A typical Wednesday night for me consists of spending some quality time with my sofa and DVR whilst I satisfy my never-ending sushi craving with Bluefish takeout. Last Wednesday, I stepped out of my comfort zone. I found myself at the House of Blues bobbing my head to a special rendition of Tupac’s “California Love,” munching on ooey gooey butter cake squares and cheering on ten of TGI Friday’s best bartenders.
What originally began as a challenge between two Friday’s bartenders has grown into a battle of close to 10,000 bartenders from around the world for the coveted title of “World’s Best Bartender.” The 22nd event sure didn’t disappoint. The House of Blues was decked in a red and black theme, featuring a DJ on the ones and twos, sporadically placed full length banners with the bartender’s portraits, cowbell party favors and, of course, cool lighting that could convince anyone they were out on a Saturday night.
Family, fans and guests helped themselves to spinach and artichoke dip, flatbreads and other grub as the MC, John Taffer of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” prepared the energized and, perhaps, tipsy crowd for the night’s festivities. John explained to us, in that booming voice of his, that these bartenders had to whip out their best in the compulsory rounds to get to this point. They are judged on not only the fun stuff (formally known as guest engagement), but also the technical components of the job (drink testing, pour testing, knowing the recipes perfectly) in eight-minute intervals.
This year’s bartenders represented six states and five countries. Sole female contender Jessica Myers of New York hoped to “bring it home for the ladies,” while Dallas’ own Chantry Coffman prepared for his first shot at the championship. Meanwhile, Mr. Cosmo, (because the ladies love him… so he says) from last year, Paul Gil of Santiago, made it back for a second year. But, will the winner of the compulsory rounds, Hiroyuki “Mark” Yamada, bring it all back to Japan?
Scott Christian of Ohio kicked off the competition with some bottle tossing every which way, all the while singing along to KISS. Scott said he had no plans on leaving until he wins. Well, Scott committed party fouls when he dropped a bottle of Jack Daniel’s (you don’t drop Jack) and spilled a little alchohol on the judges. “You win some you lose some,” Scott said after his performance. Yea, you lost this one, Scott.
Next up was Chantry, who obviously had a case of the first time jitters. “As soon as it was done, all I wanted to do was go back and redo my performance,” said Chantry. His fans were going wild, but he didn’t bring home the trophy. Maybe next year, Chantry.
I was all into the girl power, and fully expected Jessica to show out and, well, bring one back for the girls. (Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Beyoncé.) The New Yorker started off rocky, dropping bottles left and right, spilling on her and the judges. I wanted to take a few shots for her. Instead, I found more ooey gooey bars. After what seemed like the longest eight minutes of both my life and hers, she says, “I won, right?” Right.
It was the international contestants that really got the cowbells going. Russell Ward of the UK worked the crowd with his charm, dancing and an impressive trick that involved a tornado-like spin on a bottle while pouring. Russ walked away with the fan favorite award. But Hiroyuki “Mark” Yamada showed up and showed out. His hand clapping, lip-syncing and choreographed bottle flipping made the crowd and cowbells go wild. Mark even managed to walk over to a female judge and mouth, “Are you gonna be my girl?” as Jet played in the background. Eight minutes and barely any English. (No worries, he held up signs so we could understand him.) Talent.
Red confetti filled the room as Mark won the title of “TGI Friday’s Best Bartender in the World” and a check for $10,000. With his minimal English and help from his translator, he managed to say that he was having a huge party to celebrate when he got back to Japan. Party hard, Marky Mark. You deserve it.
The ten bartenders departed to the back for post-competition drinks, AWOLNATION prepared to take the stage, and Mark basked in his propeller shaped trophy glory. I walked away with a new perspective on Wednesday nights and TGI Friday’s bartenders.
Jacie Scott is a D Magazine intern from Monroe, La. The 21-year-old attended Louisiana State University and graduated in Mass Communication with a concentration in print journalism last May. She’s a lover of all things sports and LSU related, and in her spare time she dances in stars and rhinestones.