I watching an old episode of Gunsmoke with the sound turned off and I realized that bartenders are often not portrayed very well on film and television. In this particular episode of Gunsmoke the bartender was corrupt and dastardly – willing to sell information or favor to the highest bidder. In may of the old westerns the bartenders are that way. They are the guys who work for bad guys and will shoot a hero in the back with a shotgun as soon as he turns his back. The bartenders usually get mowed down in a hail of bullets before they can pull the trigger.
Bartenders in film noir are often portrayed as cynical, heartless, corrupt, or lazy. They sell information about their clients, or are surly and withhold important information from the good guys. Then, there are the womanizer bartenders, and the alcoholic creeps who get high on their own supply and facilitate affairs and sex trade. Bartenders in the outback or sleepy beach towns know all of the locals and are hostile to outsiders.
Famous Bartenders in Film
- Eddy the Bartender (Frank Stallone in Barfly)
- Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise in Cocktail)
- Chuckles the Bartender (William Conrad in Dial 1119)
- Dawdling bartender (Richard Halliday in Lonesome Dove)
- Lloyd the Bartender (Joe Turkel in The Shining)
Frank Stallone played a bartender in the movie, Barfly who was a perfect example. He was a womanizer hothead, who was the nemesis of the Mickey Rourke protagonist. Rourke, playing Henry Chinaski (the fictional Charles Bukowski), constantly goads the Stallone character, and in the end kicks his ass in a fight out behind the bar. The lowlife bartender gets his comeuppance again. There appears to be some serious animus toward bartenders in fiction.
Don’t forget Lloyd the bartender, one of the most memorable bartenders in cinema history. Lloyd is an actual ghost in the movie, but reminds us of a lurking, sinister service employee with a heart of ice. Someone who observes everything and subtly encourages bad behavior. Someone who probably resents his customers so much he wishes them dead.
In film, bartenders are often the guys who will steal your wife and then plot to kill you for the insurance money. Bartenders are the racists who refuse service to ethnic characters of various races. Bartenders are the guys that will drop a dime on you for $50, or are dealing drugs and stealing from the till. Many people who watch films have had bad experiences with lazy, rude, and insolent bartenders, so it is not surprising they love seeing bartenders get their asses kicked or even killed in movies.