We expect certain things out of bartenders. Maybe they're your de facto therapists, doling out shots and life lessons in equal measure. Maybe they're your wingmen, helping you navigate the waters of relationships. Or maybe, just maybe, they're minions of Satan disguised in nice ties, ready to coerce you into murdering your family with an axe. But even then, at least they know how to make a hell of a Manhattan.
For better or worse, few bartenders are actually like the ones we've seen on TV or in the movies. But we can still dream, and that's why we've taken it upon ourselves to rank our favorite TV and movie bartenders from worst to best. But we're not ranking them by how iconic they are -- rather, we're focusing on their skill behind the bar. Customer service goes a long way in a bar. Especially when you're focused on work instead of play.
North by Northwest
Though more an evil henchman than a bartender, Martin Landau’s Leonard does at one point fix a couple drinks for Cary Grant in this Hitchcock classic. The second one is pretty stiff too, considering he forces a bottle of bourbon down our hero’s throat. Sure, he’s trying to kill him, but you’ve always gotta appreciate a generous pour like that.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Real talk: Nick is an unrepentant prick. He’s two seconds away from slugging anyone who walks through that door, even if they’re a literal angel. But his awfulness and willingness to serve George hard liquor kinda kickstarts the man’s introspective journey. So good work, douchebag?
48. That Dude Who Got His Shotgun Berzerkered
Oh yeah, Alaskan redneck bartender who also hosts bare-knuckle cage fights in his bar for some reason? You think that shotgun’s gonna slow Wolverine down? Now it’s a sawed-off. And it doesn’t work.
Not only does he openly admit to tainting tourists' drinks, he’s also terrible at not getting shot in the face. Screw this guy.
46. The Network
The World's End
Okay, so they’re all Blanks with sinister intentions. But you gotta admire their android efficiency behind the bar, and their forethought in having drinks ready and waiting for their victims.
45. The Ex-Boxer Mook Who Gets Beaten Down by Seagal
Out for Justice
What’s worse than getting throttled by a dude in a ponytail? Getting throttled by a dude named Gino with a ponytail who speaks in an accent that is to Italian Americans what Al Pacino’s is to Cubans.
This movie sucks (yeah, we said it), but you’ve got to give them credit. They needed a Bostonian bartender, and they hired an old Irish dude and gave him Tourette's.
43. Razor Charlie
From Dusk Till Dawn
He’s the friendliest guy around! Unless you’re a commercial-class driver, or a hot-blooded human. But otherwise, he’s super cool!
42. Shane O’Shea
We get it. You’re Ryan Phillippe. You’re handsome. You’re at Studio 54. But guess what, homie. You probably shouldn’t be drinking so much in your own bar. Or boning everybody. Or doing all that cocaine. Basically, you’re terrible at your job. But you're lookin' good!
41. The Guy Who Always Gets His Ass Kicked
Come on dude. This happens every night. At least wear a mouthguard.
40. Mustachioed Marionette
Team America: World Police
He calls Gary a lowlife and throws him out of the bar after he pukes, but really, Gary’s puking because he was completely over-served by this dude. Bad form, puppet. Bad form.
39. Arthur Shelby, Jr.
Arthur is just one of the dapper maniacs pouring brown liquor at The Garrison, but he's the establishment's undeniable mascot. Partly because he's a violent sociopath intent on drowning his PTSD in whisky; and partly because he also doubles as Tommy's bouncer (both within the bar, and in life). In terms of what you want in a bartender, he has a tremendous haircut, and knows where to get illegal substances. In terms of what you don't want from a bartender, he is likely to do those substances, then hit you repeatedly in the face. Cheers?
38. Dennis Reynolds
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
To quote his friend Charlie, Dennis Reynolds is a bastard man. There’s no disputing his utter depravity as a human being, but as a bartender at a filthy Philly establishment? You could probably do worse. At least the brave patrons of Paddy’s get plenty of free shows.
37. Tara Thornton
Tara did just fine as a bartender, but lost interest when she became a vampire. Her inability to multitask is disheartening.
Star Wars Episode IV
First and foremost, dude doesn’t even card Luke, and homeboy looks like he’s about 16 years old. Secondly, he refuses to serve C-3PO, saying “we don’t serve their kind.” Yep. This man is racist against British robots.
The Cleveland Show
On the surface, Gus is a terrible bartender. His pours are comically large, and he doesn’t even keep track of tabs. But that means his customers get enormous drinks for free, so in a way he’s the best bartender. Just a terrible businessman. Also, he’s voiced by David Lynch.
34. Xander Harris
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Xander’s brief stint at Jack’s Bar is pretty disastrous. He’s easily overwhelmed, doesn’t understand the customers, and discovers early on that Jack is spiking the beer with Black Frost to turn the students into Neanderthals. (Classic Jack!) But actually, Xander has a pretty good touch with over-served patrons. And his wiseass response to the lady asking for a light proves he could’ve made it at a less Hellmouth-y establishment.
At the onset, Spider is a nervous klutz -- and it’s easy to see why, considering Tommy’s terrifying obsession with the Westerns of Humphrey Bogart. But once he gets outta the hospital, the man is (ironically) on stronger footing. He can handle the orders and even throw back insults. Too bad Tommy can’t take a joke.
32. Henry Pollard
It’s hard to find the silver lining of being the bartender for a catering company, so Henry doesn’t even try. He’ll wander off to hook up with his coworkers or smoke pot or do basically anything but his job. That said, he does seem like an ideal misanthropic drinking buddy. Just don’t ask him to say the thing.
31. Adriana La Cerva
While Adriana is actually the manager of the Crazy Horse, she’s quick to drop behind the bar whenever Tony & co. show up. (That, and looking the other way, is mostly what she’s there for.) She seems pretty capable of running a normal bar, but if we’re talking about running a mob bar, well, she kinda biffs that one hard.
It’s pretty hard to screw up being a bartender at Rick’s, since it’s basically the only gin joint in town (you’re cute, Blue Parrot). We have to believe Sascha does a decent job, even if we barely see him in action, since Blaine trusts him. But we also have to dock him a few points for creeping on Yvonne in the first 10 minutes of the movie.
29. Margo Dunne
Between all the murder, infidelity, and hillbilly pool parties happening in Gone Girl, there’s not much time left to watch Go or her brother Nick run their North Carthage bar. But unlike Nick, who’s mainly in it to grouse and prey on coeds, Go seems like a solid bartender who’ll serve up whatever and dole out a few wisecracks along the way.
28. The Santa Poco Bartender
On the one hand, telling three idiots that tequila is “like beer” is kinda dangerous. On the other, it leads to the rousing “My Little Buttercup” performance. Well played, sir. Well played.
27. Alex Kelly
She gets Seth a janitor job, and hooks up with him? What a great bartender!
Whatever. You’ve never heard of this movie. We don't care. Vienna is played by Joan Crawford, and she’s a damn fine woman and an even better barkeep. Also, Johnny is played by the police captain who got shot in the throat in The Godfather. You've at least seen that one.
25. Paulie Chopra
Keeping the Faith
Some people say that bartenders are half alchemists, half therapists. Paulie excels at both. Hell, this whole stupid movie is book-ended by Edward Norton’s horny priest slurring out a sob story to Paulie. You can’t have a movie based around the whole “a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar” shtick without somebody working at said bar.
Saturday Night Live “Last Call”
Poor Kenan. It can’t be easy watching Sheila Sovage unhinge her jaw on some equally upsetting freak at 4am night after night. But he still tolerates them, muttering only the mildest gripes about getting home to his kids as the stragglers go at it.
23. Anal Johnson
He always kept things nice and clean.
Come on. It’s Frank Stallone serving Charles Bukowski. That’s just... come on!
21. Danny Trejo
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Trejo’s nameless bartender takes care of Ron while he’s going through his Channel 4 exile, and he also fields the call for Ron to report the big panda story. But his shining moment comes when he tells Ron that “ladies can do stuff now” and to get used to it, revealing that even Machete’s a stealth feminist.
We can only assume Horace went straight to heaven after that baseball took him out, because anyone who puts up with Peter and Quagmire for that much time is a shoe-in for sainthood.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Lloyd goes above and beyond the call of duty. He pulls a shotgun on Arnold as he tries to steal a patron’s motorcycle (he was fine with the clothes and boots). He also has excellent taste in sunglasses, and kind of looks like Bam Margera’s Dad.
18. Barliman Butterbur
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The fantastically named proprietor of The Prancing Pony barely has a role in Fellowship of the Ring, but here’s what we glean from his four-minute cameo: he’s nice to hobbits, he’s rightfully suspicious of the hooded creep in the corner, and he’s not above waiting tables himself. Basically all you could want in a bartender, even if he did cause some actual problems in the books.
Shaun of the Dead
According to Big Al, he’s in the North London mafia. But Big Al also says dogs can’t look, so John’s probably just a bartender. But a damn fine one! Handy with a blade, too.
Not only does he keep a fine selection of Scotch, but he also keeps a shotgun under the bar, in case any Nazis are in the mood for a lead chaser. That’s just good business!
Star Trek: The Next Generation
She’s kind of like the bartender on an intergalactic space cruise, and probably helped Riker bang a couple blue alien chicks. Oh, and she’s Whoopi Goldberg. She gets bonus points for not being Rosie O’Donnell.
Though he does run a Baltimore bar, Butchie’s chief interests lie in running interference for Omar, not pouring people drinks. Still, it’s pretty damn impressive that he manages the whole operation without being able to see the bottles. And of course, any friend of Omar’s is a friend of ours.
The Big Lebowski
Makes a great White Russian. Keeps the bar stocked with good sarsaparilla. Sometimes, there’s a man...
The first time Bond orders his signature martini onscreen, it’s not at a bar. It’s in the skies, because dude’s not introducing any catchphrases until he’s cruising on a private jet. The stewardess who serves him doesn’t say much, but she still manages to set a cultural juggernaut in motion by merely mixing the drink offscreen. A drink that’s a total faux pas, but that’s beside the point.
11. Brian Flanagan
Flair bartending isn’t really a thing nowadays, but ask anyone to name five fictional bartenders, and Tom Cruise will always come up. The waitresses love him, the trendy club owners love him, and the island cougars definitely love him. In retrospect, Brian needs everyone’s approval just a little too much, but since he’s desperate for your respect, he’ll make sure you’re taken care of.
Lloyd is a stone-cold creep, and if you encounter him at any point in your life, it’s irrefutable proof you’ve lost your mind. But he’ll let it slide if you forget your cash, and he was no doubt a debonair barkeep in his day -- back when he wasn’t, you know, an evil ghost.
On Violet’s first day of work, we see Lil swiftly serve a few drinks, take a shot for herself, shut everyone up, and then reinvent her new hire for the crowd. And that’s just what she does in two minutes. Imagine what she could do in two hours. Oh, that’s about how long the movie is? Right.
Sure, Lou might own the joint, but it’s Irvin the bartender who lets Tyler Durden build his army in the basement of the bar over which he lords. He gets bonus points for looking like Neil Young in a Revolutionary War epic, and even more points for being hard as nails in the ring. He’s even in the Fight Club video game, which was a thing. Fred Durst was in it too. Let’s never talk about the Fight Club video game again, OK?
7. Isaac Washington
We could waste a lot of words explaining Isaac’s mystique, but this screengrab tells you all you need to know.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Any bartender who tolerates heartbroken Jason Segel dropping fruit garnishes all over the bar and doing Sex and the City impressions is a solid dude. But his recitation of the state fish of Hawaii makes him exceptional. And his declaration that Snuffleupagus "fucks his shit up" makes him a legend.
5. Al Swearengen
You gotta be tough to hang at the Gem Saloon, because Al certainly isn’t going to put up with your nonsense. Mr. Swearengen is gruff Wild West barman in every possible sense: he slugs hooch in between sentences, elevates cursing to an art form, and is down for an occasional murder if it gets him what he wants. So if that’s the sort of thing you’re into, Al is your hero. And lucky for him, most of his clientele is.
4. The Octopus
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
The Ink & Paint Club speakeasy is a busy place, what with all the dueling piano action and Jessica Rabbit groupies. A busy place demands a skilled and efficient bartender. You don’t get more efficient than the eight-armed badass tending bar. The dude -- who, fun fact, was also in the not-at-all culturally insensitive 1948 MGM cartoon Half-Pint Pygmy -- can pour a martini, grab a beer, and wash dishes all at the same time. Plus, you never have to worry about unsigned checks, because he produces his own ink. And he does so with a huge dopey smile on his face. That, friends, is how you run a bar.
3. Sam Malone
The very first scene from Cheers is a great illustration of what makes Sam such an awesome bartender. A clearly underage kid comes in as Sam’s cleaning up. When he asks for a beer, Sam just smiles and asks for an ID. It’s a military ID belonging to a 38-year-old, so Sam asks him about ‘Nam (it was apparently “gross”) before tossing the card back with a genial, “I’m sorry, son.” The man managed to establish a rapport with a teenager he was rejecting without being a prick, thus ensuring future business! No wonder Norm never bothered finding another bar.
2. Moe Szyslak
Sure, Moe’s an icon, but is he really a good bartender? Trick question! He’s a great bartender. Because Moe’s is the diviest of dive bars, and dammit, you don’t want to go into a dive bar and see sights like cleanliness, pickled eggs that haven’t expired, or imported beer (unless it’s Duff). What happened when Moe tried to turn his joint into a trendy mixology spot (twice!)? His customers left, and he died inside.
So it doesn’t really matter that Moe stole the Flaming Homer recipe, or tried to seduce Midge, or constantly pulls guns on his customers, or spends most of his time taking advantage of Barney, or was a boxing promoter who made Don King look ethical, or got plastic surgery and became a handsome soap opera star, or roped Homer into committing insurance fraud by stealing his car, or was a bootlegger. Moe’s the kind of skeezy, ugly, mean-spirited bartender you need in your life. He’s the best of the worst.
1. Marion Ravenwood
Raiders of the Lost Ark
You were probably expecting Moe or Sam in this slot, but for us, it was no contest. Marion was a badass hero and a dream wife to little girls and boys raised on a steady diet of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and even Crystal Skull can’t diminish her greatness. She knows how to handle any customer, whether they’re a rough local or a commitment-phobe archaeologist, and will school your ass in a shots contest, even if you're a gigantic Australian climber.
Her bar, The Raven -- despite being nothing but ashes covered in Nazi blood -- should be a tourist attraction in the mountains of Nepal. Nobody tells her what to do in her place. We wouldn't dream of it.