wood for a bit which we all appreciated. It’s so much more interesting when you actually meet the people you had otherwise only chatted with online, and see them doing their thing behind the pine. After hanging out with some Friday’s bartenders from the area back upstairs, I headed back downstairs where I am told we took the cover photo for this month’s Flairbar.com. Nice. I think it was just about then things started getting a little…. weird. The “math” had ended. Time for the “aftermath.”

I can’t exactly recall the order of events at this point, but I think the madness all came to a head with Angry “G” Guy. If you’ve ever suffered through somebody who was was too drunk to be allowed to speak, who nonetheless felt the need to give a speech, then you know Angry “G” Guy. After berating us all to (and I quote) “Shut the Fuck Up for Four Seconds” about a dozen times; we finally relented, realizing he would be the one to never shut the fuck up, unless we gave him the floor. We did (reluctantly) and as predicted, he said absolutely nothing that made any sense. Twice in a row. But we all got a nice big laugh out of it. So here’s to you, Angry “G” Guy, and your scary white shooters. God bless your drunken heart. And yes, you completely deserve this abuse. Maybe next time you let your wife do the speeches… and make the shooters. Just a thought.






Highlights (and Lowlights) of the Aftermath


breaker2 aristocrat newbottle

Luckily we were saved from the endless speeches of A.G.G. by an impromptu “ass-autographing” session (pictures not available, sorry), a breakdancing meets bottle-stalling competition, and the announcement of the new vodka for the FBA Pro Tour in 2007: Aristocrat Vodka. In honor of the latter, a bartender who wishes to remain anonymous conducted the christening of our new patron sponsor, by ceremoniously smashing a Skyy Vodka bottle and proudly displaying the new bottle, Aristrocrat. Then, in a clearly politically-motivated maneuver, another well-known member of the flair bartending world suggested allowing both Skyy and Aristocrat to be “co-sponsors” for next year’s tour and unveiled his prototype “hybrid” bottle design of the two brands. And grammaif for one second, believe any of this, may I be the first to say: you’re cut off. Lord knows we should have all been right about then. Because that’s when things got a little too blurry. I even thought I saw Delpech freepouring two ounces of Gramma down his throat behind the bar. Must have been my imagination.

crowd-spySpy Bar was such a great time and the crowd was amazing. I was blown away at how well we were all received and supported by the locals. I as even more thrilled that most everybody who bought one of my cocktails, kept them down. Some of my contemporaries worry about people raving about their cocktails; I strive to create cocktails that do not evoke nausea. Mission accomplished, once again it seems. Chico and his magic microphone along with the generous donations and talents of the team of bartenders raised more than $15,000 for Cody at Spy Bar. On a Wednesday night in November, in Cleveland. A very cold, night in November. Glad I didn’t have to walk back to the hotel that night! In fact, I don’t think I have to take a single giant Stepp back to our hotel, thanks to courtesy transportation provided by Spy Bar.
The next day we assembled for lunch while Prestage and Delpech exchanged Redneck/Mexican jokes and the crowd-spy2waitress upsold half the table on pumpkin ice cream. We all piled into the mini-van and McLean’s truck and headed down the highway for Columbus. I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard in a car and that’s one of the reason’s if you ever get a chance to do a show with Chico, you should say yes. Just don’t ride shotgun; it’s terrifying. Truly terrifying. Plus their was some gas valve leak in the front axle or something that made that part of the van smell something awful. Good Thing Dean has the bright idea to dose the entire front of the van in restroom soap. Fucking Canadians, lol.
On our way, we stopped by to take a picture with the Man himself, Cody Turek. You could see the excitement and frustration in his eyes as he struggled to speak, but couldn’t. It was both sad and heartwarming. It was a very powerful moment for all of us, to be with him, and it brought all of our efforts over the last several months and days, into sharp focus. Below is the picture of Cody and his boys. His surgery in on November 20th. You can still make donations by visiting www.codyschallenge.org. Or, just remember to say a prayer for him.

Dakota Challenge All-Stars

Top Row (Mike McLean, Dean “Wasn’t Me” Serneels)
Second Row (Tobin Ellis, Christian Delpech, Cody Turek, Robbie Turek)
Third Row (Brian “Shatterproof” Prestage, Tim “Flippy” Morris wearing Red Shirt, Rob Husted)
Bottom Row (Tony Cogburn, Josh “Superdawg” Nemerow, Christopher “Chico” Garcia)

Back to the madness. We pulled into Columbus, dropped our bags off at the hotel and made our way to Chico’s club, Major Woody’s. As was the case the night before, I rolled in first, to set up my gourmet bar. A newcomer to the flair scene who I am personally training, Lucas Holloway, drove all the way up from Kentucky to not only enjoy the show, but lend a helping hand. While saying hello to Lucas and his wife Toni, I turn and see none other than old-school and one of the 30 original FBA founding members, Derek Jones, of Cincinnati. Derek and I wrote the FBA Anthem together. Ask either of us to sing it to you sometime after 2am, when we’re outside of Vegas.


Chico’s staff and partners worked very hard to set us up for the event and so special thanks to Papa Woody, Jen White, Tracy Doss, Matt Doss, and bartender JD for that. Tonight I was serving a drink I made as a surprise for Chico, a “Chico SunDrop” which was an upscale twist on a Lemon Drop Martini made with some orange and vanilla flavors and with a BarMagic artistic spin on the presentation, honoring Chico’s company colors of Red, Orange and Yellow. Chico’s lovely wife Amber was my assistant this time and topped the previous night’s record by helping sell 34 cocktails at $20 a piece in just a few hours. I felt like the luckiest guy there, being able to do what I most love to do: flair mixology (as we seem to be calling it these days, though to me it is simply always been “bartending”) for a good cause. I thoroughly enjoyed pouring each cocktail and once again, it seemed people were able to keep them down, which warms my heart.


The Chico SunDrop by BarMagic

amber sundrop1
te-sundrops sundrops2

Just as things were under way, I heard Chico come over the mic and say “Shawn Oana to the stage bar.” The Columbus native had flown in with his wife as a surprise. More excitement for an already amazing couple of nights. For a recap of all the shows on stage…. words would do them no justice, so better you just buy the DVD when it comes out, knowing that by doing so, you are directly helping out Cody. Here are a few pictures to satisfy your need for the “F” word.


The Flair

flippy-spy husted-spy
nemerow-spy delpech-mw
prestage-spy elvis-spy



millfoxAfter Thursday’s show, against our better judgment and wishes, we agreed to have a cocktail or two. One thing led to another, somehow the directions to the Bingo parlor got all fouled up and we ended up at Chico’s infamous “other” club… Millennium Fox. Now, I could tell some stories, but none would sum it up nearly as well as this one singular “candid” photograph of a certain well-known flair bartender (who invented the Flair Bottle and is from Canada and whose last name rhymes with “Sir Wheels”) but shall rename nameless and his “friend”…. (see below right). Let me reiterate that this photo was in no way staged, nor taken three times in a row, at the request of this anonymous bartender/inventor’s “new friend.”

We got the directions straightened out but by that time the Bingo parlor has closed so we made last call back at Major Woody’s and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Chico’s wild little nightclub in the heart of the Brewery District of Columbus, Ohio. The club is big and the atmosphere is a party every night. It was very satisfying to return to the club which Rob Turek and I both helped open earlier this year and see it thriving. It’s a great venue for special events which recently have included a night hosted by NBA superstar Lebron James. We all were having quite a lovely time, sipping on bottled water and exchanging recipes for Pina Colada Mix when somebody got confused and accidentally slipped me a glass of Patron, rather than the ginger ale I requested. That’s when things started getting a little… ridiculous. How ridiculous? Well, let me just say (a) thank you Matt Doss and the DJ for your hospitality and (b) you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Delpech, Nemerow and Serneels on a stripper pole in the middle of Ohio at four in the morning. Clearly I was not the only one who should have been “Cut Off.”

The journey would not be complete with a pilgrimage to White Castle, which Mr. Serneels was very disheartened to discover, serves very tiny little cheeseburgers that according to him “look a lot bigger up on the menu… next to the french fries….” About a hundred sliders and a rare “breast growing out of somebody’s back” sighting later, we piled back into Chico’s mini van of horrors and returned to our hotel, just long enough to realize we would all be heading to the airport half-hammered, and completely exhausted.

Somehow we all got it together and made it to the gate on time, and except for almost leaving Flippy behind, made the flight without a hitch. Back to Vegas, back to the daily grind. Thank you to the whole cast and crew and all the great, great people who came out to support and cheer us all on, and donate their hard-earned money towards a great cause. We’ll all be thinking of Cody and his father Rob and mother Sarah this coming Monday, November 20th when Cody has his surgery in Chicago. There’s one more event coming to help Cody, this Monday when Chico puts on the finals of Flip$ for Tip$ 8 at Home Plate Bar and Grille in Las Vegas. If you’d like to know more about it, and the rest of Chico’s adventures around America, check out his website at www.chicosun.com.



Chico himself had some thank yous he wanted me to pass along, so here they are:

boysSKYY Vodka, The Best Western Hotel, Bar Products, Pete & KBShawn Oana had a lot of family members there that were bidding, so thank you very much to the Oanas!  Big Thank You to Brad Silato for doing a free comedy appearance,  Flairbar.com, Flairco and all of those that were there.  $500 from Joel Vasquez and Highflair.net, $500.00 from High Spirits, 50 pounds from Tom Dyer.

Major thank you to Derek Jones coming up from Cincinnati and bringing Avon gift baskets, a Jagermeister machine, which brought in $200 from Stephen Owen Schmitz II and Drain Right, Derek also barbacked and did a fire show.  CBC donated $50 to Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, Kahoots of Columbus donated a $200 gift certificate.  Massive Thank you to BarMagic for all design and advertising work, gourmet cocktails and other work done. Bartrix.com for making the trip and for raising $2,250.00 of which Goodbar in Chicago itself donated $400 of that sum.

What I found amazing about the trip was how many people took time out of their busy schedules and days off of money making shifts to do something for somebody that’s  in a situation bigger than them.  Tim “Flippy” Morris donating $100 for each drop during his round was a classic & generous move.
Another professional move was BarMagic making another delicious and award winning cocktail (The Chico SunDrop) specifically for the show and fundraiser in Columbus.  Lots of fun stories  shared, created and taken from the trip and all involved.  Lots of jokes back and forth as well.  Good times, Good times!!!! I’d like to again thank everyone that went and to let them know that I had a great time with everyone.

I’d also have to say that Flairco donating full color vinyl, wrapped bottles to raise money for Dakota “Cody” Turek, then driving to both events, supplying Flairco portable bars, working the merchandise table, performing in the fundraising Flair show and then donating more money on top of it was pretty outstanding.  White Castle anyone?



The Dakota Challenge Event Flyer


My name is Tobin, you probably know me as Toby, or maybe Gato. The flair bartenders call me a mixologist, the mixologists call me a flair bartender, the media is now calling me a bar chef. Me, I’ve always been partial to the title “bartender” no matter how bright the spotlight seems to be getting. And every once in a while, it’s nice to have the spotlight turned to somebody else, like a 6-year old boy who can’t help himself and his father who reached out to his friends, so that we could. We may just be bartenders, but when we pull together we’re a pretty powerful force that can do some wonderful things. And that is what makes all of this worth it.

p.s. No p.s. this month. Just go to www.codyschallenge.org and make any donation you can afford, for Cody. Please. Thank you and God Bless.


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