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Top 3 Drinking Moments in Cinema

From the martini-and-glassware-spawning capers of Nick and Nora to Calvin Candie’s anachronistic Polynesian Pearl Divers, the silver screen has moved drinking culture’s wobbly needle with countless celluloid sharpeners, watering holes, and souses, for a good long time. Here we’ll take a look at some of cinema’s biggest drinking moments.

1. The Dude and his White Russians, The Big Lebowski

Jeff Bridges in a towelling robe, cluelessly freewheeling across Los Angeles on a quest for pee-soaked-rug-justice: it’s from this singular Coen-Brothers’ conjuration that a sea of Kahlua and half-and-half has surged forth into bars the world over. Yes, the White Russian is a pre-war classic, but its enduring popularity in the modern cocktail canon is unmistakably indebted to the image of slacker-king, The Dude, slurping up ‘caucasians’ on the big screen, as he is variously bundled in and out of limousines, bowling alleys and Norma Desmond-esque mansions. Where brow-furrowing drinkers of the modern age might look askance at the indulgent White Russian as a one-dimensional serve, The Big Lebowski’s insistent focus on The Dude’s bemused  but eternally personable nature reveals the drink’s true value: when facing a bewildering modernity, it’s only from the uplifting, the simplistic, and the ever-so-sweet things that we can hope to find solace (but then, that’s just, like, my opinion, etc.).

2. The Gold Room in The Shining

We’ve all seen it - late night at the bar, it’s hush-quiet and a thoroughly sozzled guest is making full use of a dutiful bartender’s practised agreeability. Now take that dynamic and transplant it to an isolated hotel from hell where nefarious spirits are silently conspiring to facilitate the guest’s psychotic break: what you’ll have is something like The Gold Room bar from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. The genius of The Shining’s bar scene lies in how expertly Kubrick picks up on the form of psychotherapy that barflies seek from their bartenders, and then magnifies its sinister elements under the context of supernatural horror. All the ticks of a classically conceived hotel bartender (cheshire smile, immaculate grooming) are married with a boozehound’s fantasy (the agreeable response, the generous pour, the line of credit that’s always good) in Lloyd, the spectral server that appears before Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance at the deserted yet clinically lit bar. Lloyd’s existence as a manifestation of the hotel’s malign spirit, bent on destroying Torrance and his family, lends his every move a delightfully wicked aura. When he pours up a healthy measure of Jack Daniel’s, and Torrance gulps it down while maniacally railing against his family, we see the psychotherapeutic dynamic of bartender and patron as something terrifyingly poisonous: watch out, Jack! That ghostly booze he’s pouring is turning you insane!

We all have that infamous axe-to-door scene ingrained in our cinematic unconscious at this point, but it’s only through that mirror-shine hotel bar with the haunted booze that never stops flowing that we could ever get to ‘Heeere’s Johnny!’

3. Cocktail

It’s the late 1980s. There’s a steely Tom Cruise doing a steely smile at you, gyrating his immortal hips and tossing bottles at a swarthy Australian bloke, all behind a packed out New York bar. Who cares if it takes 30 minutes to get your over-diluted Pink Squirrel? Did you not just read what’s happening? It’s steely Tom Cruise! It’s the 1980s!

Yes, we all know that the functional bartending and service in 1988’s Cocktail wouldn’t pass muster in the shabbiest of 21st century dives, but if we’re judging the film’s impact on drinks culture by a metric of service, I think we’re somewhat intentionally missing the point. This is the film that turned a generation of drinkers onto bartending as a spectacle, where lengthy flairing and needlessly crude cocktail names abound, with the irresistible panache of its leading man essentially elevating the humble role of ‘bartender’ to ‘drinks gigolo’. It’s also a film that doesn’t really need a lengthy plot synopsis: sexy Tom Cruise makes drinks to the sounds of The Beach Boys’ Kokomo and The Hippy Hippy Shake. Riddled with artistic and practical choices that make fanatics of both cinema and cocktails alike grimace with nerdy rage, the legacy of Cocktail endures, despite (or perhaps because of) its strict adherence to trash: how many times has a bartender been called on to ‘do that thing that Tom Cruise did in that film’? How many times have you walked past a bar neon-lit with one of those blue-pink ‘Cocktails and Dreams’ signs? We can turn up our noses at the practically non-existent cocktail specs, or we can submit to the outrageousness of Tom Cruise shaking and stirring his way into bed with literally everyone - I think we all know which of the two is more fun.

That’s them. That’s all the biggest drinking moments in cinematic history. Just kidding (they’re endless) - here’s some honourable mentions: Practically every scene in Barfly, Rick’s Café in Casablanca, Nic Cage’s ‘shopping trip’ in Leaving Las Vegas, and John C. Reilly’s Boogie Nights margaritas.

Written by Ben Watts