Monday, January 4, 2010

Top 10 Bartenders in film.

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Cinema’s Top 10 Bartenders

by Warren Cantrell on Oct.23, 2009, under Film Lists

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A good bartender is a person who not only listens and provides sound advice for problems, but will also cause a few new ones for you if the bar in question isn’t respected, or the staff is unfairly maligned. The best mixologists in film demonstrated an ability to simultaneously listen, console, and inspire, as well as oversee, manage, and keep operational the business in question. To be in contention, the booze-jockey had to have maintained a respectable establishment whilst providing sound advice to all takers in a way that didn’t interrupt the bartending duties. The role had to have showcased some noteworthy talents behind the bar, or at least demonstrated an indispensible role; it is for this reason that Jake LaMotta’s turn in The Hustler was skipped, for while it’s an awesome cameo, he didn’t really flex any distinguishing bartending talents in the picture. The same goes for Moe Szyslak, who would certainly have made it into contention for a television-themed list, but did little in his screen debut to warrant such lofty cinematic recognition. Also, for this list the bartender should have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to their customer’s well-being either through action or advice, yet in a way that saw not just to one person, but all possible customers both present and future. In other words, the bartender had to have shown an unwavering commitment to both their pub and the client-base at large. Indeed, as most purveyors of spirits know, sometimes people need to get run, the unavoidable sting of the “86” often necessary to keep good, paying customers coming back again and again. Because of this, though something of an asshole, we must recognize the first entrant, for while he did indeed turn on the film’s protagonists, his reasons were justifiable and sound concerning his time-honored, hollowed profession….

10.) Danny Trejo’s “Razor Charlie” from From Dusk ‘Till Dawn

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Minus the unholy Satanic bat-creatures, The Titty Twister was one hell of a joint. The place had spacious seating, topless hot chicks, Mexican food, a rough crowd, decent band, and liquor served by the bottle. Giving the audience a taste of virtually the same role he’d reprise in Anchorman a decade later minus the vampire transformation, Mr. Trejo demonstrated that the bar’s staff was up to the challenge of its troublesome clientele. In this film, he first tried to get Clooney and his brood out of his place before the feeding, showing a clear-headed sense of the bar’s mission statement to kill only the unnoticed trucker and biker crowd. Relenting after Jacob produced the proper identification, Trejo’s barkeep showed that he was the consummate professional, flipping the switch from agro to customer-friendly in an instant. And this is key. Any bartender should be able to separate their emotions from the task at hand, keeping their calm in the face of rude back-sass that will always arise when dealing with inebriated persons. Making sure that the Gecko brothers and their party got properly seated and served, Trejo’s character even went on to announce a stage-act and act as bouncer when trouble arose, showing that he was capable of multi-tasking his duties (a most admirable trait in the profession). Admittedly, the guy lost some points for his descent into blood-thirsty homicide and cannibalism, but seeing as that was the purpose of the bar in the first place, you’ve got to allow him a slot on the list based solely on the “just following orders” defense. Good person? No. Great bartender? Yes.

9.) Cheech Marin as The Bartender from Desperado

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Another of Mr. Rodriguez’s films with a memorable bar and staff, Desperado’s saloon-minder gets mentioned here for different reasons. There’s a lot going against ol’ Cheech’s chances of making the list based on this performance, what with his beer warm, mugs dirty, attitude indifferent, and client-base largely dead. I’d ask you to look a bit closer, however, understanding before judging. While Buscemi got a cold reception during the picture’s beginning, remember that this was a bar in Mexico’s ankle, far-removed from loud-mouthed gringos expecting the T.G.I.Friday’s treatment. The people in the establishment’s background seemed entirely happy with the bartender, his receptacles, and the beer therein. Making sure the regulars are appeased is an important component of any good bartender’s repertoire, something Cheech’s character showed off with his brisk attitude toward nosey story-tellers, rich white chicks, and maniacs with cases full of automatic weapons. Showing that he wasn’t above dishing out some quality service, he offered a free beer to one customer, and even agreed to help the protagonist find somebody right before some asshole came out of the bathroom and shot the fuck out of his face. Though a bit uneven with his customer service, the guy did seem to keep a loyal, if scanty, client-base while running what appeared to be one hell of a front-operation for the local Mexican war-lord. Quick to get valuable intel. while still managing a practical, operational facility, the guy’s only failing was his inability to survive beyond the second act, and prove himself more worthy than say….

8.) Peter Siragusa’s “Gary the Bartender” from The Big Lebowski

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As it concerns the totem pole of bartending gigs, a bowling alley is just above the airport lounge, yet below the motel: most money that’s being spent at the larger establishment precluding any chance of frequent and generous tips. This didn’t stop Gary, who was so damn efficient the audience never even got a good look at his face. Quick to serve, fast to answer in the affirmative, Gary obviously knew his people, immediately tending to The Dude’s White Russian needs without a question asked. Gary represents a completely different aspect of worthy bartenders, he who knows better than to open his mouth: he who knows that sometimes a person just needs to bitch a little, and drink. Serving Sam Elliot’s “Stranger” with the same even-keeled professionalism and efficiency as the people ordering actual beverages (ones that provide much more on the gratuity-scale), Gary demonstrated that he was a consummate professional through-and-through, treating each customer as a king. Throughout the course of the Stranger and The Dude’s talk, as well as the conversation with Walter just before, Gary stayed silent yet always ready, moving in to offer affirmations and drinks only when addressed. While the audience didn’t get much more out of him than this, it’s fitting that just such an entrant should place, as every once in a while, we all need a bartender who knows when to speak, when to pour, and when to stay the hell out of the way.

7.) Sheldon Leonard’s “Nick” from It’s a Wonderful Life

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This guy was meant to be a bartender in the same way Biff Tannen and his ancestors past, present, and future were meant to be douche-bags. Whether it was in the complicated pseudo-present or the corrupt company-town in George’s alternate reality, “Nick” was still in the business of meeting the needs of the city’s drunks. Indeed, it’s a testament to a person’s divinely-inspired station in life when a dystopian universe swap does nothing to alter an individual’s life-calling. When he had his “good” hat on, Nick was the consummate bartender: selflessly assisting his patrons when in duress, providing sound council, and sympathetically listening with open ear when needed. True to his natural calling, when the reality flip-flopped into a scenario where the protagonist (George) never stuck around to help out around town, Nick was no less functional in his duties (while admittedly less personable). The man had a clear agenda, asserting with no uncertainty during the Pottersville detour that his bar served “hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast.” After talking “crazy,” Nick saw to it that the riff-raff in his joint got the proper heave-ho, even providing a crowd-pleasing hobo-seltzer spray so the mood of the scene didn’t get too terribly dampened by his drunk-toss. Though not as friendly or P.C. in Pottersville, Nick showed that in any reality, his main priority was keeping quality, high-tipping customers happy vis a vis constant drunk maintenance. Good universe or bad, all that changed about Nick was his approach: his functionality as a quality bartender never in question.

6.) Olek Krupa’s “Tad” from Miller’s Crossing

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So Tom is the advisor to Leo, the local crime boss, who is in a heated debate with the other crime boss in the area, Casper, over the alleged leaking of information by Bernie. Bernie is a low-level insignificant who is getting rich spilling Casper’s secrets, hence Casper gives Leo the courtesy head’s-up about Bernie’s impending demise. Thing is, Leo is in love with Bernie’s sister, Merna, who he protects by refusing Casper’s reasonable request to whack Bernie. Leo’s refusal to approve Bernie’s killing ends up being the impetus to start a full-fledged 1930’s style gang-war, all hell breaking loose thereafter. In the middle of this mess was the only man in town with more than two marbles rolling around upstairs, Tom, who through the film ran the gamut of deception and double-crosses to make sure he and his boss Leo made it through the crisis alive. Throughout the entire ordeal, there was one man Tom was able to go to for insider information and odds, and that was Tad. Like any good bartender, Tad knew who was talking and conspiring with whom, what angle they were approaching from, and what fingers dipped into which pies. More than that, Tom never saw a bill for all the scotch he was throwing back throughout the film, firing shots down with such ease he didn’t even need to verbally order, a simple head jerk toward the bottle enough of a gesture between such seasoned men. Tad really showed his worth when he didn’t run Tom later in the movie, even after the boss had blacklisted his former counselor from the club. Loyal to the end, generous with the pours, quick to place a fast bet, and heavy with the good intel, it’s hard (though certainly not impossible) to beat Olek Krupa’s “Tad.”

5.) Joe Turkel’s “Lloyd” from The Shining

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When you talk about a guy transcending the restraints of a situation to emerge triumphant, there’s not an individual on this list that beats this guy. Think about it! Lloyd doesn’t even exist in the same realm as Jack in The Shining, yet does that stop him from making absolutely certain every damn person that sits at his bar is thoroughly taken care of? Shit no! And on the arm, no less! Jack tried to pay, and for so coarse a gesture he got the line most pub-crawlers like me have been waiting their whole lives to hear, “you’re money’s no good here, sir.” Just thinking about that kind of service is making me all warm and tingly inside. Giving the film’s lead a sympathetic bar upon which to lean and vent his frustrations, Lloyd gave Mr. Torrance more than just a drink: he provided him an avenue through which to vent. Jack hadn’t bruised up Danny, some fucking spirit demon from an angry-ass Native American tribe had! Filled with an imposing sense of loneliness brought not only from the surrounding arctic wilderness but from within his own family, it was Lloyd that was there for Jack, whiskey at the ready to console a confused, weary guest. His appearance and manners impeccable beyond reproach, Lloyd’s class and demeanor are only challenged by one other entrant, a bartender who also represents the only female on the list…

4.) Linda Hunt’s “Stella” from Silverado

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Linda Hunt’s “Stella” is the best kind of bartender: optimistic. While I like to get a good hate-drunk going from time to time, it is far more gratifying to get drunk and become convinced that the world is still spinning as it should, that the calming euphoria of six or seven belts isn’t just temporary, but the proper status quo found only after some hard work put in with a bottle. Bartenders like Stella manufacture and maintain just such an atmosphere, building alliances with uncertain but kind-eyed men and ramps for tasks too tall. Showing that her benevolence extended to the staff as well as customers, she shared some of the top shelf “good stuff” with her man Paden, and went so far as to talk down a trigger-happy asshole after the guy had turned a gun on her best dealer. Her value as a quality barmaid are confirmed later in the movie after Paden went to the mat for her, siding against his oldest friend/town sheriff to make sure Stella’s had some cover. Later in the film she proved that not just her clients and staff got taken care of, but their families as well, sheltering the sister of D. Glove’s character in the film after the wrath started falling. Though she went above the calling of her station to provide safe shelter for friends of friends, this is but a smile and pat on the back compared to the assistance rendered by the next character, who saw to meager needs inside the bar and monumental ones outside of it…

3.) Sonny Chiba’s “Hatori Hanzo” from Kill Bill, Vol. I

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While there are some very fine actors on this list with roles arguably more awesome in a bartending-sense than this one, nobody in contention today comes close to being as bad a mother fucker as Sonny Chiba. In one of the most appropriate casting choices of all time, Tarantino turned to the most respected living man in Asian cinema to play the honored and feared sword-master in his two part-epic. His Hanzo was also a restaurateur and bartender, serving fresh cuts of fish and some sake to Beatrix before calm and blood oaths were broken. Good bartender that he was, Hanzo kept his customer happy, making sure service was immediate, even at the expense of a staff that suffered terribly for not keeping to the bartender’s lofty service expectations. Polite, accommodating, friendly, and quick to offer his own pad for the customer to crash for weeks on end, Chiba’s “Hanzo” displayed some crucial traits as it concerns a reliable barkeep. Demonstrating his multi-tasking abilities, Hanzo not only served up good food, hot sake, and solid advice, he also hooked the film’s hero up with a sword that out-paced every other blade on the planet. In the end, it’s hard to argue with the results, as Beatrix not only got her skills sharpened to maximum efficiency while crashing at her bartender’s pad, but she also scored a good meal, cocktail, and kick-ass sword from the endeavor as well. A good bartender mostly for the things he did outside the bar, the runner-up spot goes to a man who can still hold his head high to this day for his performance on the job….

2.) Bryan Brown’s “Doug Coughlin” from Cocktail

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Uncle Pat gave young Flanagan (Cruise) some damn fine advice early on, advising his nephew to outthink and out-scheme all of life’s competitors, to trust nobody and to make no friends. Turning from there to a different authority figure, the Cruiser entered the school of Douglas Coughlin (Brown), who might have responded to Uncle Pat’s wisdom in the same way he did to his protégé at the end of the film, “Bury the dead. They stink up the joint.” Coughlin’s laws didn’t jive terribly well with the old-school wisdom of the previous generation, embracing instead an ethos of super-charged American capitalism at its most volatile. Mixing sex, celebrity, and alcohol, Coughlin taught a fresh-faced Tom Cruise everything one needed to know about how to make it behind three feet of mahogany. Throwing his charge directly into the flames his first night out, Coughlin made damn sure Flanagan knew how hot it could get on a busy night and just how cool a person needed to remain when dealing with an unholy late-night rush. Refusing to give up on his new charge, Coughlin took the kid under his wing and taught him how to dazzle a crowd while still keeping business moving at a brisk clip. Taking time to school the kid on the finer points of life, Coughlin remained a willing ally when schooling Cruiser on women and the world, even after a chick busted up a great high-end nightclub gig. Whether it was the solid mixologist training, his insistence that Flanagan stay on an appropriate diet to keep his strength up (“Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or be gone.”) or his sage-like wisdom when it came to the ladies (“Coughlin’s law: never tell tales about a woman, no matter how far away she is: she’ll always hear you.”) the man knew his stuff. His suicide notwithstanding, he’s the perfect bartender in every way, just barely missing out on the top spot because his vein opening and shattered financial state at the end of the film left a bit to be desired…

1.) Gerard Parkes’ “Doc” from The Boondock Saints

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When it comes right down to it, there’s not much more you can ask of a bartender except to let you drink after-hours at the pub in a way that turns the homey establishment into a veritable neighborhood gentleman’s social club. To further increase your stock, you can also allow your patrons to settle neighborhood disputes in your pub by way of bare-knuckle fist fights and rope-binding flame-torture. To take it up a notch, however, you’d also have to lie to the cops to protect your clientele once the heat came down, defusing or otherwise misleading an official Boston P.D./FBI joint-investigation. Even so, this would only get you a #3 or #4 spot unless the bartender in contention didn’t also covertly meet up with the murder suspects/best customers after the crime, immediately agreeing to hold and hide stolen money and firearms from the recently murdered victims in question. The consummate neighborhood pub-minder, it’s clear Doc never cut anybody off, allowing his patrons to get drunk enough to start low-level mob wars while still covering for all the mayhem that ensued. Advising against direct action when his boys started talking crazy, suggesting alternate routes to keep the bar open rather than to involve the Italian crime syndicate, Doc even tried to get the Russians out of the bar before trouble started early on in the film. Once shit hit the fan, however, Doc showed himself to be a true man of honor, covering for his customers in ways that went far beyond the normal call of duty. Doc not only maintained the venue that would ultimately facilitate the MacManus brothers’ twisted neighborhood crime-watch program, but by covering their tracks and holding on to some valuable Russian loot until the law dogs went back to bed, he assured at least the possibility of future success. Thus, for running a damn fine bar in a way that served both the surrounding public and the will of Almighty God, Doc gets in before this list’s last call.