From Lloyd in The Shining to Nick in It’s A Wonderful Life to John In SHAUN OF THE DEAD, cinema is filled with some truly outstanding bartenders. In even the roughest of roughhouses and seediest of seedy dives, a great bartender should be able to both manage and satisfy his clientele.
Look at Wuher, who runs the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. Here is the patron saint of great barkeeps. An unlikable sort, yes, but one who single-handedly caters to a diverse clientele of tipplers from alien worlds, all speaking different languages, and all with different drink orders. There is an astonishing array of vessels on that bar, more than I’ve seen in even the trendiest cocktail lounge, and our man Wuher keeps track of them all without missing a beat. He cleans up the regularly falling bodies and body parts with swiftness and ease…his place is spotless! Even Wuher’s prejudice towards droids is understandable from a certain point. Droids don’t drink, after all, so they’d only be taking up space at his bar. All business, that Wuher. All class.
Yes, Wuher is the ideal. But he is far from alone in the pantheon of cinema’s great bartenders, men and women who run excellent establishments, treating patrons like royalty while doling out strong drinks and good advice in equal measure. From the spy-laden black-tie clubs of Monte Carlo to the cozy drinking halls of Hobbiton, cinema is flush with excellent bartenders.
These ain’t them.
Silvanito (José Calvo) from A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964)
Maybe it’s a little unfair to include Silvanito the innkeeper, Clint Eastwood’s sole ally in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars. After all, Silvanito is a kind and noble man, loyal to a fault, and unwilling to back down from a fight. He takes in the stranger who rides into the nearly deserted town of San Miguel, offering bed and advice along with stiff drink in generous portions.
Silvanito may be a good man, but he runs the only bar in a town whose sole inhabitants are a bunch of fight-happy drunks, and his place is perpetually empty. He makes the list for being unable to fill a room in what should be the perfect conditions to turn at least a marginal profit.
I mean, look. Anna Katarina in Albert Pyun’s Omega Doom (which borrows as heavily from Yojimbo as does A Fistful Of Dollars, if not more so) is able to fill her bar despite the fact that a) there are hardly any people left in the world, b) the only people left are members of two warring factions who attack each other on sight, and c) the only people left are robots that don’t drink. Keep up, Silvanito.
Sway (Angelina Jolie) from GONE IN 60 SECONDS (2000)
We meet Sway, who looks like she just walked off the set of Strange Days all dreadlocks and pouting, as she’s leaving her job as a mechanic (where she’s terrible, quitting before she’s done working on the car and leaving her gear all over the floor) and starting her job at a bar.
Where she’s terrible. It’s only one scene, and it’s all exposition, but in the course of this scene she manages to pour a lousy pint (that thing is all head), ignore a customer’s drink request, wander away from behind the stick to clean up a couple of glasses while leaving a bunch of other tables full, and come back to the guy she still hasn’t served. When she does finally pour that guy his whiskey, she shoots it herself and gives him crap for his troubles.
That’s not bad bartending, that’s performance art.
The Robot Bartender (Himself) from THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)
Even though The Robot Bartender who serves Ian Holmes’ Father Vito Cornelius at the spaceport may be indicative of the larger problems of that future society, he is still a lousy bartender. I appreciate button-down service in even the lowliest establishment, but I do think it is important for a barkeep to be personable and show pride in his work.
The Robot Bartender looms over his guest, pouring whiskey from a soda-gun (into the same glass, no less! Here’s an important rule for you prospective robot bartenders reading this, always always always use a new glass), and saying “YOU WANTSOMEMORE” every thirty seconds.
Am I being too harsh on The Robot Bartender? Maybe being frightened by Westworld when I was a kid has left me with a weird Wuherian anti-robot bias. I’d just like to be served by someone who, you know, has a face.
Jacques (Brian Cox) from THE GOOD HEART (2009)
Jacques owns The House of Oysters, which might be the nicest looking worst bar in the world. In the man’s own words:
“Never be friendly with a customer.”
“A bar is our space, where a man can come and be free knowing that he is perfectly protected from any interference of the feminine.”
“This is a bar. By definition the capacity of a bar cannot exceed thirteen people.”
“We’re not here to save people. We’re here to destroy them.”
Jacques’ teachings are pretty much a crash-course in How Not To Run A Bar.
The Crow Bartender (John McCurry) from FRITZ THE CAT (1972)
Look, I know it’s hard being a crow in ‘70s Cartoon New York. With speciesism running rampant, it’s understandable to become frustrated when some uppity cat comes into your bar. He probably thinks he’s slumming it in Harlem, that little snot. Then he has the audacity to insult you! In your own bar!
But maybe…maybe just kick him out? You can do that, you know. It’s one of the perks of standing behind the stick. Maybe spitting in his drink and then trying to kill him with a broken bottle isn’t the best way to handle the situation? Just a thought.
Skinny Dubois (Anthony James) from UNFORGIVEN (1992)
Oh wow, Skinny. What were you even thinking? Just look at this mess, man. There is blood everywhere. How did it get on the ceiling?
It’s okay. We’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again. Let me think for a minute.
Okay. Okay I’ve got it. This’ll do the trick. New rule. We’ll put it right on the board so we don’t forget it, right after Turn Off Walk-In Light At Night.
Murdered Gunslingers No Longer Constitute Acceptable Bar Décor.
Can we all agree on that?
Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
Blasphemy? Maybe. But I stand by my claim.
She swindles her customers and uses her own stock to do it, but that’s not enough. She unceremoniously ejects prospective customers into the cold, snowy Nepalese night (closed or not, there’s nothing else around for miles), but that’s not enough. Dirty glasses and watered-down booze aren’t enough either, and honestly that’s amateur hour when it comes to bad bartending. I’ll bet Sway could fill a dirty tumbler with watered down Jack Daniel’s (though honestly, how could you tell) in her sleep.
No, for the unpardonable offense of letting The Raven get burned down by Nazis, Marion Ravenwood lands the top spot on the list of cinemas worst bartenders.
When even Indiana Jones can’t save your bar, maybe it’s time to rethink your career path.