Thursday, December 4, 2003

Kepe Spray showed his flair with a Bailey's bottle last week at the Wave Waikiki's bartending competition.

Shake it up, baby!

Oahu's top bartenders
show off their serving skills

The Ultimate

Wave Waikiki's Second Annual Ultimate Bartending Competition

When: 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday
Where: Wave Waikiki
Cost: $5 (liquor card holders get in free), 21-and-over welcome
Call: 941-0424, Ext. 12

FOR THE alcohol-drinking public, good bartenders are worth their weight in gold. It takes a talented individual to juggle multiple drink orders in a noisy and sometimes smoke-filled environment, working quickly and smiling the whole time.

On Monday, the Wave Waikiki will host 13 of Oahu's top bartenders representing eight venues during the finals of the nightclub's Second Annual Ultimate Bartending Competition. The night caps off five weeks of preliminary rounds, with the overall winner taking home $500 cash and a share of more than $1,000 worth of prizes.

ACCORDING TO Wave Waikiki promotions director Flash Hansen, the Ultimate Bar Competition is an opportunity for the club to shine a spotlight on the people who work the front lines night in and night out, often for nothing more than minimum wage and whatever tips they can get.

"These guys are real skilled professionals at what they do," he said. "Bartending is a real art, and there's so much that goes into it ... it's nice to kind of showcase that, and kind of give props to some of the good bartenders in the industry."

Monday's final round of competition will be no different from the preliminaries; contestants will be judged on accuracy, speed and flair. While the flair round, with bartenders tossing bottles and preparing drinks to music spun by resident DJ Byron the Fur, is definitely the most visually exciting of the three, it's important to remember a good bartender is well-rounded.

"If you don't know the basics, it's not going to get you anywhere," said Hansen. "It's like a DJ who learns how to scratch, but he doesn't know how to mix two records. To me, getting out the drinks as fast as possible" is what makes a bartender worth their keep.

Mike Graves, below, was another competitor. On Monday, the final contestants will vie for top honors.

PAY ATTENTION during the first two rounds of Monday's finals and you should begin to understand where Hansen is coming from.

The accuracy round, although not as glamorous as the flair round, is essential in demonstrating a bartender's ability to make a drink without overpouring liquor. Sure, a good drink is a strong drink, but bar owners are more concerned with how quickly a bottle of alcohol is emptied. Bartenders who consistently overpour cost bars money, because that extra liquor adds up to another few drinks.

During the finals, contestants will have a row of containers marked with drink names that call for varying amounts of alcohol. Using water-filled liquor bottles, each finalist will make the "drinks," then have each one poured into a graduated cylinder to measure its volume. Points are awarded based on how close bartenders can hit a mark without overpouring.

UNLIKE THE ACCURACY round, which usually takes place at the beginning of the night without much of an audience at the Wave's upstairs bar, the speed round is the first chance for each bartender to jump behind the main bar downstairs.

Each contestant is given a few minutes to get comfortable with the layout of an unfamiliar bar. As Hansen explains, "you're going to do your best work behind the well of the place you work all the time," so a little time is needed for each person to get their bearings at the Wave.

Hansen then proceeds to read off a drink order made up of a dozen cocktails that one could expect to make any night at any bar on the island. Each bartender gets the same drink order, so remaining contestants wait outside the club during this round. The longer a contestant takes, the more points are deducted from his final score. Bartenders are also dinged for asking for more than one "recall," or a repeat of the order.

ONCE THE first two rounds are completed, the real fun begins. The flair round, just like a scene out of the movie "Cocktail," is all about showmanship and concocting drinks that impress the judges. Expect to see bartenders juggling multiple bottles, tossing them behind their backs and over their shoulders, and pulling off tricks like mixing multiple drinks in multiple shakers, then pouring them into separate glasses all at the same time.

In this round, contestants are allowed to make two cocktails and are judged on showmanship, crowd response and the difficulty of the drinks they try to make. Get too close to the bar, and you're likely to get splashed by liquor from one of the flying bottles.

Your reward? One of the judges will probably share some of the drinks being made.

Christian Self, a bartender at TGI Friday's, pours multiple drinks all at once during the Wave Waikiki's Ultimate Bartending Competition last week.

DOORS OPEN at 9 p.m. Monday night for the final round of competition, which Hansen characterizes as friendly, for the most part.

"I think in Hawaii, everybody knows each other too well to have it be a fierce competition. But I don't think anyone wants to make a fool of themselves, and certainly no one wants to lose.

"I do see them cheering each other on," he adds, "but I do see them giving each other a bit of (grief), too."

You can also expect more from the Wave during next year's contest. Hansen hopes to turn the event into a bartending Olympics of sorts, with teams of bartenders, barbacks and servers from different venues working as a team to take top honors.

"There's so much you need to know, (and) this kind of highlights that," he said. "Just involving more people would make it a bigger event."

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