One of the things I have always been a big advocate of, is to prove the world wrong about bartenders. The general perception of most people in the mainstream is that bartenders are bartenders by necessity rather than by design. There has always been a notion that bartenders ‘fall’ into the profession because they have no other options in life.
Although that may be true in some cases, I have worked with some real specimens along the way of which you would find it difficult to find an argument which could prove that notion wrong. However, the same can be said for many other professions as well! The world is littered with unimaginative people filling comfortable positions they inherited as heirs to a kingdom so easily handed down to them in a family business that they might not even want in the first place.
All in the name of taking the easy road, these people are often uninspired in life and short of any passion or internal drive to create or be a part of something. While the bartender is at the opposite end of that scale and never can he be accused of being uncreative or, more to the point, be accused of ever taking the easy road in life. The life of a bartender is a tough path to take which most embark on unwittingly short of the skills needed to walk it, and the speed at which you can develop the skills ultimately decide whether you will be successful or not.
One of the bartenders I have encountered along the way which has always inspired me as an individual who could’ve done most other things in life, was Simon Borchert. Just to become a flair bartender I have always maintained the opinion that you need to harbour a, perhaps disregarded by most, creative intellect. An intellect which, when expressed in a show or drink, could match the obvious intellect expressed in the praiseworthy efforts of the brushstrokes of a painter, or the cheered musical notes laid down by a musician or the noteworthy arrangement of words penned by an author.
All of which I could easily see Simon do, or doing. Estranged from the bar these days, Simon works on many charitable projects. Whether he is swimming the ocean crossing from Robbin Island to Blouberg to raise funds for his charity the Ripple Effect, or raising awareness about wildlife conservation preserving the lives of Rhino’s his life right now on the surface bares no witness to the fact that he had ever tended a bar in his life. However I’ll bet my bile duct that he still ‘thumbrolls’ the tomato sauce bottle before using it, ‘hand stalls’ the shampoo in the shower and ‘palm spins’ his empty soda bottles before throwing them away. In more ways than he can count, the evidence that he was a champion flair bartender will never leave him, and we can all relate to that!
In 2001 Simon was an account manager for the Bartenders Workshop. His days holding down the bar as a student in Stellenbosch were over and his life as a private drink slinging cocktail showman was in full effect. This was also the year that I had met him, 2 weeks before what was known as the biggest flair bartending competition in the country, the C.U.C.C. This was the first comp I ever entered, and I did so in the rookie section and thank goodness for that!
Simon was a covert tactician before comps. Not wanting his peers to know just how good he was, he would pot around flair club performing rudimentary flair moves anyone could do. I even thought to myself that I couldn’t understand why he was largely tipped to be leading hopeful to win the pro section, when Ryno Slabber and Ryan White were seemingly much better than him.
After us rookies had finished messing around on stage, it was the turn of the pros to ‘get jiggy wid it’, and the full potential of Simon was unleashed upon the field. I was shocked, I had never seen that level of bartending from Simon, and his routine was amazingly choreographed. In those days we just arrived with a cd of our favourite song and it played in the background while we seemingly performed unplanned moves which almost ambushed each other.
Using music which he had actually planned moves to, was a like having the breech of the ocean floor break out with alien monsters it was so far in the future. He won the first C.U.C.C finishing just ahead of Ryno Slabber and Ryan White with whom he did a tandem routine with as well to finish in 2nd place. He would be known for the rest of that year, which turned out to be his final year of competition, as the best Bartender in the country and the benchmark of flair goals for years to come.
After that comp I was fast tracked into the Bartenders Workshop team. The very first function I did was at the old Rhodes house in Queen Victoria Rd, Cape Town. There was a bar in the courtyard from which we served up cocktails which we were briefed to flair the ringer out of. Completely enamoured by the thought of working with Simon, coupled with the existing chasm of skillset between us, I folded into a sort of service bartender pumping out drinks while Simon took point and delivered countless Blue Hawaiians and Sex on the Beach cocktails with flair precision.
Afterward I said to him that next time I would be better! This was a promise which turned out to be totally untrue. The next gig we did was on a yacht for British American Tobacco, again just the two of us. I found out for the first time in my life that being at sea made me very ill, and I spent the duration of that gig vomiting over the bow of the boat while Simon served Cosmopolitans to 30 thirsty guests all on his own for 4 hours.
I’m sure he didn’t keep the score, but for what it’s worth that score would look like this - Simon 2, Travis 0. Much like how I’m sure our next two comps would’ve played out had he not retired early.
Simon and I instead struck up a friendship second to none. Just to prove my point that he can do anything, he would later on be the MC at my wedding. An event he handled with aplomb and also an event which was laced with “dysfunctional, never to become anything in their lives” bartenders. And I felt right at home.
Stage left, former Champion Simon Borchert (white shirt with clipboard) judging me in the 3rd Annual Cape Town Underground Cocktail Circuit at Camps Bay, 2003.