Behind the Bar: Chase Crain at Bar Smith

Flairtending occupies a realm of its own in the bartending world -- there's fire, alcohol, flips, spinning and juggling. Chase Crain has spent a good part of the last two years learning the craft.

"It makes people wanna know your name" he says. "'Using attitude,' I like to call it."

The 24-year-old bartender and bar manager puts on a show every weekend at Bar Smith, the downtown bar and restaurant that turns to a nightclub when the sun goes down. He and another bartender, Richard King, flip, juggle and light bottles on fire -- still somehow managing to pour and mix drinks in the process. Once in a while, King even blows fire from the top of a lit bottle.

Alcohol and fire. Not exactly a safe combination. But that's exactly what it's about, really -- danger, exhibition, indulgence -- everything that makes for an exciting night at the club.

Crain says he happened upon flairtending after several years of bartending. He grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended George Mason University in Virginia after high school. But his plans changed when he got a job as a barback at the Lima Lounge in downtown D.C. his senior year. Let's just say he never ended up graduating.

"I was making anywhere between $500 and $1,200 a night," he says, "so I quit going to school."

He moved to the Valley in 2007 with his college roommate and got the first job he applied for, from Bill Smith, who was about to open Bar Smith.

"I came in here with a shirt and tie on, and Bill Smith, the owner, greeted me," Crain says. "And he hired me on the spot, without even interviewing me."

Crain added the flair to his act when he went to Cherry Lounge & Pit in Tempe one night two years ago. A bartender there, who goes by the name Teriyaki, was putting on quite the show. Crain asked if he would teach him the tricks. As it turned out, Teriyaki was actually hosting lessons every Monday night.

Crain went to three classes, bought a plastic bottle to practice with, and started to watch videos on You Tube. Soon enough, he was inventing his own moves and performing during off-hours at the bar. (The best time to catch the show? Crain says Friday nights around midnight "when the big pop is over.")

But this flairtender isn't only about, well, flair. He also knows his (rather strong) drinks. He's busy revamping the drink menu now for this fall with every flavor of vodka, lots of muddled mojitos, and a caipiroska. Tomorrow he'll offer up his recipe for a drink so potent he named it a "Small Child." (We'll explain later).

For now, know this: Here is a bartender who can easily serve up 10 drinks at once while DJs pump out hip-hop and electronica and a crowd of 150 dance their hearts out on two levels of dance floors. Putting on a show only makes sense.

"Thank God we can't drink on the job because, we probably would, if it was allowed," he says. "We all have a good time." Take a look at this show, and you'll believe him.

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Lauren Gilger
Contact: Lauren Gilger