of cinema’s best scenes have been set against a backdrop of bars and drinking. Thinking Drinkers Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham round up their favourite moments
Films. They’re like books, but better.
Following weeks of scrupulous research, meticulous logistical planning and rigorous avoidance of proper work, we have gathered together some of the finest bar and drinking scenes ever committed to celluloid. Just for you.
This romantic noir starring Humphrey Bogart (Rick) as a broken-hearted bar owner in Morocco and filmed during the Second World War is an obvious place to begin.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world…” is arguably the most famous liquor-soaked scene in Hollywood history. But, for many, it’s not the film’s best bar scene — that accolade belongs to the rousing rendition of La Marseillaise in Rick’s Café Americain.
When German officers goad the bar’s Gallic contingent by singing the bloodthirsty German anthem “Die Wacht am Rhein”, the house band is ordered to play “La Marseillaise” by Victor Laszlo, exiled resistance leader and the husband of Rick’s lost love, played by Ingrid Bergman.
The band looks to Rick for approval. He gives a nod, a very cool nod at that, and the whole bar, overwhelmed with patriotic passion, join Laszlo in singing the Germans into submission.
Yet what makes the scene so powerful is that many of the multi-cultural cast were fresh from fleeing Nazi Europe.
2) The Shining
Lloyd is “the best damn barman from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine… and Portland Oregon for that matter”. But Lloyd isn’t real. He’s just a figment of Jack Nicholson’s imagination, an imagination living in a brain that has gone very, very wrong. After being cooped up for too long in a hotel, a hotel that doesn’t even have Wi-Fi or rolling Sky Sports News, he goes completely hat-stand, chasing his wife around the place with an axe.
Come on, we’ve all done it.
3) Mean Streets
Mean Streets is the film that hailed Martin Scorsese a “made man” in the world of cinema. Filmed in muted colour and almost entirely with a handheld camera, it broke new ground in cinematography and boasts three great bar scenes.
An early example of the slow-motion shot, Scorsese follows a young Robert De Niro into a brooding, red-lit bar that critics likened to Dante’s Inferno. With two broads on his arm and a cool hat on his head, and to the tune of “Jumpin Jack Flash” by the Stones, it’s a lesson on how to enter a drinking establishment. Then there’s a classic bar fight (it’s actually a pool hall, but quit busting our balls) where De Niro does over some douchebags in superbly shambolic fashion.
Yet both of the above are narrowly eclipsed by Harvey Keitel’s close-up, 90-second descent into a serious drunk funk, accompanied by the Chips’ doo-wop favourite “Rubber Biscuit”. Most of us remember how he feels. Or not, as the case may be.
4) Withnail & I
You may remember the summer of 2005 when Magners came up with the idea of drinking cider over ice. It, quite literally, made cider cool again and was widely hailed as a marketing masterstroke at the time.
But it wasn’t their idea. It was the boozy brainchild of Withnail (Richard E Grant — a teetotaller) in Withnail and I. From lighter fluid to “the finest wines available to humanity”, this cult eighties classic is steeped in alcohol and even boasts its own drinking game where viewers (mostly students) matching Withnail drink for drink. We suggest replacing the lighter fluid with vinegar as they did in the film.
5) Apocalypse Now
In preparing for his role as a dying alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, Nicholas Cage would film himself when he was drunk, study how he acted and talked, and replicate it while sober.
In preparing for his role as in Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen didn’t bother with all that. He just got drunk. A lot. In a rather dark place personally, Sheen was off his face for the entire filming of the iconic opening scene, in which he drinks a bottle of whisky, goes stir-crazy within the walls of a Saigon hotel room and lacerates his hand by smashing it through a mirror.
That last bit wasn’t in the script but, hey, it was his birthday.
Months later, he had a heart attack and Apocalypse Now went on to win an Oscar.
Sadly, the actual scene is hard to find online but here, Sheen recalls the despair, the darkness and the drink that drove the scene.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Fighting is neither big nor clever unless the fights are in films. Or, better still, fights in bars in films. Yet with cinema steeped in scenes of booze-soaked fisticuffs, it’s almost impossible to pick the best fights on film.
Chazz Palmenteri opening an almighty can of whuppass on some rather rude Hells Angels in A Bronx Tale stands out — if only for the “Now Yous Can’t Leave” line. And if you like your bar brawls underwater then, of course, look no further than the superb Top Secret .
But film’s most memorable disagreement on licensed premises surely features Francis Begbie from Trainspotting. In Scotland, some pubs must serve their drinks in plastic glasses. People like Begbie are the reason why.
We make no apologies for this. Cocktail is the finest bartender film ever made. Not least because it’s pretty much the only true bartender film ever made. Featuring Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan doing cheesy and cocky in a way that only he can, it inspired many to pick up a Boston Shaker – even though purists point out that Flanagan is perhaps the world’s worst bartender.
Even now, over two decades later, anyone who so much as drops a bottle of booze is hailed as a wannabe Flanagan. While the film is brimming with killer/cheesy quotes, mostly from Dough Coughlin – the film’s cocktail mentor played by Bryan Brown, the scene that melts the butter of nearly every bartender is Flanagan’s impromptu recital of The Last Barman poet.
So bad, it’s good.
8) It’s A Wonderful Life
A Christmas classic. Teeming with tear-jerking moments, one or two of which never fail to bring a snot bubble to our blubbering faces, Franz Capra’s black and white tale of divine intervention tells the story of Clarence, an angel, showing a suicidal James Stewart (George Bailey) what the world would look like without him.
And it’s not a very nice place. Martini’s Tavern, once the bedrock of Bedford Falls society yet now a sleazy dive of ill-repute where James Stewart and the indecisive angel incur the wrath of Nick, the curmudgeonly bar owner. “Look, we serve hard drinks for men who want to get drunk fast and we don’t need any characters around giving the joint atmosphere. Is that clear? Or do I need to slip you my left for a convincer?”
9) Good Will Hunting
Many know Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a man who beats off enemies in the shower with a rolled-up newspaper.
But he first emerged on the film scene as the writer and star of Good Will Hunting. Directed by Gus Van Sant and starring co-writer Ben Affleck, it tells a tale of a Boston ne’erdowell who belies his unfortunate background by being a serious smartypants who can do algebra ‘n’ that.
Damon’s beanbag-size brain first reveals itself when he puts a Harvard student upstart firmly in his place via the medium of long words and clever-clog sentences.
10) Star Wars
It’s all kicking off at the Mos Eisley Cantina — the weirdest bar in cinema. Situated on planet Tatooine within the pirate city of Mos Eisley, it’s not somewhere to take a first date. The clientele is made up of angry-looking aliens, jobbing freight pilots and the dodgy looking dregs of intergalactic society, there’s an unnerving tolerance of extreme violence, the service is slack and the house band – Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes — sound like a fire in a pet shop. And they don’t serve droids. Heaven knows what the gents look like.
Find out more about the Thinking Drinkers at thinkingdrinkers.com
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