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Ten Best Television Bartenders

The ten best television bartenders include Ted Danson and Woody Harrelson in Cheers, Glenn Strange as Sam in Gunsmoke, Bob Hastings as Tommy Kelsey in All in the Family, Ian McShane as Al Swearengen in Deadwood, Frank Santorelli as Georgie in The Sopranos, Ted Lange as Isaac Washington in The Love Boat, Eileen Saki as Rosie in M*A*S*H and Harry Swoger as Harry Sprague in The Big Valley.

Bartender characters date back to the earliest days of television. Here are the ten best television bartenders in the vaunted history of the small screen. So set 'em up, Joe...

Ted Danson as Sam Malone, Cheers (1982-93)

Ted Danson plays ex-ballplayer-turned-bar owner Sam Malone in the popular NBC-TV sitcom Cheers. A former relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and a conceited womanizer, Sam is a fixture at the Beantown bar known as Cheers, tending bar and caustically interacting with his regular customers and employees. A recovering alcoholic – perhaps this isn't the ideal place for someone with that affliction? – Danson's Sam Malone appears in all 275 half-hour episodes of Cheers. The character also made guest appearances on both the spinoff series Frasier and The Simpsons.

Ted Danson as Sam Malone in Cheers - NBC-TV

Glenn Strange as Sam Noonan, Gunsmoke (1955-75)

Craggy-faced Glenn Strange as Sam Noonan tends bar at Kitty Russell's Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas, in CBS-TV's Gunsmoke, the longest-running western in television history. Sam not only tends bar but also plays a mean fiddle, entertaining patrons at Dodge City's most famous watering hole. In addition, Sam acts as Miss Kitty's right-hand man, producing a fearsome shotgun from behind the bar when things get a might hairy at the Long Branch. Strange appeared in 227 episodes of Gunsmoke from 1961 until his death in 1973. A cold beer drawn by steady ol' Sam really meant something on a dry, dusty day in Dodge City.

Glenn Strange as Sam Noonan in Gunsmoke - CBS-TV

Woody Harrelson as Woody Boyd, Cheers (1982-93)

Woody Harrelson plays Woody Boyd, the second most prolific bartender in NBC's Cheers. His real name is Huckleberry Tiberius Boyd, a rather naive and unsophisticated Hoosier who first came on the scene in 1985, filling the open assistant bartender position left by the deceased Ernie "Coach" Pantusso (Nicholas Colasanto). Harrelson appeared in 201 episodes of Cheers from 1985 to 1993 and also guest starred on Frasier and The Simpsons.

Bob Hastings as Tommy Kelsey, All in the Family (1968-79)

Bob Hastings appears as Tommy Kelsey, the owner and chief bartender at Kelsey's in the classic CBS-TV sitcom All in the Family. Kelsey's is a local Queens, New York, watering hole favored by working stiff Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), with Tommy Kelsey occasionally serving as Archie's sounding board. Kelsey does own a rather snarky personality at times as demonstrated in the episode "Oh Say Can You See" (1/20/73), where Archie is seated at his bar with a young "working girl" named Tina (Arlene Golonka). "Peanuts, popcorn, vitamin E?" Kelsey queries of Archie. Hastings appeared as Kelsey in 12 episodes of All in the Family from 1971 to 1976. His Kelsey's bar later became Archie Bunker's Place when Archie bought him out.

Ian McShane as Al Swearengen, Deadwood (2004-06)

Ian McShane's Al Swearengen is one of many bartenders populating HBO's gritty western series Deadwood. Set in 19th century South Dakota, Deadwood features the life and times of the Old West town which exhibited its fair share of crime, corruption and sudden violence. The foul-mouthed Al – who drops the f-bomb with less-than-charming frequency –  tends bar at The Gem, a Deadwood watering hole which he also owns. McShane appeared in 36 episodes of Deadwood from 2004 to 2006.

L-r: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, W. Earl Brown and Sean Bridgers in Deadwood - HBO

Frank Santorelli as Georgie Santorelli, The Sopranos (1999-2007)

Frank Santorelli appears as George "Georgie" Santorelli, the slow-witted bartender at the Bada Bing in The Sopranos, HBO's offbeat series centering on a New Jersey crime family. Talk about occupational hazards, as poor Georgie is repeatedly abused by sadistic mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), undergoing multiple beatings with fists, a telephone, a singing novelty fish, a cash register drawer, an ice bucket, a chain and a pool cue. Santorelli appeared in 13 episodes of The Sopranos from 1999 to 2007. And given the abuse heaped on the hapless bartender a.k.a. punching bag, it's a wonder he lasted that long.

Frank Santorelli as Georgie in The Sopranos - HBO

Ted Lange as Isaac Washington, The Love Boat (1977-87)

Ted Lange's cheery Isaac Washington tends bar on the cruise ship the Pacific Princess in ABC-TV's The Love Boat. Billed as "Isaac, Your Bartender," the affable, highly efficient barkeep whips up exotic drinks for a series of guest stars who troop aboard the luxury liner for fun and romance on the high seas. Lange appeared in 250 episodes of The Love Boat from 1977 to 1987. Would you like a little umbrella with your drink?

Ted Lange as Isaac Washington in The Love Boat  - ABC-TV

Nicholas Colasanto as Ernie "Coach" Pantusso, Cheers (1982-93)

Nicholas Colasanto's Ernie "Coach" Pantusso is the third most prolific bartender on the smash hit sitcom Cheers. Coach had played professional baseball with the hapless St. Louis Browns, later serving as a third base coach for the Boston Red Sox when Sam Malone (Ted Danson) played for the team. Coach came aboard as a bartender at Cheers after Sam bought the place. As a bartender, Coach isn't the greatest when it comes to customer service, but patrons and TV viewers seemed to like his genial demeanor. Colasanto, who died of a heart ailment at age 61 on February 12, 1985, is credited for 70 episodes of Cheers from 1982 to 1985.

Nicholas Colasanto as Coach in Cheers - NBC-TV

Eileen Saki as Rosie, M*A*S*H (1972-83)

Eileen Saki plays Rosie, the South Korean proprietor and head bartender of Rosie's Bar in CBS-TV's classic sitcom M*A*S*H. Rosie is quite the brash entrepreneur, setting up her fleabag joint just down the road from the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, where she serves the thirsty suckers watered-down drinks and cheap beer at inflated prices. Saki appeared as the street-smart Rosie in seven episodes of M*A*S*H from 1979 to 1981. Her bar garnered the most attention in the episode "A Night at Rosie's" (2/26/79), where Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) and the rest of the M*A*S*H gang congregate in an act of boozing defiance.

Eileen Saki as Rosie in M*A*S*H - CBS-TV

Harry Swoger as Harry Sprague, The Big Valley (1965-69)

Big, beefy Harry Swoger plays Harry Sprague, the bartender in ABC-TV's classic western The Big Valley. Ol' Harry doesn't have too many lines, but he does command a certain presence in Stockton, California's principal watering hole, one which the Barkley brothers Nick (Peter Breck), Jarrod (Richard Long) and Heath (Lee Majors) occasionally frequent. In the episode "In Silent Battle" (9/23/68), Harry serves his finest whiskey to war hero Major Jonathan Eliot (Adam West) – just before the psychotic officer murders a saloon girl.

More Best TV Bartender Favorites

  • Hank Azaria as Moe Szyslak, The Simpsons (1989-)
  • Ed Gardner as Archie, Duffy's Tavern (1954)
  • Powers Boothe as Cy Tolliver, Deadwood (2004-06)
  • Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, Archie Bunker's Place (1979-83)
  • Leon Rippy as Tom Nuttall, Deadwood (2004-06)
  • Jackie Gleason as Joe the Bartender, The Jackie Gleason Show (1952-59)
  • Sean Bridgers as Johnny Burns, Deadwood (2004-06)
  • W. Earl Brown as Dan Dority, Deadwood (2004-06)
  • Armin Shimerman as Quark, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99)
  • Brick Sullivan as Red/Bartender, Gunsmoke (1955-75)
  • Bert Rumsey as Sam Noonan, Gunsmoke (1955-75)

Top Image

  • Ted Danson and Shelley Long of Cheers - NBC-TV

Copyright © 2011 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (1)

What a great assortment of memorable bartenders. You have compiled a worthy list. Factoidz is not sending me emails of my favorite authors when they publish, so I am tardy in commenting on my usual material.

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