The Top 10 Coolest Bartenders of All Time (Part 2)
February 29, 2008 | Lists
As we noted in Part One of the Top 10 Coolest Bartenders of All Time, bartenders in films and TV, if they’re given any face time at all, are lucky if they get their day’s studio parking validated for uttering “I think you best see yer friend outta here” and wrenching a highball glass from the masturbatory grip of the protagonist, who is then propped up by his buddies and shuffled out the door while ugly looks are exchanged.
More commonly, they get to tell some beat cop holding up a police sketch “Yeh, dat’s da guy… he was in here last week”, or are made to dive for cover to avoid shards of glass from the explosion of cheap bottles of booze whenever some vigilante cowboy/mobster/trucker psychopath shoots up the place.
This list is our effort to ensure that the unheralded film/TV bartender is remembered for something other than smacking a beer bottle off the odd noggin in the midst of a saloon brawl, or being a silent captive audience (at least until last call) forced to listen to whatever heart-rending problems that consume the star and require dulling with drink.
Movies, TV and music have given us many bars (for a more thorough accounting of just how many, allow us to recommend a visit to “Booze Movies”, the ‘100-proof’ Film Guide), and many barkeeps doling out the liquid courage, but only 10 notable enough to merit entry into this club. Last week we gave you the first five on our list, and here are the final five – The Coolest Fictional Barkeeps of all Time:
5) Frank Santorelli, Georgie the Bada Bing bartender, The Sopranos:
Most of us have a pretty low threshold for what we’ll put up with in the workplace – if we belong to a union or know a good labor-rights lawyer, that threshold is almost non-existent. But there are some schlubs who will take abuse on a daily basis and still show up to work the next day in a good mood. Georgie Santorelli is the patron saint of those schlubs. We give kudos to Georgie for his dogged perseverance over the five years he served as Tony’s personal heavy bag. Georgie possibly set the record on the show for the most violence inflicted upon a character who does not end up getting whacked.
Georgie’s transgressions include maintaining his professionalism – wanting to get rid of melting ice for fear it’ll water the drinks, and trying to keep spirits up – he gets a vicious beating that sends him to the hospital when he tells Tony and the gang to “live for the day”. Georgie is beaten with the Bada Bing phone in season one, a novelty fish that sings “Take me to the River” in season three (Georgie’s hospital expenses must have been astronomical that year as he was also horribly beaten and nearly blinded in a chain/pool cue attack by crazy Ralphie), an ice bucket in season four, and Tony’s fists in season five. For exhibiting either really poor career judgment or having the most admirable work ethic on television, Georgie makes it into the Top Five of our list of the Top 10 Bartenders of all time.
Georgie: Ice, Ton, when it hangs around it gets watery
Silvio: Georgie, be quiet
Georgie: But it dilutes the drinks, especially scotch
Tony (throwing an ice bucket at Georgie and rushing in for the attack): Here, throw it all away. Waste it all, f*ckin’ John D. Rockfeller! Waste it all!
Tony (walking away): Conserve! (Con-soy-ve!)
Here, in a Shark Guys special, is a compilation of Georgie’s beatings as doled out by Tony Soprano:
4) “Joe”, the bartender in Frank Sinatra’s “One For My Baby”:
In the fourth slot, we turn to the world of song where Joe, the person being addressed in Sinatra’s classic croon “One for My Baby (and one more for the road)”, has to cope with the dark side of drunkenness: the self-pitying, moody drunk who refuses to leave. The nameless narrator is well into his cups by the time he pipes up with this pitiful lament, and Joe is forced to listen to it: “It’s quarter to three/There’s no one in the place ‘cept you and me/So set ‘em up Joe/I got a little story I think you oughtta know.”
Joe’s heard a million such stories, but he’s a gentleman and doesn’t toss this gin-soaked customer out the door so he can get a good night’s sleep. The customer even requests that the jukebox be turned on at this godforsaken hour: “I know the routine/Put another nickel in that there machine/I’m feeling so bad/Won’t you make the music easy and sad.”
Finally it seems as if the customer realizes how much he’s inconveniencing the barkeep and has decided to leave: “Well, that’s how it goes/And Joe I know you’re gettin’ anxious to close/So thanks for the cheer/I hope you didn’t mind/My bending your ear.”
But wait, he’s still going on!: “But this torch that I found/It’s gotta be drowned/Or it soon might explode/So make it one for my baby/And one more for the road.” Another round! This guy wants to drink till the sun comes up.
Joe makes this list on behalf of all bartenders who have had to forsake a good night’s sleep to keep the drinks flowing for one lonely drunk holding up a bar. For this song sung from the bartender’s perspective, check out George Jones’ “Bartender Blues”.
(Editor’s Note: “One for my Baby” has the distinction of also appearing on our list of the Top Ten Drinking and Driving Songs of All Time)
3) Ted Danson, as Sam Malone on Cheers:
Before he became known for Friars Club black face roasts, Ted Danson was one of three bartenders – the other two being Ernie “Coach” Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto) and Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson, whose post-“Cheers” roles made Sammy’s turns as a pusher of other stimulants in “Becker” and the short-lived “Help Me, Help You” pale in comparison) – at “Cheers”, the bar where, like secret police headquarters, “everybody knows your name”.
In Cheers, prior to donning Cosby knits and sporting an increasingly graying pompadour, Sam Malone was the innuendo-spouting ex-jock, keeper of a black book, which contained all the ladies he’d bedded at the height of the AIDS era, and was amusing foil to the cadre of unemployed drunks who comprised Cheers regulars. According to the show’s storyline, Sam is a recovering alcoholic; he might have been voted the number one fictional bartender of all time had more “Cheers” episodes involved him falling off the wagon and getting crazy drunk in the bar. Regardless, for his lady-killer ways, creativity in feuds with Gary’s Old Town Tavern, and ability to keep his clientele happily pickled year after year, we salute Mayday Malone.
Quotes: Sam: What’ll you have Normie?
Norm: Well, I’m in a gambling mood Sammy, I’ll take a glass of whatever comes out of that tap.
Sam: Looks like beer, Norm
Norm: Call me Mr Lucky.
2) Sheldon Leonard as Nick from “It’s a Wonderful Life”:
Oh the mystery that is Nick. When we first meet him he’s helping out a drunken George Bailey; along with his boss, an Italian stereotype named Martini (“Why you drink so much, my friend?”), Nick shows genuine concern for George and tries to help him after he’s cold-cocked by some angry drunk at the bar.
Fast-forward to the alternate reality of “Pottersville” – the world where Bedford Falls has become a cesspool because George Bailey wasn’t around to fix everything – and every shred of decency has left Nick; he now owns the bar and he’s become an insufferable, mean-spirited prick. Far from lending a helping hand, boss-man Nick tosses George Bailey and his angel friend out on their ears in the dead of winter for talking crazy – but not before spraying the pharmacist-turned hobo (one of many characters whose lives have gone to pot due to Bailey not having existed) with a seltzer bottle – a cruel act of humiliation done to the roaring delight of the evil crowd congregated there.
Theories abound as to what drove Nick to such ends – McSweeney’s published a very good analysis of Nick’s transformation from good guy to class A jerk (click here for that), which suggests, among other possibilities, that Nick may have been a minion for Satan. Regardless, his transformation is one of the most interesting and compelling parts of this feel-good movie that has lost its shine as we’ve seen it a thousand times, and we’ll probably see it again if remotes get lost around the holidays.
(In a nice bit of booze-culture symmetry, Sheldon Leonard, the man who played Nick, also had a minor, though memorable role in “Cheers” — he played the owner of Norm’s favorite restaurant “The Hungry Heifer).
And pour a drink for Number One on Our Coolest Bartender of all Time List:
1) Hank Azaria as Moe Szyslak, “The Simpsons” bartender:
In the number one slot is none other than Moe Szyslak, bartender and proprietor of Moe’s Tavern, Springfield’s own, gentrification-resistant watering hole on The Simpsons, as one yuppie puts it: ‘This isn’t a faux dive, this is a dive!” The squawk voiced hatchet-faced barkeep is the second pro boxer on our list, a testament to the numerous dangers that lurk in the nation’s seedier saloons. Known as Kid Gorgeous, Kid Presentable, Kid Gruesome, and finally Kid Moe in his fightin’ heyday, he amassed quite an impressive consecutive knock-out streak in his brief pugilistic career—albeit, on the receiving end.
Moe is not only a true pop culture icon, but is also the only one on our list to have invented his own drink, the cough syrup-based libation, The Flaming Moe. This is of course, unless you count the Cheers’ gang’s ploy to oust a thoroughly unpopular barkeep, Wayne, who’d boasted he knew every drink there was—but was foiled by a made up vodka/vermouth concoction, The Screaming Viking (cucumber slightly bruised).
As Moe’s Tavern’s only employee, Moe’s the consummate multi-tasker, especially when it comes to the underground economy, overseeing a slew of illegal enterprises including a Russian roulette gambling ring right out of The Deer Hunter, a booze can, an animal smuggling operation, sports bookmaking, and loan-sharking to boost his pub’s often sagging fortunes.
Moe: Seems nobody wants to hang out in a dank pit no more.
Carl: You ain’t thinking of getting rid of the dank, are you, Moe?
Moe is the consummate professional, always looking out for his crappy canteen’s bottom line: “If you’re going to beat up my friend in my bar, there’s a 2 drink minimum!”
Before we get to the names of those who would have fit perfectly well on this list let us first mention the deliberate exclusions, those whose tip jars weren’t nearly full enough:
Tom Cruise, “Cocktail”: This 1989 double-Razzie-award-winning (worst picture and screenplay) is one of the few modern mainstream films made that focuses specifically on bartenders. The main characters drink throughout the entire film, yet despite that surefire recipe for success none of the characters ever appear to be drunk and the end result is a film that is neither funny nor interesting.
The Coyote Ugly Girls, “Coyote Ugly”: A terrible film connected to a string of bars with overpriced drinks and good looking clog-dancing staff members who may have had to go through the humiliation of participating in one of the most low-aiming reality TV shows ever made in order to get the job.
Quark, “Star Trek Deep Space Nine”: We just don’t get the whole Star Trek thing once William Shatner stopped being involved. Enough already.
The hapless bartender in the always hapless Steven Seagal vehicle, Out of Justice, featuring some of the worst tough-guy accents and per capita ‘Hey Ritchie!’ and ‘Hey Vinnie’s!’ not seen outside a Rhode Island panini shop as well as another former boxer to add to the list.
Seagal, “Gino Felino”, whose atrocious accent gives viewers a sampling of an indeterminate New York City borough, marches into a generic tough bar, and puts the smack down on every dirt-bag denizen therein. This includes the poor barkeep, who is at least knocked silly and doesn’t have to witness any more ersatz, Scorsese-wannabe pony-tailed chop-socky.
Gino: I noticed a bunch-a boxin’ mem-rabilia…We gots some gloves ova hee-ya. Pic-shas every-way-uh…(to the bartender) Who’s da boxa?
Gino: You da boxa?
Gino: You da tough guy?
Bartender: Tough enough
Gino: What could you do?
Bartender: To you? (Editor’s note: Isn’t this implied?)
Gino Felino proceeds to drop him like sh*t from a tall horse.
And now Honorable Mentions:
Sandra Oh, “Sideways”: For all the drunks who have ever given a glass-eyed glaze to a pretty barmaid, Sandra Oh, who plays a wine server (a job that would not be the equivalent of a bartender in any film other than this one), hooking up with Thomas Haden-Church in the booze-movie classic “Sideways” is a barroom fantasy played out on film (minus the part where she maliciously assaults him).
Howard Da Silva, as Nat in “The Lost Weekend”: The main bartender in Billy Wilder’s powerful – albeit heavily melodramatic – film about when boozing goes bad, Nat, is a mix of a father figure and an AA sponsor for Don Birnam. When Birnam begs Nat for a drink, just one drink to get by, Nat responds, “Yeah, one. One’s too many and a hundred’s not enough. That’s all.”
Ted Lange, as Isaac Washington in The Love Boat:
In each and every lost luggage-themed episode Isaac plies the passengers on board the Princess Pacific with enough umbrella-filled libations to lose their recently gained sea legs.