Five movies that redefined bar culture

28 March 2023

Clockwork Orange
A stroll through celluloid history shows that bars have often set the scene for some pretty pivotal movie moments: a furtive glance, an unexpected encounter or the prelude to a night to remember. Here are some of the cinematic watering holes that have redefined bar culture over the decades.
Tom Cruise

Cocktail, 1988

Movie: Cocktail, 1988
Bar type: Uptown Tavern – Beach Cocktail Bar

How it redefined culture: Introduced the bartender as star-tender

Flipping a cocktail shaker, with one eye on his latest love interest: Tom Cruise made mixology both an artform and an aspiration in the 1980s. After a stint at a beach bar in the tropics, the wise-cracking Brian Flanagan settles for more modest Cocktails and Dreams back home in Queens. Cinema’s original Buddha of bartending, Flanagan’s flair and charisma are wholly responsible for making this film a cult classic.

Sophia Coppola

Lost in Translation, 2003:

Movie: Lost in Translation, 2003
Bar type: Hotel bar

How it redefined culture: Elevated soul-searching to a cosmopolitan, stylish pastime

Tokyo twinkles gracefully from above in Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”, as her protagonists commiserate from the exquisitely upholstered bar stools of the Park Hyatt hotel. Scarlett Johansson sipping a vodka tonic and Bill Murray gazing into his tumbler of whisky are arguably the most elegant exponents of loneliness and late capitalist ennui in a 21st century Asian megalopolis.

Band of Outsiders, 1964

Band of Outsiders, 1964

Movie: Band of Outsiders, 1964
Bar type: Neighbourhood local

How it redefined culture: Made Teetotal tipples look cool any time of day or night

The Parisian beatniks of Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave classic are in search of a quiet spot to plan a heist when they pitch up at this Parisian brasserie. It’s the sort of all-purpose joint with opening hours to service the café au lait drinkers and those in search of a midnight digestif. Our endearing young protagonists are part of the afternoon crowd: slipping a coin in the jukebox and shuffling across the tiles, clicking their fingers to the pops of brass while precisely zero eyebrows are raised.


Goodfellas, 1990

Movie: Goodfellas, 1990
Bar type: Upmarket Cabaret Lounge

How it redefined culture: Established chic destination bars as rungs on the social ladder

Nowhere was more aspirational than The Copacabana to Italian Americans on the wrong side of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1950s. Inside, deals were done and scores settled among the mobsters of Martin Scorsese’s superlative “Goodfellas”. This is where Henry Hill dazzles his date with champagne and VIP treatment. It’s the start of a dizzying ascent to a life of luxury, funded by ill-gotten wealth, where the best seats in the house are reserved for members of the “family”.

Clockwork Orange

Clockwork Orange, 1971

Movie: Clockwork Orange, 1971
Bar type: Themed

How it redefined culture: Upped the ante in bar design and avant-garde aesthetics

Gone are the days when you could put your feet up on a provocatively designed table and sip your Moloko Plus in peace. Yet it was all part of the sensory experience at the Korova Milk Bar, a minimalist, windowless enclave born of the darkest recesses of Stanley Kubrick’s imagination. In this dystopian, stylised décor, Alex DeLarge and his droogs sip from highballs that appear to contain that most innocent of liquids; its ultra-violent aftereffects demonstrate that there’s nothing pure about a snow-white cocktail drunk in pristine surroundings.

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