Lock Down Day 9 - Anil Sabharwal

The movie Gladiator with Russel Crowe is one of my all-time favourites. It may come as a shock to most people who know me to discover that I have watched other movies in my life that don’t star Tom Cruise. They are few, but they do exist.

In reality I love movies with amazing dialogue, and if there is a moment in a movie that resonates with me I will remember every word, and regurgitate it in parrot fashion style at any given moment.

Cinematically speaking one of those amazing pieces of film that I really enjoyed was when Maximus throws a shield into a crowd of adoring fans who had gathered together to watch him kill other warriors in arranged combat. And it was all okay because it was all done in the name of entertainment.

He screams at the crowd in anger, having their full attention after a shield had been hurled at them, and he shouts out “Are you not entertained!?”

This is exactly how I felt about the SA Flair scene at the time, somewhere around 2007. It seemed as though the local bartenders of flair had weaved a conundrum web in which they were all entangled. With flair competitions coming around thick and fast it seemed almost impossible for the ‘Gladiators’ in the Colosseum to keep up with the demand of coming up with new moves and routines to keep the audiences engaged and appeased.

Douglas Coughlan flourished toward the latter end of the 20th century and propounded a set of laws to which the world generally ignored, and one of those laws stated this; “Anything else, is always something better” and in saying that, indeed something had to budge. To prevent a shield, or in our case a flying bottle, from being hurled into the crowd out of pure frustration by an angry bartender shouting out at the crowd like a barbarian, the need for something unbelievably fresh and exciting needed to be introduced.

Then, with the most poignant timing only a flair bartender could display, landed our very own immigrant flair bartender from the far away land of India, albeit via Birmingham, his name was Anil Sabharwal, and he was here to stay.

The excitement of having an internationally acclaimed bartender among us was palpable. For the audiences the appeal was obvious, but for the current bartenders on the circuit the excitement was coupled with uncertainty. The situation had onion like layers to it. For some, it would either reveal the fueling factor of rediscovery which would bring about self-betterment. For others, it would reveal the mitigating factor which would bring about a compelling need for early retirement, but either way it was going to bring about some tears.

In the wake of it all the future of SA Flair would be enriched with renewed vigor for the most part, and at the very least it would’ve been trimmed of all its extremities of those who had long since extinguished their fire to compete. For those who were left after the snap of the Thanos fingers, the realisation that a new level of flair had to be reached, if any of us were going to try and take on this new challenge against a man who flaired as if he was powered by all 5 infinity stones.

Two of Anil’s standout achievements, came in 2007 and 2008, where he won the 2nd King of Africa and the 2nd Annual Skyy Flair Global Challenge respectively. Both of these wins came during the time of his ‘Thunderstruck’ routine, a domineering time for him during which he won many other competitions.

Darryl Williams organised the King of Africa competition with the idea of finding the best bartender in SA. Not in Flair, not in Mixology but it was a competition which tested the skills of a bartender over both disciplines. Anil followed his flair tandem partner Clinton Weir to win the competition which at the time had offered the biggest prize purse of any other, and it was highly coveted.

His other bartending highlight came in the 2008 Skyy Flair Global Challenge. After winning the SA National leg, he went onto Monte Carlo to compete in the global showpiece where he would finish in 8th place overall.

Another competition which was carbon made for Anil to win, was the Get-A-Grip Flair series, which he duly did so, stylishly dressed up as ‘Mr. Cuervo’ in 2013, once again following on from his new tandem partner Piet Oosthuizen who had won the year before. I say it was carbon cut for him to win because the score sheets were weighted heavily toward the overall entertainment factor of the performance. An area in which I felt he excelled at, as one of the most entertaining bartenders we have ever seen on our stage.

Anil currently runs the South African chapter of Shaker Bar School from his adopted home in Cape Town. He spent the immediate years after flair went dormant judging other comps and lending his insights to various other industry get togethers and talks, and still does.

He spends most of his life these days with his rev counter intact below 2000 as one of the most chilled out characters you’ll ever meet. But just throw a bottle and tin at him and you will see the return of the ‘Gladiator in Chief’, who once upon a time breathed much needed new life into our industry.

The countdown ends, poised in position to explode into flair magic, the song ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC drops and all hell breaks loose. Swept up in all the excitement, you are cheering your lungs out before you realise that a bottle is flying directly at you which only misses your face by an inch. As you look back at the stage half filled with terror and half filled with excitement to see what’s next, you see Anil looking back at you, and in his eyes he asks you the question, “are you not entertained!?”

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