Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping


"All movie bartenders, when first seen, are wiping the inside of a glass with a rag."
Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary

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.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Animation 
  • Heavy Metal segment "Taarna". When the title character goes into the bar the bartender is drying a glass. When she goes over to get information from him he's still drying a glass.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Glass Half Dirty