Top Movies Set in a Bar

Top Movies Set in a Bar

by Mufsin Mahbub
03.23.2011

Most of us spend a lot of our time at the bar, yet it’s surprising how few movies feature watering holes as a central part of the story. There are classic bar scenes (Star Wars' Cantina and High Noon’s Saloon come to mind), but few movies feature a bar like a main character itself. However, bars are a central place for celebrating. Fortunately, there are noteworthy movies that actually capture the environment of our favorite bars. Here’s our list of favorite movies set in a bar. They aren’t necessarily realistic depictions, but, like a great cocktail, appealing nonetheless.

Casablanca (1942)
This one is perhaps the perfect bar-themed movie. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman shine in this classic romance drama. It's World War II and Rick Blaine (Bogart), an exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular bar in Casablanca. It's filled with thieves, spies, Nazis, partisans, refugees, and even piano players. The Nazis and their puppet Captain Renault (Claude Rains) are after underground leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), who is supposed to be somewhere in Casablanca. With him is Ilsa (Bergman), Rick's one time love and ultimate heartbreaker. "Of all the bars in all the world she walks into mine." The rest is cinematic magic.

Cocktail (1988)
This movie showed audiences the style of some great bartending from the ‘80s. It’s always great to see a young Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan, a hotshot bartender who is shown the ropes by his boss Dough Coughlin (Bryan Brown). They become partners until Flanagan’s mentor has an affair with his girl. The result: two rivals throwing bottles in the air and shaking girl drinks. Imagine gunslingers ordering a cocktail from these guys. Afterwards, we see Flanagan showing off his bartending skills at the exotic beaches of Jamaica while impressing new flame Jordan Mooney (Elisabeth Shue).

Swingers (1996)
While this film didn’t take place in a specific bar, it does give audiences a grand tour of all the top watering holes Los Angeles and Las Vegas has to offer. These kinds of bars have a lively atmosphere with its crazy swing and jazz music. This movie launched the careers of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, all while making tiki lounges stylish again..

54 (1998)
Studio 54 was the most famous nightclub in New York City during the late ‘70s. It was the classic disco hot spot and the It-place for the rich and famous. Mike Myers steals the show as gay club owner Steve Rubell, while Ryan Phillipe, Salma Hayek, and Neve Campbell play regular customers that made the nightclub home. This film flawlessly captures the disco era and the energy of a ‘70s nightclub.

Lost in Translation (2003)
This gem of a movie mostly takes place in a hotel bar in Tokyo. Cynical, drowsy, and bored actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) meets mistreated newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). The two create an unlikely friendship as they try to rediscover themselves in a foreign country. They end up at a Japanese nightclub, which is a great counterpoint to its rigorous bar. While they don't become romantically attached, they do find something that awakens each other.

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