We sent intern Karley Osborn out to brave a bartending championship in Grapevine on a Sunday night. What a trooper.
Two nights ago, while the rest of you were crying in your living rooms over Meryl Streep’s Oscar speech, I was cheering alongside the corporate world of TGI Friday’s as flair bartenders from nine of the chain’s international restaurants competed to become the “Greatest Bartender in the World.” Er, more specifically, the greatest TGI Friday’s bartender in the world.
The Gaylord’s Glass Cactus was decked out for the event’s 21st year like any 21-year-old’s birthday party venue should be with inflatable noise clappers, flashing strobe lights, and party anthems that sounded out of place until the drinks started flowing. Fans, friends, and family of the nine competitors helped themselves to fancified bar fixings like portabella sliders and fried jalapeno peppers as the competition introductions began around 7:00 p.m.
Jump for some Enrique Iglesias action.
Things got a little confusing when Enrique Iglesias (who probably hasn’t had so many people whip out their cell phones to take his picture since his 2003 mole removal) jumped onstage with Friday’s’ VP of Drink and Menu Innovation George Barton to talk about rum, which Enrique claims to have a “passion” for now that he’s a partial owner of Atlantico (ALERT: that was a promo).
Soon it was back to business, with Brad Kaplan of Colorado leading off the competition. Brad, last year’s Fan Favorite, said if he were to be a drink, he’d be a Buttery Nipple. Unfortunately, his hands ended up with the buttery label: he dropped a few bottles mid-juggle, and said sheepishly that he “could have felt better” about his performance after the time ran out.
But no worries, Brad—by the time your number was finished, certain members of the TGI Friday’s crew were dancing on tables and screaming your name like they were at a concert and you were Enrique. P.S. Don’t you wish your work conventions were a little more like Friday’s?
Next came guys like Paul from the Dominican Republic, who would be a Cosmo because the ladies love him, and Santiago from Sea World Orlando, who considers himself more of a Horny ‘Rita kinda guy. Rookie Ram Ong, this year’s Fan Favorite, hailed all the way from the Philippines.
The celeb judges—Kim Haasarud, a mixologist who has judged culinary creations on Iron Chef America, and Charlotte Voisey, a former UK Bartender of the Year who’s appeared on Top Chef Masters—chimed in occasionally to praise the “fluidity” of contestants as they balanced Bacardi bottles on their heads, spun Smirnoffs around the rims of martini glasses, and threw olives into the air before spearing them with a toothpick held between their lips.
Ultimately, it was Swede David Kringlund—another Cosmo—who took the $10,000 prize and the 2012 Best (TGI Friday’s) Bartender in the World title. When David triumphed over UK runner-up Charlie Bailey, the place erupted. After all, it was a long road to the top: David bested 8,000 other mixologists, battling through local, regional, and divisional competitions before arriving in Texas for the final showdown.
“We’re on our way,” David declared proudly from the stage of his home store in Sweden.
It was no Meryl Streep moment, but it came pretty darn close. Confetti shot from the ceiling as the Swede was handed a trophy that resembled a snow ski, which he kissed passionately as the rest of the competitors hoisted him onto their shoulders.
It was a tender moment Enrique would have probably written a song about if he had stuck around for the end of the show. But surely he’ll send David home with a congratulatory case of Atlantico rum—the kind of liquid-gold trophy a bartender envies most.