Smoky dive bars, swoon-ey jazz music… there’s a very concrete image when thinking about nostalgic bars in classic film. Some “gin joints” are iconic, conjuring everything we remember about the golden age of cinema. There’s a certain style, which I’m sure you can see in your head…
So, let’s take it away with our discussion of my favorite cinematic bars.
1.) Rick’s Cafe Américain- Casablanca (1942)
Okay, if you haven’t watched Casablanca, why are you here?? Fine… go out and watch it. The film is one of the best to come out of Hollywood, and it’s definitely worth a watch.
As they say, “Everybody comes to Rick’s”. In the movie, the now iconic nightspot functions as a central location, bringing the hodgepodge of unique and interesting characters together. The setting is absolutely gorgeous, conjuring not only a feeling of the movie’s Moroccan setting, but also the bleak nature of the WWII years, while still glittering with cinematic glamour. Even simply looking at pictures of the setting evokes a tinkling riff of “As Time Goes By”.
2.) Mos Eisley Cantina- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Probably the biggest departure on this list is no less iconic. While I was born a bit late to appreciate the joys of Star Wars during its initial run, my first memories of watching the series involve watching it recorded on VHS… kids, ask your parents.
While the location is far different than the more nostalgic other entries on this list, the Mos Eisley Cantina conjures a similar sense of the past. George Lucas made no secret that the action films of the 1930s and 1940s inspired his crafting of his legendary trilogy, and it’s incredibly evident in the almost noir-like atmosphere of the cantina.
3.) Ink and Paint Club- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Being born in the mid-80s, I was a perfect age to love Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when it premiered in 1988. Now, as an adult, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for the film… however, I digress.
Now, there are a few different bars in the period, mystery/comedy. The Ink and Paint Club really stands out as my ultimate speakeasy, brining all the glamour Hollywood of the period is known for, with the slightest hint of a rough edge. The film makes a great use of unconventional (and vintage) cartoons in the sequence helping to contribute to the feel of the moment.
4.) The Overlook Bar- The Shining (1980)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the iconic bar from the classic Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining. The classic scene is such a memorable one that still influences the hundreds of horror films in the years to follow.
Once again, the location captures the nostalgia it’s hoping to evoke. A great deal of the horror comes from the eerie silence of the abandoned hotel. However, it’s less of a haunted house. Rather, it is like a ghost ship. All the memories of its storied past remains, all that’s missing is the people. In the bar sequence, all at once viewers are aware of just how alone the Torrance family are in The Overlook Hotel.
5.) South Seas Club- The Rocketeer (1991)
My fondness for all things nostalgic knows no bounds, and this is likely thanks to a childhood spent watching The Rocketeer. The period Disney superhero film is set in 1930s Hollywood, showcasing all the glamour of the era.
The South Seas Club fills in as the film’s nightclub, functioning as a Coconut Grove or Trocadero. The club’s shiny glamour and polished nostalgia started a young moi daydreaming about time traveling back to the 1930s… and obviously, I’m still fascinated by the period.