Jim: I'm your only customer. Why are you always polishing a glass?
Arthur: Trick of the trade. Makes people nervous when a bartender just stands there.In fiction, the sole Idle Animation for bartenders who aren't currently filling a glass is to dry a glass (unless they're the main character, in which case they will never do either of these things). You'll never see them stocking ice or frequently-ordered drinks, or trying to keep customers (who aren't the protagonist) engaged. In real life, bartenders who always have a glass in their hand tend to get fired. Understandable in TV and movies, where it's an easy barkeeping duty to do in multiple takes, while many other jobs would need undoing before they could be done again and cause continuity problems. Less understandable in other media; it's probably a result of the stereotype.
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Anime & Manga
- Bleach. In the Lost Agent anime arc, Xcution member Giriko Kutsuzawa works as a bartender. In almost every episode he appears in, at least once he's shown polishing a glass while standing behind the group's private bar.
- The page image is of the unnamed barkeep in the anime version of AKIRA; his determination to man his station gets him killed in the end.
- An alien barkeep extra can be seen in episode 10 of the second season of Space Dandy doing this, in every single shot he's onscreen.
- Izumo Kusanagi in K, despite being a major character and second-in-command of one of the series' factions, still does this a lot when he's behind the bar at his restaurant (and Red Clan headquarters), Bar HOMRA. Used to great effect in episode 3; when Misaki and Rikio crash into his bar, he drops the glass, and as it falls, it reflects his face in The Scream pose.
- Another main character example in High School Star Musical: In season 2 episode 3, when Kitahara and Nanjo visit the restaurant where Kuga works as a bartender (even though he's in high school), they have a loud conversation about their cocky attitudes towards the audition. Kuga overhears, doesn't like their attitude, and brings them some extremely bitter drinks, on the house. What was he doing when he overheard them? Yeah, drying a glass.
- Wormy in Dragon magazine #79. The troll bartender is shown drying a glass as he listens to his customers.
- The Mother Goose and Grimm comic for November 16th, 2012◊. The dog Grimm is at a bar where the bartender is cleaning a glass with a cloth.
- Pardon My Planet has an occasional strip with a bartender drying a glass and listening to a customer talk.
- The strip for November 29th, 2012 has the customer complaining about his wife.
- The strip for January 12th 2013 has a similar scene with a customer talking about pursuing the American dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of happy hour.
- In the strip for February 21st, 2013 a customer is complaining about his wife not finding it romantic when he holds up her old black lace teddy and says "Let's see if you can still fit into this".
- Strip for April 18th, 2013. A man says that when he told his wife that it would be O.K. if she found someone else after he was gone, he meant "gone" as in dead, not "gone" as in "at work".
- Hägar the Horrible. In the strip for July 16th 2014, Hagar and Lucky Eddie are talking in a bar. The bartender is behind the counter polishing a glass.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- The bartender in Blazing Saddles who "always kept things nice and clean" by spitting in them and shining them.
- The bartender at the saloon in Back to the Future Part III.
- The Sting. Just before Billie leaves the lounge of her whorehouse to warn the con men about Snyder, the bartender can be seen drying a glass with a cloth.
- ¡Three Amigos!. When the German walks into the Bad-Guy Bar, the bartender is polishing a glass.
- The innkeeper in My Week With Marilyn is fiddling around with a rag and glasses in both of his scenes.
- The Fifth Element: The bartender at the astroport does it, in probably what is a parody considering it's a robot.
- Top Secret!. While Nick Rivers is fighting Nigel in the underwater bar, in the background the barkeeper can be seen polishing a glass with a cloth.
- The barkeeper in The Big Heat is cleaning glasses when Bannion comes to question him.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Allan Quatermain first appears in an African bar. It's clear who the bartender is because he's polishing a glass with a cloth.
- In They Died with Their Boots On, the bartender at Fort Abraham Lincoln's canteen is, naturally, cleaning glasses after closing time when Custer comes in.
- Passengers has a robot bartender who justifies this as standby mode, perfect stillness freaking people out.
- Bill at the soda shop in Pleasantville is introduced wiping down the countertop with a towel when David, thrust into the show's role of Bud, arrives late for his shift working there. Because Bill literally cannot start his duties until Bud arrives, he'd been wiping down the counter long enough, and in the same spot to boot, that it had been worn down into a circular smear.
- In Harry Potter, Aberforth Dumbledore's first appearance involved him wiping a glass that seemed to be getting dirtier. The barkeep washing glasses is an obvious cover for his eavesdropping. Two books later, the stereotype falls away altogether as he becomes a full-blown Rick Blaine type.
- Lampshaded in Guards! Guards!. Sham the bartender is constantly cleaning glasses, which always confuses Vimes because the glasses never seem to be clean. A possible (and obvious) answer to TP's dilemma offered by — who else? — Douglas Adams is that the cloth is actually dirtier than the glasses, resulting in an opposite effect where the alcohol kills whatever germs have peacefully been living on the towel.
- Mac, the proprietor of McAnally's Pub in The Dresden Files, is always either wiping glasses or polishing the bar. It's implied to be an Invoked Trope— Mac is seriously taciturn (he speaks an average of one sentence per novel) and always having a task to hand deflects social attention.
- Late in The Wheel of Time, there's a brief mention of a barkeep who does this and is generally obsessive about keeping his place clean. The story kind of pokes fun at this trope by pointing out that the bartender gets so worked up with cleanliness that it actually unnerves customers and drives away business, because people who go in for a little Drowning Their Sorrows don't want to feel like they're stepping into an immaculately kept palace or museum.
- In NCIS, a barkeeper questioned by Tony (about DiNozzo Sr.'s whereabouts) is seen cleaning while answering. More justified, though, since the bar has yet to actually open.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Adventure I6 Ravenloft. The barkeep of the "Blood of the Vine" tavern mindlessly cleans glasses one after the other. When they're all clean, he starts over. He only stops doing this to take drink orders and serve drinks.
- The Planescape setting adventure In the Abyss. The Grinning Imp is a small tavern in the city of Sigil that sells drinks from all over the multiverse. When the PCs enter the tiefling bartender will be polishing mugs.
- Kobolds Ate My Baby 3rd edition. The sample village of West Bumble has the Screaming Unicorn Tavern. The barkeeper is washing the three unbroken glasses in the place.
- Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia, adventure "Botbusters". When the barbot (bartender robot) Jonesie receives a message from The Computer, he's standing around polishing some glasses.
- Dangerous Journeys/Mythus main rules sample adventure "High Time at the Winged Pig". When the Heroic Personas (PCs) enter the title inn, they see the man behind the bar (barkeeper) drying a mug.
- It Came from the Late, Late Show. Extras include bartenders, who seem to spend a lot of time polishing glasses.
- Shadowrun 2nd Edition main rules. In the Contacts section, the picture of the Bartender shows him polishing a glass.
- Brewster the bar-tending pigeon in the later Animal Crossing games, which feature his café.
- The bartender in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is doing this.
- The bartender in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is always cleaning the glasses... with his spittle.
- The default animation for the bartender at the Chicken Kitchen in Ghost Trick.
- The bartender in Jedi Knight II invokes this, cleaning a glass as an excuse to ignore Kyle Katarn. Once Kyle slams his lightsaber on the bartop he tosses it over his shoulder and switches rapidly to obsequious mode.
- In Catherine Boss, owner and barman of the Stray Sheep, is frequently seen polishing glasses.
- Grillby in Undertale is always seen behind the bar of his tavern/restaurant in Snowdin, polishing a glass.
- In Starship Titanic, Fortillian O'Perfluous, the BarBot, is seen cleaning a glass as his idle animation behind the bar of the titular space cruise liner. The first time you talk to him, he actually gives you the glass he was cleaning.
- Space Adventure Cobra on the Sega CD has a bar as the first area. The bartender isn't cleaning a glass, but he is endlessly shaking a cocktail.
- Bernie at the Squishy Juice Bar in JumpStart Adventures 5th Grade: Jo Hammet, Kid Detective. Ironically, he's not very good at making drinks there, but people still come anyway.
- Infocom's Cutthroats. Whenever you enter The Shanty tavern, the bartender will be polishing glasses with a worn towel.