Iconic Fictional Bartenders We Wish Could Serve Us

Life is hard. Sure, we could elaborate about the toils and troubles of human existence. But like Occam's razor, the simplest available description is sometimes the best. Besides, we're not interested in any eloquence regarding the human condition. Rather, we're here to discuss one of life's simple pleasures, one many of us turn to when we're eager to let off a little steam: drinking alcohol.

Indoor dining restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic were a boon for George Thorogood-types who prefer to drink alone, but for the rest of us, nothing beats the shared camaraderie found from drinking at a bar. Of course, a memorable experience often depends on who's slinging your liquid refreshments — which is precisely why we weren't drinking entirely alone when bars were closed during 2020 and 2021. Because when a real-life alternative wasn't available, we often found ourselves commiserating with some of our favorite fictional bartenders instead.

In fact, even with bars and taverns back at full capacity, we occasionally find ourselves wistful for those moments shared with our favorite fictional bartenders — or, at least, lamenting their lack of a real-world counterpart. Since there's no shortage of fictional bartenders we'd love to see behind a real-life bar, we decided to highlight some of our favorites. So whether we're thirsting for a beer, a bourbon, or a white wine spritzer, here's our list of iconic fictional bartenders we wish could serve us.

Sam Malone (Cheers)

To be honest, we nearly pulled a last-minute mulligan after Kirstie Alley's passing and inserted the late actress' "Cheers" character Rebecca Howe into this spot. But while we'd love to honor a gone-too-soon performer, we simply couldn't bring ourselves to remove her co-star, given he may be pop culture's consummate fictional bartender: Sam Malone (Ted Danson).

The idea that Sam Malone is an iconic character needs no explanation. After all, how many fictional characters earn a (fake) retrospective about their (fake) lives a quarter-century after leaving television (via Sports Illustrated)? The bigger question for our purposes, then, would be whether Sam knew what he was doing behind the bar. Well, given the barrage of regulars frequenting the joint throughout its 11-season run, he clearly had the ability to keep drinks cold — and glasses full — whenever someone plopped on a barstool. Beyond that, his intangibles while tending bar (buoyed by the former pro baseball player's unmatchable charm) make him someone we'd want to serve us. Bartenders don't actually make good therapists, of course, but a sympathetic ear and friendly advice can go a long way when paired with a boozy beverage.

Surprisingly, Ted Danson struggled to find his groove in his famous role, according to Entertainment Weekly. This made the actor initially uncomfortable when stepping back into his iconic bartending shoes during the Season 2 finale of "The Good Place" — not that you'd have any idea as a customer.

The Paddy's Pub Gang (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

If it weren't for the bottomless bank account of Frank Reynolds (Danny Devito), Paddy's Pub would have folded years ago. Frankly, even with a sound financier, it's immensely surprising the south Philadelphia watering hole remained in business as of 2014, according to Den of Geek – let alone a near-decade later. After all, one of the pub's main bartenders, Dee Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson), appears incapable of serving anything but bottled beer. But, then again, we wouldn't want to be served by the Paddy's Pub gang because of their cocktail crafting ability.

No, we'd turn to Paddy's Pub during those times we'd just want to get plastered. After all, we know we'd get plenty of Pennsylvania-based Yuengling to consume, no matter the bartender. And we might even get some straightforward shots to enjoy, while taking advantage of the pub's top-notch people-watching opportunities — which, frankly, is an undeniably appealing aspect of bar drinking. 

Plus, depending on the day, you might even get some grub to eat. Perhaps a hoagie from the nearby Wawa if Gail the Snail (Mary Lynn Rajskub) isn't working. Or maybe a steak intended for the restaurant (Carmine's: A Place for Steaks) Paddy's pretended to be in the Season 10 episode "Charlie Work" — provided you get there before the chicken feather contamination part of the plan, of course.

Nick Miller (New Girl)

Picking a favorite character from the "New Girl" ensemble is a tall order — so instead, we'll just order a tall glass of booze from the one and only Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). After all, becoming a bartender was sort of his destiny, providing the aspiring Ernest Hemingway a chance to moonwalk away from his potentially unfulfilling legal career. Now, while there are countless reasons to love the character (via Yahoo), for our purposes, we're mainly focused on the man's innate ability to keep barflies eternally satisfied (and inebriated) with whatever liquid they desired.

Clearly, unlike his eventual fellow bartender Cece (Hannah Simone), Nick wouldn't need Schmidt (Max Greenfield) to walk him through making an old fashioned cocktail if we ordered one. And knowing his bar would be consistently stocked with the fictional beer brand Heinsler — the iconically generic centerpiece beverage seen during countless games of True American — enhances our desire to stop in.

Perhaps we simply relate to Nick more than most other television characters, as well, given the man spends most of the series chasing a writing career. Frankly, there's nothing we'd love nothing more than a chance to swap sob stories about the maddeningly difficult challenges found in establishing a professional writing footprint with Nick. In other words, no matter what he'd pour and serve us? We're confident we'd throw it back in a heartbeat.

Buddy Cole (Kids in the Hall)

Of all the iconic fictional bartenders we wish could serve us, few seemed to actually bartend less than the incomparable Buddy Cole (Scott Thompson). Frankly, we can't recall many instances when the "alpha queen" (as Thompson described his legendary character to Calgary Herald in 2019) was actually serving anyone during the numerous Buddy-starring sketches seen on "Kids in the Hall." But the chance to hear one of his many monologues — and, frankly, the chance to patronize an LGBTQ-owned establishment — means we'd never pass up the chance to visit Buddy's.

What would we actually have to drink at Buddy's bar? We're not sure. We'd certainly be perfectly content sipping one of the countless martinis he was seen drinking on-screen. Or perhaps we could get girl drink drunk while there and enjoy a classic chocolate choo-choo with all the bells and whistles. Frankly, the drinks wouldn't matter as much as the ambiance — and the gut-busting laughs sure to ensue while there.

Of course, Buddy Cole's run on "Kids in the Hall" would be enough to merit his inclusion on any list of iconic fictional bartenders. But the character's made sporadic appearances outside of the landmark sketch comedy show through the years as well, including as a recurring correspondent on "The Colbert Report" (via Vulture). Clearly, then, we'd imagine we're not alone in our wish to visit Buddy's bar outside of our television screen.

Lloyd (The Shining)

Is it reasonable to wish we could be served by Lloyd (Joe Turkel), the phantasmal bartender who spawns into existence solely to prod Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) into murdering his family in "The Shining?" Honestly, we're not sure (and his inclusion may say more about us than we'd like to admit). But seeing as Jack describes Lloyd as being the "best goddamn bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine ... or Portland, Oregon, for that matter," well, we'd be lying if we didn't want to see that bartender in action.

Frankly, the iconic stature of Lloyd the bartender is impossible to discount. After all, while Stephen King notoriously disliked Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his horror novel, that opinion wasn't shared by most of the world. And, as evidenced by The New York Times headline following Turkel's death at age 94 in 2022, the role of Lloyd towered above the rest of the actor's career.

Now, "The Shining" film's status as an all-time classic wouldn't be enough to push Lloyd onto our list. But his evidently attentive and caring demeanor as a bartender (he happily gives Jack a drink on the house, remember) makes us eager for a visit. Of course, since the Overlook Hotel is like the Hotel California — where you can never truly leave – we'd want our cocktail to go.

Isaac Washington (The Love Boat)

We have to admit we're less familiar with Isaac Washington (Ted Lange) than most other iconic fictional bartenders we've included — at least when it comes to the character's original series, "The Love Boat." Still, we know Isaac belongs, if for no other reason than Lange's tongue-in-cheek appearance in the Season 5 "Boy Meets World" episode "Fraternity Row" — where he repeatedly mimicked Isaac's finger gun salute, and his fictional bartending past. Add in the fact that the actor famous for portraying Isaac is a bonafide bartending talent in real life, and it's clear why we'd wish to be served by him.

Perhaps taking the entire notion of method acting a step further than necessary, Lange obtained his bartending license during his time on "The Love Boat," according to The Tampa Bay Times. The actor even utilized his alcoholic artisanship to concoct a specialty cocktail for Princess Cruises in 2015 called "The Isaac" (via Islands).

We're not sure whether we'd go for the rum-centric drink if we found ourselves across from Isaac Washington at a bar. But considering the man's skillset was untouchable in that area — on screen and in real life – we'd be fine with any beverage from the iconic fictional bartender.

Britta Perry (Community)

Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs) may have been the worst on "Community" — but she was also the best. So while we can sort of see why some fans were less than thrilled with the character's evolution (or lack thereof) from Season 1 through Season 6 (via Screen Rant), at the same time we don't agree with any denigrating assessments of her role as a bartender. In fact, we're fairly confident she'd be a phenomenal bartender — hence her inclusion among iconic fictional ones we wish could serve us.

Now, as several commenters on Reddit pointed out, the idea of Britta's character (as originally presented) ending up as a bartender may not make sense on the surface. But at the same time ... we think it was actually sort of perfect for the high school dropout and lifelong rebel. Plus, there's nothing wrong with a career in bartending. After all, it's not like you can't make a legitimate living — or be happy — tending bar professionally.

We won't try to discount the notion that early Britta seemed head-and-shoulders above later Britta in terms of apparent intelligence — but looks can be deceiving. And if the one-time New York resident was a bit less academically intelligent than she appeared at first glance, she clearly made up the deficit with street smarts. Frankly, we'd want to honor Britta's honorable working class job and would leap at the chance to have her serve us whatever she suggested.

Adriana La Cerva (The Sopranos)

Few characters from "The Sopranos" could be described as truly tragic figures. But if one series regular fit that bill, it was Adriana La Cerva (Drea De Matteo). Poor, naïve Adriana never knew the depths of her family's criminal activities — including those by her long-time fiancée, Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) — before it was too late. Frankly, considering how endearing and sweet Adriana was throughout the series, we'd have loved to visit her Crazy Horse club back in the day. You could always count on Adriana to provide a personal warmth while bartending, even if she was worried you were about to order her murder. 

Considering "The Sopranos" characters were either actively involved in organized crime or accepted their mob-adjacent lives without any real concern for the nitty-gritty details, it's hard to accept any of them as victims of circumstance. But it's clear Adriana comes the closest to that category, which helps explain why the character's murder ranks among the show's most devastating deaths (via Entertainment Weekly). So we're raising a glass in her memory, while wishing she could have served us the beverage herself.

Moe Szyslak (The Simpsons)

As a major supporting character on the long (long) running animated sitcom "The Simpsons," Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) has had no shortage of episode plots and character arcs centered around himself as the owner of Moe's Tavern. With a voice inspired by a young Al Pacino — one that sounds great when being pranked on the phone — and an always well-stocked bar, we can't pretend we wouldn't be thrilled to visit Moe's and be served by the man himself.

Now, while we could undoubtedly settle for a classic Duff on tap, we think we'd be more inclined to order the tavern's famed Flaming Moe cocktail — as long as grape-flavored children's cough syrup was in stock, of course (via TheThings). Throw in the unbeatable perk of free pickled eggs, and some scalp-scalding french fries (as seen when the tavern was briefly renamed Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag in the Season 7 episode "Bart Sells His Soul"), and we'd be happy campers.

While some would describe Moe as the series' unsung hero (via Slate) — a label we're not inclined to dispute — everyone would likely call the fictional bartender iconic. So after three decades (and counting) on our television (and theatrical) screens, it's no mystery why we'd want to be served by Moe the bartender.

Carl (How I Met Your Mother)

Carl (Joe Nieves), the bartender at (and possible owner of?) McLaren's Pub from "How I Met Your Mother," was a textbook professional behind the bar. Maybe he occasionally mistook the unfathomable amount of time spent at the bar by the show's five main characters as an indication of genuine mutual affection. But since caring about his bar's regulars may have been the only so-called knock against Carl as a bartender, it's crystal clear why we wish he could serve us at the pub.

In fact, given the oft-unlikeable nature of the sitcom's main character Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), there's an argument to be made that a better show may have existed with Carl as the central figure, according to Screen Rant. We wouldn't necessarily go that far, since the show poking fun at Ted's quirky tendencies was always amusing, after all — but it's clear why spending time with Carl would be worth it.

More than that, McLaren's appeared to have a quality kitchen staff as well, offering a wide variety of delectable bar foods to nosh on while boozing. Its burger was even a contender for the best in New York — despite any objections from Marshall (Jason Segel) to the contrary.

Doug Heffernan (King of Queens)

We recognize Doug Heffernan (Kevin James) from "King of Queens" was likely the shortest tenured bartender to appear on this list. In addition, as evidenced by the man's disastrous (and sweaty) turn behind the bar of some swanky Manhattan club at the end of the Season 7 episode "Pour Judgment," he wasn't the most skilled bartender in existence either. But after finally completing bartending school, Doug was clearly more than capable of taking care of the basics — at least when the stakes were low.

Frankly, we'd love to take a trip to Doug's favorite bar (and brief place of employment) in Cooper's and be served by the IPS driver himself. Maybe he wouldn't have the greatest insight into which boozy beverage would suit us best. But given the character's well-recorded love of food, he'd definitely have a clear idea of what the tavern's food menu offered.

Simply put, "King of Queens" was a blue-collar comedy about blue-collar folks like Doug Heffernan. So when we're craving a simple beer, and some basic hot wings (you know, in our imagination), we often wish we could hightail it over to Cooper's and have Doug crack us open a cold one.

Penny (The Big Bang Theory)

Before you object to this entry — and cry out "Penny was a waitress, not a bartender!" — we'd suggest you return to Season 4 of "The Big Bang Theory." Because while you'd technically be right that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) was a waitress at The Cheesecake Factory first and foremost, she did, in fact, perch herself behind the bar for a string of episodes during the long-running sitcom's fourth season.

Now, while the character's evolution to a bartending position would have made a certain amount of sense on its own, there was actually an intriguing real-life reason for Penny's role change: Cuoco breaking her leg in a horse-riding accident in 2010 (via E! News). Since the show's writers had no desire to incorporate her cast into the show, they devised a way to hide the injury entirely. Hence, Penny was shifted behind the bar for a string of episodes.

Penny may have been a notoriously poor restaurant server, but as a bartender? Well, considering the failed actress' personal expertise with booze, helping others find the alcoholic cure for what ailed them was right in her wheelhouse. She was even able to convince the eminently-straight-edge Sheldon (Jim Parsons) to drown away his sorrows at one point with a shot of liquor. So when we're craving a piece of chain restaurant cheesecake paired with a shot of liquor? We'll be dreaming of visiting our favorite waitress-turned-temporary-bartender.

Tapper (Wreck-It Ralph)

Realistically, we could have chosen Tapper the bartender as a character from "Wreck-It Ralph," or from one of his titular video games. And while the original arcade version of Tapper would have offered you a tall Budweiser to ease your troubles, well ... we're actually including the PG-rated version from the classic Disney animated film because he doesn't serve alcohol — only root beer.

We're not oblivious to any sober or teetotaler readers out there (if you're still here, thanks for reading this far!). Since those individuals likely long for a bartender to lend them a sympathetic ear, too — without the added pressure to imbibe at the same time — we're specifically highlighting the root beer-slinging Tapper among iconic fictional bartenders we wish could serve us for that reason.

Maybe you're upset that visiting a non-alcohol-serving Tapper would deny you the chance to ogle Budweiser's cheerleaders, who made occasional distracting appearances in the original arcade game (via AV Club). But if that's the case, frankly, we'd suggest straightening out your priorities — and we have just the bartender to help you do so.