Bars in movies and television serve the same purposes that they do in reality. They are meeting places, community pillars, places for characters to act without inhibition, hotbeds of culture, safe refuges and, above all, a place to have a drink and take the edge off.
The best bars on screen, as in reality, have a real personality; they themselves are characters with something to say. They have a true sense of place, brought to life with attention to detail and a warmth that suggests a heartbeat. Just like in real life, the best bars on screen are places that entice us to grab a seat at the bar, order a drink, and see where the night takes us.
These are 15 Movie and TV Bars We Wish We Could Visit
15. The Bamboo Lounge – Goodfellas
The Bamboo Lounge is a throwback to a bygone era, when Polynesian décor and complicated drink recipes were all the rage. This fictional tiki hangout in Brooklyn would be a fantastic place to get away from reality; in the best tiki bars, crossing the threshold means entering an exotic watering hole many miles away where rum drinks with many ingredients are served in ceramic tiki mugs and island pop art hangs on the walls. The Bamboo Lounge does that, while also presenting an exciting element of disrepute as a known hangout for wiseguy types.
The Bamboo lounge scenes in Goodfellas were actually filmed at the Hawaii Kai, one of the most famous New York bars to come out of the brief tiki boom of the 1960’s. The interior was decorated by a Broadway set designer, complete with waterfalls and lush flora. We would recommend visiting, but Hawaii Kai closed its doors in 1989.
14. Cocktails and Dreams – Cocktail
Famous bartenders are a reliable way for bars to quickly develop a following; call it a pedigree. Few fictional bars have more pedigree than Cocktails and Dreams, the 80s era Cocktail hangout defined by its lively atmosphere and flair behind the bar.
Cocktails and Dreams was the brain child of Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise), the New York bartender famous for turning serving drinks into a stunt spectacular in 1988s Cocktail. No, neon signs, neon drinks, and flair bartending are not on trend in 2016. But we’d be lying if we didn’t feel the pull of nostalgia beckoning us toward this bar, where a complete lack of cynicism is a hallmark. If you consider yourself too cool to be impressed by flying bottles and beverages that come in unnatural colors, Cocktails and Dreams might not be for you. Leave your pretension at the door, though, and good times will follow.
One final note: sometimes the bartender might stop making your drink to recite poetry for minutes on end, which is problematic no matter who you are.
13. St. Elmo’s – St. Elmo’s Fire
The number one reason to visit St. Elmo’s would be to access the most quintessential of 1980s worlds. It’s the universe of Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald. Demi Moore, et al; the world of The Brat Pack. Films like St. Elmo’s Fire typify a specific time and place in our collective cultural memory. For audiences of a certain age, these films are time capsules that hold up, even if for sheer nostalgic value, despite not being grand successes critically.
St. Elmo’s represents the best and worst about the characters that patronize it – and about many of us at their age. They, like many of us, were unbearably self-involved, optimistic, unknowingly privileged, ambitious, and not yet burdened by life’s regrets and failures. Rob Lowe won a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor in St. Elmo’s Fire, a film largely considered a soapy, navel-gazing mess when it was released. But we’d most like to visit St. Elmo’s because it will remind us of our own days as navel-gazing messes; which, while substantially embarrassing, were nothing if not fun.
12. Paddy’s Pub – It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
If we’re being honest, we don’t want to visit Paddy’s for Paddy’s sake. The cleanliness of the establish is clearly lacking, there are no food offerings, almost no customers (ever), and we have good reason to doubt even the freshness of the beer behind the bar. But is there a gang you’d rather hang with more than the characters of Always Sunny in Philadelphia? We want to visit Paddy’s just to be a part of the weekly schemes that Dennis, Charlie, Mac, Dee, and Frank hatch. Sure, it might end with serious injury and/or arrest, but what scheme worth hatching doesn’t pose those risks?
The layout of Paddy’s features some notable wrinkles that we would like to explore. There’s Charlie’s “Bad Room” where he goes to be alone and break bottles; there’s the multipurpose basement that has seen use as a training gym, a shooting gallery, and a gambling parlor. There is also a Y2K bunker someone down there, should the need arise. Just for the record, we won’t be doing any Charlie work.
11. The Winchester – Shaun of The Dead
Few things in life match the comfort, warmth, and intimacy provided by a classic English pub. That goes doubly when said pub is your refuge from an onslaught of undead corpses trying desperately to eat your face. The Winchester was all of this and more to its patrons in Shaun of the Dead. It was a place to laugh and pass the time, a place to cry about ex-girlfriends, a place to see a friendly face, and a place to hide and survive during the zombie apocalypse.
Pubs play a large role in the films of Edgar Wright and co.; we easily could have done a list ranking the pubs of the golden mile in The World’s End. But The Winchester, with all its relatable charms and resources as a hideout, is the bar from these films that we would most like to visit, bar the doors, pour some pints, and tune up the jukebox.
10. Kadie’s Club Pecos – Sin City
Okay, we might not be proud to visit Kadie’s, but our goal here is to give you a variety of options, not to judge. If you are looking for gentleman’s clubs in the world of Sin City, Kadie’s is your spot. The bar is in fact filled with an almost entirely criminal element, so patronize with extreme caution. The only reason it is remotely safe to visit is Marv (Mickey Rourke), one of the most imposing bouncers in all of film and entirely dedicated to ensuring the safety of the dancers and keeping the peace in the bar.
Kadie’s Club Pecos is also the rare gentleman’s club that functions as a bar as well if that is your interest. Yes, the dancers are there. But if you are more interested in a strong drink and some time to yourself, this bar works as well.
9. Jack Rabbit Slim’s – Pulp Fiction
There are a number of reasons to visit Jack Rabbit Slim’s, outside of just their famous five dollar milkshakes. The décor is garish, in the best possible way; it’s nostalgia come to life, with race car booths, and servers dressed in costume as famous movie stars and singers from Hollywood’s golden age. This bar and grill is not one of those tragically hip hangouts with bartenders in suspenders and mustache wax; it’s a refreshingly earnest concept, as fully fleshed out as it is off the wall. It’s a discount Disney World. As Vincent Vega (John Travolta) puts it, it’s a “wax museum with a pulse”.
Is that so bad? No, Jack Rabbit’s is not the chic place to bring your out of town friends looking for an exclusive experience. But it’s family friendly, affordable (besides those milkshakes), and entertainment is included. The world has enough bars that prioritize cool; we need more like Jack Rabbit Slims, who – without irony – prioritize kitsch.
8. Korova Milk Bar – A Clockwork Orange
Korova Milk Bar is a cold, sterile mashup of mod culture and futuristic chic. There are, frankly, a ton of reasons not to visit. But the reasons for visiting are equally numerous. Just as much as we like bars that feel like home even on a first visit, we are looking for singular concepts not found anywhere else in the world of fiction. Korova checks every box for curious travelers chasing the rush of new experiences.
Where else could we drink drug-infused milk cocktails from the breasts of ceramic mannequins, and lounge on furniture that is also modeled after the naked female frame. We will admit: there is something downright oedipal about this bar, and that there is a proliferation of droogs regulars, and that you are drinking milk with drugs in it. Not ideal. But like any experience that is so breathtakingly exotic, an element of danger is often a part of the deal.
7. Rick’s Cafe Americain – Casablanca
Rick’s Café Americain is emblematic of the nostalgic cocktail and spirit culture that is so popular in 2016. In Casablanca it was an upscale escape from the conflict ridden world which surrounded it. No matter who a person was outside of Rick’s – European officials, refugees bound for America, even the occasional petty crook – they were on equal footing once crossing the threshold into this swanky gin joint, which existed very much in a bubble; a shelter from the ugliness of the world in 1941.
It’s also worth noting that you can gamble at Rick’s if you are so inclined, and have the means. It’s a classy spot with quality cocktails, and some fine musical entertainment included, from an iconic film. We’d love to visit.
6. The Prancing Pony – Lord of the Rings
Middle-Earth travelers have no shortages of inns and bars to choose from. Chief among them is the Prancing Pony, which is central enough to the story line of The Lord of the Rings and quaint enough on its own to make it the perfect place for us to visit. The inn is located nearby the Greenway in the town of Bree, making it a busy hub for passers-by. Men, Dwarves, Hobbits and Elves can all be spotted taking a break from the road at The Prancing Pony.
You might even spot important happenings at The Pony, as it was a convenient location for characters like Gandalf and Aragorn to relay messages in the story – Frodo even stayed at The Pony for a time, and met Aragorn while he was there. There are a ton of inns to choose from in Middle Earth, but for amenities, history, and safety (apart from the occasional visit of The Black Riders), we choose The Prancing Pony.
5. The Tavern (Gaston’s) – Beauty and the Beast
There are some things we don’t know about The Tavern; primarily, its full name, who the owner is, and what is on the menu besides hardboiled eggs. What we do know is that The Tavern (we are calling it Gaston’s, as he seems to be the proprietor) is an originator of the faux-rustic style that defines so many trendy bars in 2016.
Real-life bear skin, animal heads, and an actual stone fireplace all contribute to an atmosphere that makes this tavern the ultimate respite from a harsh French winter. As alluded to earlier, however, the rustic ethos of Gaston’s includes a no-frills menu that as far as we know exclusively features beer, wine, and eggs. A gastropub, Gaston’s is not. If you can look past the sparse food offerings though, this bar is an ideal to place to warm yourself and redden your cheeks with a flagon of ale. That is, if you don’t mind the obnoxious owner, who is as rude and conceited as he is handsome.
4. The Double Deuce – Roadhouse
Do you go to bars primarily to see the bouncers? If yes, the Double Deuce is for you. This small town road house (if you will) is an oasis for all walks of life, and it became markedly safer after the arrival of celebrity bouncer James Dalton (Patrick Swayze).
This club has an admittedly checkered past – we wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to visit The Deuce when chicken wire protected live music acts from flying glass bottles, and when giant fights were a nightly occurrence. This recommendation is strictly in reference to the post-Dalton Double Deuce. Road House featured one of the most preposterous plot points in movie histories (that there are bar bouncers of international renown who act as de facto sheriffs when necessary). Still, if we suspend our disbelief of that idea, we would love to visit The Double Deuce for the live music, the dancing, and the cheap drinks – as long as Dalton is running the door.
3. The Leaky Cauldron – Harry Potter
We love The Leaky Cauldron for the history (nearly 500 years of it!), the location (a gateway between the muggle world and Diagon Alley), and the ambiance (warm and homey, with lodging to boot). It may not have the cache of The Three Broomsticks, the popular inn and pub in Hogsmeade, and it doesn’t provide the privacy of the Hogs Head Inn. Still, The Leaky Cauldron stands alone as a well-worn dive bar that – through good times and bad – has developed character that all the bells and whistles in the world can’t replace.
At times, the Cauldron was a hub for wizards visiting Diagon Alley. At other, leaner times, it sat largely empty, waiting for prosperity to arrive once more. No matter the year, The Cauldron is the most attractive pub in the Wizarding World as far as we are concerned. Because, unlike other watering holes that are more trend-dependent, The Leaky Cauldron is the genuine article – for better or worse.
2. Mos Eisley Cantina – Star Wars
Star Wars‘ Mos Eisley Cantina is a fitting pit stop for weary travelers and adventure-seekers alike. There’s no other drinking spot on this list with such a wide variety of patrons pulling up seats to the same bar, and the sandstone structure itself provides ample shelter and refuge from the harsh Tatooine landscape.
We acknowledge that this melting pot of a dive bar can seem unappealing, given the shocking levels of violence that take place from time to time, and the clientele’s (and staffs) seeming comfort when they occur. As bars in film go, it doesn’t get more iconic than the Mos Eisley Cantina – known also as Chalmun’s Cantina, after its wookiee proprietor.
Stopping in during off-hours would be ideal, to avoid dying, but we wouldn’t want to risk missing the house band Figrin D’an and The Modal Nodes.
Honorable Mentions: The Roxbury and Cheers
Both of these bars are undoubtedly iconic and worthy of our patronage. Unfortunately, in the case of The Roxbury, it was a notable L.A. Club in real life, which served as the inspiration for the characters and plot of The Night of the Roxbury. We would love to throw on some obnoxious suits and chase women in euro-dance clubs as much as anyone, but we had the chance in real life, which disqualifies The Roxbury here.
In the case of Cheers, we have yet another unremarkable bar that is only worth visiting because of its regulars and staff; not unlike Paddy’s, or our top pick. Cheers spawned a tourist-y replica bar in Boston, and probably a few more globally, so you’ll have the chance to visit when you want to.
1. Moe’s – The Simpsons
Here it is: the apotheosis of movie and TV Bars. Moe’s has graced our airwaves for 27 years, substantially longer than the life span of many successful real life drinking establishments. Moe’s isn’t worth visiting for what it offers on paper. It’s got the same watery beers and uninspired liquor as many other dive bars isn’t inherently enticing. It’s the cast of characters at Moe’s, as well as the bar’s standing in pop culture, that makes us want to visit.
There are few groups we’d rather have a crappy lager with than Homer, Lenny, Carl, Barney, and even the cheapskate proprietor himself, Moe. Over the years, Moe’s has occasionally followed some wrong-headed ideas based on fleeting trends: “wisky a moe-moe,” “Tokyo Roe’s Sushi Bar,” “Uncle Moe’s Family feed-bag,” and so on. All these concepts paled in comparison to the genuine article. All we need is a bar stool, a draft beer, and the cast of characters who have made Moe’s such a fixture for almost three decades.
Drink of choice: Flaming Moe, duh.
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