They say that bartending is 75 percent performance art. But if you’re playing the role of bartender on TV or in a feature film, that number obviously skews higher. Though we can’t account for the quality of their beverages, we can agree that the most memorable on-screen drink mixers inspire our thirst. These are five television and movie bartenders worth raising a glass to.
In all four seasons of David Milch’s gritty frontier drama, bar/brothel owner Ellis Alfred “Al” Swearengen, played by Ian McShane, lords over the South Dakota mining town, dispensing a river of whiskey to the guests at his Gem Saloon and brutal punishment to whoever crossed him. The show reveals little in the way of his cocktail chops, but no other character on television drinks as much whiskey as he pours. And for that reason alone, he makes our list.
Homer Simpson drinks enough Duff beer to inebriate a ship full of sailors. Usually, the man who’s serving it is Moe Szyslak, the cranky bartender who deals with Homer and his buddies after they get off work. As with most of the characters on the show, he takes on some of the prototypical qualities associated with bartenders—down to earth, straight-talking and funny.
Played by a young Woody Harrelson, Woody Boyd was a replacement to Coach Ernie Pantusso, played by Nicholas Colasanto, behind the bar in Boston. The show likely inspired many people to take up the profession because of his personable approach. You walk into the bar, and everyone knows your name and backstory. It’s something that bars today often miss in an age that emphasizes innovation over personalization.
One of Tom Cruise's early roles showcases him as a rising bartender in New York City during the 1980s. Learning under the irreverent (and troubled) Doug Coughlin (played by Bryan Brown), Cruise's character charms women and virtually everyone he makes a drink for. Flanagan’s personality and relationship with Coughlin make any bar he's in a good time.
Sam Malone is perhaps the most famous bartender in TV history. He seems to keep it together while other people’s lives are falling apart on the show. He doesn’t drink, which makes him an interesting person to own and tend a bar.
Let’s not forget these notable runners-up: Marion Ravenwood in “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Charlie Chaplin as a waiter (posing as Sir Cecil Seltzer, C.O.D.) in “The Rink” and Lil played by Maria Bello in “Coyote Ugly.”
Mixing your cocktail