Bartending with flair

Lance Baker

Photo By tyler harbaugh

Dripping sweat as he hurled fiberglass liquor bottles in the air, bartender Lance Baker was focused on practicing his tricks—aka his “flair”—on a recent afternoon. He was working to perfect his routine of stalls, bumps and other tricks to impress crowds at this year’s bartending competition (Oct. 17 at LaSalles). Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, Baker—who’s taken second place as Best Bartender in the Best of Chico contest two years running—stood on a patch of grass near the downtown water towers, tossing bottles behind his back and catching them on the crook of his arm. The Panama’s bartender and winner of last year’s bartending contest practices twice a day for hours on end to prepare for competitions.

What got you into bartending?

I used to work at a bank and I hated paperwork. My buddy, he’s a bartender, and he’s the one who got me to try it because of my personality and so I did it, and I just love it. I love the interaction with people.

How does it feel knowing that the target’s on your back as the reigning champ?

It’s a lot of pressure. I don’t look at it as I have to defend the title; I look at it like I’m going to have fun. Last year I didn’t even think I was going to make it—and I did. I’ve grown a lot, though. I’ve been practicing with a lot of professional bartenders in Vegas. I don’t really care if I win or lose. It’s going to be great if I win again—if not, I’m happy for all the other bartenders who win.

What’s an average competition like for you?

The local one is just for fun. I don’t know how they score it—I think it’s just mainly crowd participation and droppage. The pro ones, there’s anywhere from a 4- to 200-point scale and it’s on droppage, crowd interaction, routine, the way you pour your drink, if alcohol spills. It’s a big thing. This local one, it definitely gets your name out in Chico.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I want to move to Vegas. There are more flair bars in Vegas than anywhere else in the world, and they have probably the top 10 bartenders in the world who all get together and practice, and they’re just insane.

What’s the most enjoyable thing about what you do?

The best thing is that you can pull a trick off and it’s simple and people love it. Basically seeing the smiles on people’s faces. It’s great for me because I feel great doing it, and then I see the people interact with it. I love interaction with people. That’s my biggest thing.