If Cheers—the bar from the TV show, not the touristy one in Boston—were real, you would love it, right? Where else could you chat it up with a good-natured, albeit promiscuous, former Red Sox player; talk philosophy with a postal worker; listen to a guy named Woody spin stories of small-town Indiana; or just sit, quietly drinking your sorrows away, next to a big guy named Norm? With that in mind, the Serious Eats staff got to thinking about the restaurants and bars from our favorite movies, TV shows, and even video games that we wish we could pop into, for real, on a regular basis. So, without further ado, here are nine places where we wish everybody knew our names.
Ten Forward From Star Trek: The Next Generation
Maybe there's something off about a food writer and avid cook lusting after an evening at a fictional lounge where the food and drink are literally as formulaic as it gets—as the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast reminds us time and again, replicator fare is subpar and predictable (if remarkably diet-friendly). And that's not even touching on the "synthehol," which, it's safe to say, does nothing to take the edge off.
Then again...IT'S OUTER SPACE.
Besides, Ten Forward is where all the action goes down—it's where Worf does a hilariously Worfish job of midwifing Keiko's baby, and where Ro and La Forge make a white-knuckled but triumphant return to the land of the living. It's where Lwaxana parades down the aisle in the buff, Lal gets a taste of human nature, and Guinan—oh, Guinan!—issues profound words of wisdom as the Enterprise hurtles across the vast tapestry of space and time. As for me? I just want to settle in for a tub of calorie-free chocolate mousse and a game of 3-D chess while I wait for the love of my life Captain Picard to make one of his rare but glorious appearances among the common folk. Hell, I'll even take the synthehol, as long as Guinan slips me a shot of the good stuff (blood wine, anyone?) from her stash behind the bar.
Just keep Will Riker out of my personal space. He's for sure the creepiest man in the galaxy. —Niki Achitoff-Gray
Moe's Tavern From The Simpsons
Dive bars, whether old and grimy or, increasingly, faux old and grimy, are a dime a dozen, but Moe's is a particular kind of dive. It's not the kind of bar where stories are made—stories are made in every bar—it's the kind of bar where it seems that the stories have always existed. It's not the kind of bar where everybody knows your name, but it's the kind where everybody important—the bartenders and the regulars (perhaps the Friday-night karaoke DJ*)—knows your name. There may be patrons other than Carl, Lenny, Homer, and Barney from time to time, but, just like in The Simpsons, those characters are all drawn in the background, adding texture and color, occasionally surfacing to say "Uh, I'm Hugh Jass," or perhaps to sing "Walk This Way." It's alternately quiet and raucous, sometimes respectable, often sleazy.
Because, even on a Friday night, the place needs help filling its seats.
If there were a Moe's Tavern in real life (and I'm excluding the Universal Studios–ized version, which, unlike the true Moe's, has probably been cleaned at least once in its existence), it would be in Barney, North Dakota, a sleepy farming town of 52 people that has the distinct honor of sharing a zip code with The Simpsons' Moe's Tavern: 58008.** According to Google Maps, the only bar in Barney, North Dakota, is DJ's Tavern, which, with a name change and a paint job, could well be Moe's. I'd like to think that maybe the town was even named after one of DJ's regular customers. He's probably in there right now, nursing a warm Duff, his hand stuck in the pickled-egg jar.
** There's an episode, somewhere in the 20th to 25th season or so, in which Moe mentions that his zip code spells out a specific word on an upside-down calculator.
As in any good long-term relationship, becoming a regular at a place like Moe's means being able to come in alone with your problems; being content with sitting in silent contemplation (contemplation optional); finding solace in every sticky, dirty detail; but knowing that, at any moment, something might erupt like a Flaming Moe to the face. —J. Kenji López-Alt
Cup O' Pizza From The Jerk
"That was really good pizza," says Bernadette Peters, as she sets her Styrofoam cup down. "Oh, this is the best pizza in a cup ever. This guy is unbelievable," replies Steve Martin, jabbing his plastic fork into his own jumbo white cup. "He ran the old Cup O' Pizza guy out of business." They're sitting in the back of a truck trailer, the home of Martin's painfully (yet lovably) unworldly dope of a character, Navin R. Johnson. It's Martin's 1979 comedy, The Jerk, and Navin and Marie (played by Peters) are on their first date, crammed uncomfortably at a makeshift table set under the trailer's only decoration, a giant Cup O' Pizza sign that Navin says he salvaged from the original place before it was torn down.
It's a blip of a scene—the gag runs less than 20 seconds—and yet it thrilled my young mind to no end. With just a few silly lines, the movie manages to spin off an entire culinary-fad fantasy, without ever showing the food or the venue. Unlike most fictional restaurants and bars, which tend to function as mere backdrops to whatever the primary plot is, this brief scene is all about the food itself, and the craze and hoopla that surround it.
I had visions of that poor original Cup O' Pizza guy, and the copycat who dethroned him by perfecting the art of jamming pizza into a cup. I could just imagine bulldozer claws ripping apart that first Cup O' Pizza place, and throngs of trend-followers queuing up at the new and improved spot. And then there was the food itself, which managed to make absolutely no sense and absolutely perfect sense all at once. Why pizza in a cup?...Of course pizza in a cup! I didn't fully understand the concept, and yet I wanted it, which led to a years-long frustration over the fact that there wasn't a single shot during the scene that let you see inside the cup. How do you put pizza in a cup? I wondered. Do you push a slice in, then smash it down, allowing it to break up haphazardly? Or do you pre-chop the slice and then put it into the cup? If so, how big should the pieces be? Or maybe it's like a deconstructed thing, where all the components of pizza—bread, tomato sauce, cheese—get tossed in raw, then heated into a fused, bubbling mass only after they've been combined.
Eventually, I answered these questions for myself at one of my summer camp's pizza nights by shoving a slice of Sicilian pizza into a plastic soda cup and smashing it up with my fork, declaring proudly to my cabinmates that I was doing something really cool. I was eating pizza in a cup. They all joined in, and we loved it. —Daniel Gritzer
Inn at the Crossroads From Game of Thrones
Although the Inn at the Crossroads has changed names frequently throughout time (basically whenever a new king was crowned), one thing remains—it is central to the paths of those who live in Westeros. Situated at the intersection of the Kingsroad, the River Road to the West, and the High Road leading to the Vale to the East, it is Westeros's last rest area for hundreds of miles. All those who stay there have stories to tell, from King Robert's retinue with hands in tow—both bitten and Stark—to Mountains who wish to turn everything into molehills.
The Inn at the Crossroads is where one would go to gather information, to find missing daughters, or to capture enemies who did your house wrong. Many believe that King's Landing or one of Littlefinger's brothels is where the action happens in Westeros. But they're wrong. This tiny, unassuming tavern is where all the shit goes down. I want to go there. I want front-row seats. —Leang Chaing
The Gem From Deadwood
No character better embodied the profane, vulgar, carnal, violent, and grasping cosmos of David Milch's Deadwood than saloon owner/pimp Al Swearengen. The real-life Swearengen ran the real-life Gem Theater in the real-life, late-19th-century Deadwood of the Dakota Territory. You can still get a nice steak at the Gem, though presumably sex is no longer on the menu. The Gem of Deadwood (and its master) might bear only a passing resemblance to its inspiration, but what was it visually, in either case, but a rickety frontier shithouse? The Gem's significance lay in its chokehold on the outlaw town's life and times, giving Swearengen the means to impose his dark will on Deadwood's surly inhabitants. Graft, narcotics, corruption, theft, swindling, and murder were the order of the day, and rarely did more than a couple of episodes go by without somebody scrubbing blood off the floorboards. Inside and out, the Gem was Swearengen's agency in the world, the bludgeon he used on friend and foe alike. It's not often that premises and proprietor suit each other so perfectly. —Chris Mohney
Luke's Diner From Gilmore Girls
In the world of Gilmore Girls, you go to Luke's for a giant cup of coffee with a side of sarcasm. You get a great burger and some small-town gossip. Luke's is a diner, but it's really a replacement for Lorelai and Rory's own rarely used kitchen table, and a symbol of how the quirky town of Stars Hollow has taken them in (and taken good care of them).
Lorelai left home before finishing high school when Rory was born, and, while she's mostly on speaking terms with her mansion-dwelling parents these days, food throughout the series serves to illustrate how Lorelai and Rory are carving their own path. Lorelai's mother accuses them of eating a diet consisting only of "food you eat at a carnival": While the elder Gilmores employ an ever-changing cast of cooks to serve them quail and raspberry soufflés, Rory and her mom rent a stack of movies and chow down on pizza in front of the TV. And, when they're not eating greasy takeout at home, Rory and Lorelai are at Luke's, having heart-to-heart talks and chili fries.
At Luke's, you're in good hands. Luke knows when Rory needs pie and when Lorelai should switch to decaf. He tells you when you won't like the special omelette, and when you should really have a bowl of oatmeal. Luke's is the kind of place all of us who've struck out on our own truly need: a place where everyone knows your breakfast order. It's fitting that, at the end of the series, Rory can't go off into the world without one more visit to Luke's, one more plate of pancakes and bacon, one more cup of coffee. You get the sense that it'll be the first place she returns to as soon as she has a chance to visit, too. —Maggie Hoffman
St. Elmo's Bar From St. Elmo's Fire
It had good bones. The millwork was battered. There were red-and-white checkerboard tablecloths, bistro chairs, and brick walls. It was a good bar. A college bar. A bar where you met up with your buddies after class on a perfect fall day. A place where you compared notes after those first days spent at a new post-college job, whether it was Alec Newbary's gig as a congressional aide or, in the case of Rob Lowe's Billy Hicks, an upholstering job.
When I was 15 years old, St. Elmo's Bar—from the epically bad 1985 Brat Pack vehicle St. Elmo's Fire (if you have good memories of this movie at all, do yourself a favor and never watch it again)—was the platonic ideal of a college bar. I knew who I wanted to be at that bar, too. Kevin Dolenz, the aspiring writer played by Andrew McCarthy—the quiet one who listened to R&B; the one people suspected was gay, even though he really wasn't. He was just in love with his best friend, Alec's, girlfriend. At 15, I was in love with my best friend's girlfriend, too. Kevin and I had so much in common. Unlike any of the scholarly St. Elmo's crew, though, I was a C+ student, but I still had dreams of getting into a good college. A Dartmouth or an Amherst. A Princeton or, like the characters in St. Elmo's Fire, Georgetown.
I also had high hopes for my college drinking life. And St. Elmo's, along with novels like This Side of Paradise, had something to do with it. I wanted to hang out with the smart kids at the bar, sipping pints and talking careers, politics, and literature. St. Elmo's seemed like the kind of place for all of that. Kirby Keger would hook us up with free beers, and Jules would always get a little too drunk and make out with one of us. We would dance around the bar like the Brat Pack did, singing "Give Her a Little Drop More" (a song that, like the movie itself, should never be revisited, as it's essentially an ode to date rape). Set to a less misogynistic melody, we would raise our glasses and sing drunken bar songs. We would laugh until we had to cry; we would love "right down to our last good-bye." All that shit.
I found my St. Elmo's at Ohio University (no Georgetown or Dartmouth for me), at a place called Tony's that had brick walls and battered woodwork. It wasn't as nice as St. Elmo's was, but it didn't matter. I was an aspiring writer. I'd fallen in with a group of smart kids. Like Billy, one was in a band; another would eventually go into politics. One night while we were all there, the bar erupted in a round of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," which was playing on the jukebox. With a pint of Guinness in my hand, I sang along. As with the characters in the movie, things would get kind of rough after college. But like St. Elmo's, Tony's would be there for me. I haven't been there in forever, but I've heard it hasn't changed a bit. Unlike St. Elmo's Fire, it's stood the test of time. —Keith Pandolfi
The Peach Pit From Beverly Hills, 90210
Who wouldn't want a retro diner, with a guy named Nat serving you a Mega Burger, as a high school hangout spot? A place with a bell on the door that jingles every time your ex-boyfriend, twin brother, best friend, frenemy, or the random guest star of the week walks in? A place where you can transform yourself into a waitress named Laverne and break into a rousing rendition of "It's My Party" any time you want to? Really, though, I just want to eat that Mega Burger. —Vicky Wasik
The Hanged Man From Dragon Age
(As described by Marian Hawke, protagonist of the video game Dragon Age II): The first thing you'll notice about the Hanged Man, aside from the bloody effigy in place of an awning above the door, is the stench. That of sour ale, vomit, and desperation, as my beloved once put it. He wasn't wrong; the Hanged Man was held together by little more than spit, squandered wages, and misspent youth. Well, that and the thriving black market upstairs.
If you were brave enough to make it that far, you would find a hollow-eyed smuggler who sold poison rank enough to down an ox, a woman who'd drop coin for anyone willing to dirty a blade, and the liar who made his name off my own. He kept a room there, and a fire in the hearth, but he also kept my tab, which made the lies (and sour ale) much easier to swallow.
In those terrible months after our sister died, the Hanged Man was the only place where my brother and I could escape our mother's grief. So we hunkered down with the rabble to let the rotgut dull our loss. I learned to play cards. I learned to cheat. I learned to win, and wink at the rumors that dogged me. They were all dark, and ugly, and true; less an accusation than proof positive that I belonged.
My brother did not. He went to war, fought for his country, and deserved to live beyond the shadow of my crime. With a mug of ale in one hand, and a full house in the other, he found an easy sort of confidence that reminded me of our father, and who he might become were he brave enough to leave. So I made it a habit to lose, and fold, and retreat to the bar.
I drank whiskey with a raven-haired sailor, made the mistake of taking her home. I sipped cider with a brother of the faith, and warm milk with a shepherdess who'd lost her flock. I toasted the man who fought for justice, and success to the author of lies. I drank lager with a soldier I loved like a sister, shared wine with the man who stole my heart.
Years passed. I dragged them to hell and back, where we lost my brother, who took with him a flask inscribed, "Toast them all!" So here's to those who taught me the cost of friendship and betrayal, and the price of making amends. Here's to those who followed me to the gallows: May the wicked grace of the Hanged Man find us falling, flailing, and free. —Stella Parks