Day 3 – Gary Knoetze
The fable of the tortoise and the hare always intrigued me. I would often wonder which character I’d rather be. The hare, obviously gifted, frenzied with excitement to realise instant gratification and forever in danger of being voted ‘most likely to use their talents for self-derailment and succumb to boredom before surmounting the win’. However the tortoise is a truly enlightened protagonist with fortune telling ability and a faithful trust in self destiny, comfortable in conceding battles in lei of winning the war.
I competed against many hares in my career but tortoises were hard to come by. Enter Gary Knoetze, a Lego Master Builder with a Komodo-Dragon like patience. He gathers all the pieces together no matter how small they might seem, and keeps them in a box under his bed labelled “global domination tool kit”.
I met Gary at a bar in Observatory called Cool Runnings. This was the very first competition I ever entered, the birthplace of many of my life-long friendships I have to this day including Kurt Schlechter, his Brother Etienne who organised the competition (C.U.C.C), Simon Borchert, Ryno Slabber and a Tazmanian Devil of a bartender named Michael Rich. I would go onto to live in a bartending digs with both Mike and Gary for years, in a sort of bartending primordial soup from which bartending of the future was spawned.
Tandem routines were pretty big back then, and there was this Tandem duo named Zander and Jaco who came from Pretoria to do this amazing show which finished off with getting two pretty girls from the crowd to eat a banana with a piece of Watermelon cut out in the shape of a man’s wedding tackle, hugely entertaining but certainly from another time.
Speaking of another time, the tandem team who came in third in that competition was Gary and his now late uncle JR who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. The two of them looked like gothic twins, with long black hair in pony tails, tattooed sleeves and they flaired to the most hectic metal music. They would go onto the next regional competition in Hermanus and win the tandem comp there to kick start their flair story. When JR passed away, Gary teamed up with another truly brilliant flair bartender named Leroy Maritz and together they would win the SA Regionals Tandem Team comp at Grandwest casino in early 2002.
By this time now, Gary was already exploring his own solo routine, which got off to roaring start in the world of mixology way before he started imprinting on the flair world. In 2001, Gary entered a mixology comp sponsored by Bols Liqueurs which he went on to edge out my older brother Sheldon for his first ever competition win, and with it win a beautiful Apple Mac design PC. I still remember his winning drink recipe. It was a drink called the ‘Desert Storm’, and it consisted of Bacardi Rum, Passionfruit Cordial, Banana Liqueur, Grenadine and Lemonade. He carefully layered the yellow part on top of the red part of the drink for a sort of ‘sunrise’ effect.
The importance of that drink, and the reason to why I know it so well, is because once Gary has discovered a winning recipe, he was going to use it for all of his recipes going forward, because he knew it was a winner and it was now a fool proof part of his recipe for success. Now all he had to do was get the winning flair routine to match it and he would be unbeatable.
Gary went onto construct a routine, every time adding a new move that would see him improve from a mid-table bartender to a title contender. When he came in second place at the 2nd C.U.C.C comp at La Med (the venue at which we both worked) it was a “what has Gary been doing this whole time” moment for everyone. Like a silent assassin, you wouldn’t know anything about the head shot you’ve just taken until the game was already over. All the while the way of the tortoise was going to win the race eventually.
In 2002, Gary did eventually see his ultimate plan come to fruition with the patience of a saint. He blindsided everyone and edged out Mike Stephenson, in front of his own crowd, to win the first ever SA Nationals at Sugar Mill Casino in Durban. Shocking everyone in the process, with the exception of himself, he rounded up an amazing weekend of great results. He and his partner Leroy took a runner up spot in the tandem competition as well and in fact he made so much prize money that weekend he decided to fly back to Cape Town, while the rest of us had a 22 hour bus ride home with enough time to try and figure out what the hell had actually happened.
After ascending to the biggest prize in SA Bartending at the time, Gary decided to retire on top of the pile and pulled the plug on his competitive career not long after, with every piece in its place and everything according to his plan. Whether in direct competition or not, Gary was always hugely supportive of me. Never short of encouragement and praise for everyone in the line-up, he was a fan of everything bartending. A true keeper of the craft, in his world there are no winners and losers, but rather in solidarity we all lose, or we all win, the d’Artagnan of SA Bartending!
He now runs his own company called Beverage Chefs, importing and distributing his own line of products to our beverage industry. He is still very active in the industry and supports all of the industry’s endeavours as a very satisfied contributor. His legacy is secured in the Pina Coladas he sips at the pool, while lying on a floaty, maxing and chilling out, while the song “hey look Ma, I made it” blares in the background.