Nathan Taylor is a bartender with flair. He flips bottles, spins tins, catches glasses behind his back and blows fire from his mouth in a job that's equal parts circus freak and service professional. Think Tom Cruise in Cocktail -- except, as Taylor is quick to point out, "Tom Cruise got paid a lot to do a little, and I get paid a little to do a lot."
Even more unlike his cinematic counterpart, Taylor's not in it for girls, fame or money. In his eyes, flair bartending is a sport -- and he's a competitor. He's been named Best Bartender in Houston and one of the top five in the world for the last three years in a row. Last year Taylor took home the showmanship title from the Quest for the Best World Finals in Orlando, Florida.
Twenty-six-year-old Taylor was first introduced to specialized drink-slinging six years ago at the old Yucatan Liquor Stand, where he showed up for a local contest on a whim. He didn't have many moves back then, but when he got a job at Slick Willie's, he took advantage of its abundant natural resource and taught himself to juggle pool balls.
Now Taylor practices one hour a day, six days a week, in his back yard, trying out tricks until he's confident enough to take them to the bar and its live audience. He trains even harder when he's preparing for contests, such as this weekend's Quest for the Best World Finals or the upcoming Las Vegas Legends of Bartending.
He thinks his chances of winning this year are good. "I have a lot of new and difficult moves," he says. "And good ideas for specialty drinks." For the Quest for the Best competition he's planned a routine around glow-taped bottles and black light.
But Taylor has even bigger and better bartending dreams: "I'd like to have my own club dedicated to flair bartending, with all flair bartenders behind the bar." He's also part of the nonprofit, 300-member-strong Flair Bartending Association dedicated to the idea that flair's "going to be the next extreme sport on ESPN -- right after lawn mower races."