One of my earliest memories I have from behind the bar was when I was working at Long Street Café. A Red Bull Musketeer came around to the bar handing out some invites to attend the premier screening of a new movie which was about to be released, the year was 2000 and the movie was Coyote Ugly.
Since it was a movie about bartenders, and at the time Red Bull was one of the biggest sponsors of flair, they had booked out a theatre at Tygervalley Mall and invited all the local flair bartenders to attend. There was the normal handing out of product, cans of Red Bull in hand still sampling in those years because Red Bull had only been out for like 4 years.
More importantly there were these off beat ‘day walking’ types parading around in matching shirts. It was clear that they belonged to some sort of club. It wasn’t until I got up close to one of them that I saw the logo on their breast pocket flash across my gaze. I will always remember it, like I will always remember the words ‘Filmation’ flash across the screen of my 1986 television set, which filled my older brother and I with uncontainable excitement knowing that an episode of He-Man was about to start.
It was almost like a time in our history was about to start itself, and excitedly I could not contain my excitement as the logo on the pocket revealed the words ‘Flairclub’ and with eyes as big as a 6 year old, an episode of He-Man was about to start.
But first we’ll start the journey with a preceding trailer, with a movie dedicated to woman behind the bar. These new renditions of the perfect bartender were femme fatale upgrades that could not only dance on bar counters, but could flair and sling drinks better than Brian Flanagan and Douglas Coughlan put together.
It was such a fresh take on bartending that a pair of Italian brothers in Cape Town, the Zurinis, seized the opportunity to open up a chain of bars for themselves, which would be based on the Hollywood movie Coyote Ugly. They called the bars Vacca Matta, which loosely translated in Italian means ‘Crazy Cow’. If you can remember these bars, then not only are you wedged firmly in the bartending club of coolness, but you got to witness first hand a period of time where ladies behind the bar out shone their masculine counterparts ten times over.
As if the cosmos has a twisted sense of humour, one day, in the early hours of the morning, I was coming home to my apartment in Sea Point after a shift at La Med. While opening up my front door, a girl came up the stairs to cascade over to the front door opposite the hallway to mine. Just like I knew those kids with the matching shirts were bartending ‘Day Walkers’, I knew this girl was one as well. She introduced herself to me and asked if I was finishing my shift, and retorted and said ‘yes’. I asked her if she was as well, and she affirmed it. She went on to tell me that she worked behind the bar at Vacca Matta, and that she shared the apartment with 3 other girls who did too. I said I worked at La Med, and that behind my front door, no doubt all playing in an Unreal Tournament LAN, were 4 other guys that worked with me as well. What were the chances?
That girls name was Lachelle Coetzee and she would prove to be, along with her flatmates, the most ultimate of bartending professionals. More so than any of us, I remember her flat mate Belinda Spratt giving me tutorial in up selling techniques, most of which I still remember and use to this day.
I worked with many power females behind the bar, all of which could outsell, out hustle, and out man-oeuvre any guy they worked with. They were cleaner on the till, orderly kept the bar, systematically remembered multiple orders and even carried the heavy stuff.
However, most of them I worked with were not going to be bartenders forever. They applied themselves as if they were because that’s just how ladies are, but for most of them they were using the bar as a stepping stone to realise other potentials in their lives.
Then there was this one girl who clearly wasn’t using bartending as a stepping stone in her career, she had ambition and a work ethic which suggested that one day she would bend the entire industry to her will, and her name was Chantelle Horn.
She was unlike any other female I had met in the bar until that time. There was no dancing on bar counters, no lay-back shots, nothing else other than focused dedication to making perfect drinks. She was the leading force of professionalism in drink making for the entire industry, not just for ladies.
She was a hurricane-like force in the industry and she was as serious as a heart attack. She wanted to rearrange the furniture in the trade and she had the ambition to do it. Just as comfortable at pouring shots of tequila as she was drinking them, there was nothing in the bar a boy could do, that she couldn’t do better, while simultaneously raising the expectation of what a bartender is, demonstrating it in real time and in heels if need be.
In a competition which was hosted at her resident bar in 2005 called Miam Miam, she was the only female in the line-up. There were some pretty heavy hitters that day I remember and I felt that the occasion which was laid out before her was quite a daunting one. It was her first flair competition, against a roster made up of South African who’s who’s, in front of her own piers in her own bar. She could have easily passed on that one without any questions asked, and moved on without any recourse. Of course she didn’t, she faced up, showed up and threw down just like everyone else except she was like a pretty flower, such a breath of fresh air.
The first shift I worked with Chantelle, I knew straight away that she was an over achiever. While setting up the bar, we had each our own stations to Mise en Plus. For garnishes I cut the standard slices, wheels and wedges and moved on to juicing. When I looked over, Chantelle was cutting zests of citrus peel, trimming them with crafting scissors, grating vermicelli out of rinds, and prepping perfume bottle spritzers full of amazing aromas to float on top of drinks.
It was clear early on that Chantelle wasn’t just any geek off the street, and that she was pretty handy with the steel if you what I mean, earned her keep! BY the way, that line was from the song Regulators by Warren G.
Chantelle is also a brilliant photographer. She started her own company called Crave Photography where her eye for detail and vanity-fair style composes the most amazing pictures of food and drinks. Most of which she designs herself as a very active drinks consultant.
At a time where females in bars were hard to come by, especially those that were making Negroni’s using imported equipment and rocking a three piece tailored suit. She was all business behind the bar, but all smiles in front of it. As the lead sled dog, she has tirelessly ploughed us into uncharted territory as a true industry leader, not because she is a woman, but because she is a professional in everything she does.
If I was to assemble a crack squad of navy seal bartenders that were going to storm the world in an all-out fight to the death, and I only had 10 spots on my team, Chantelle would be in my starting line-up. Because this story is actually not about He-Man. It’s not a preceding trailer to the main movie, but rather it is the premier screening of the modern bartender, starring Chantelle Horn as She-Ra.