The Tin Man

By Edwin Decker
Photo by Janelle Maas

(Published in the March 2010 issue) 

Chad Berkey grew up working on a farm in Pennsylvania-a real farm, with pitchforks and tractors and horses. As a child, he pursued a dream of becoming a professional Motocross racer. Horses and motorcycles were his life, or so he thought.

"When I was 21, I had a motocross accident, injured my back and had to retire," he says.

Shortly before his injury, Berkey was on vacation in Orlando, when he witnessed a performance by a "flair" bartender who was juggling liquor bottles, cocktail shakers and other bar tools to entertain patrons. Impressed by the deft barman's routine, Berkey began to regard bartending as a solid backup gig in case his motocross career fell flat.

Stripped of his high-octane aspirations, Berkey was forced to consider his next move. Inspired by his experience in Orlando and by the lifestyle of his friend who was a chef on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, he came to a quick decision.

"Within a month, I was bartending in the islands," he says.

Since moving to San Diego, Berkey has worked at Jimmy Love's, Moondoggies and On Broadway. Today, he works at the Aero Club Bar on India Street and at Altitude Sky Lounge (on top of the Gaslamp Marriott), where he and his friend and business partner, Jeremy LeBlanc, pour drinks-with flair.

"My vision of flair bartending is making everything flow," Berkey says. "Whether I'm tossing a napkin to a customer or flipping a bottle behind my back, it has to have fluidity. I think a bartender with flow is the coolest thing and I have a lot of fun with it. I love entertaining the guests, love the attention. After all, the bar is a stage, and bartenders are just one step down from wanna-be rock stars."

Mixing bartending with entrepreneurship, Berkey and LeBlanc developed Tinplay, a company that produces metal cups for precision flair performances. The duo has secured two patents and plans to release their products to the public before summer.

"My main goal in life is to follow through with Tinplay," Berkey says, "giving me the capital to open my own bar/restaurant."

This Tin Man's got heart. Hopefully, he'll be wearing a helmet as he follows the Yellow Brick Road toward his dream.

Biggest tip: $1,000, from an adult film industry party at On Broadway.

Coolest celebrity encounter: Hanging out with Tommy Lee and having him introduce me to everyone as his younger brother.

Favorite drink to make: Bud Bottle. Let's keep the finer things in life simple!

Most annoying customer: The person who says, "Hook it up!"

Most important person you've served: My Pop-always was and will be my best customer.

Worst thing you ever did to a customer: Sent a group of idiots to National City looking for Pure Platinum (which is the opposite direction).

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