Young and Hungry

20th Anniversary of ‘Cocktail': Jello Biafra’s Kind of Movie?

When Cocktail first hit theaters in 1988, I have to admit I had no interest in seeing it. Why would I want to watch a Tom Cruise vehicle in which bartending was made to look like dorked-out synchronized swimming with 750 ml bottles? I would have preferred being clocked by a broken whiskey bottle than watch Cruise twirl bottles and shakers in a barroom crammed with adoring, sloppy drunks.

In fact, I stuck to my guns on this until recently when, in a moment of weekend weakness, I watched a good chunk of Cocktail on cable. It was pathetic, and I loved every second. Turning a poor overworked gin-slinger into a rock star is practically Jungian in its brilliance. It taps some deep psychological chord in every raging American male, of a certain post-Greatest Generation age, who wants a job that combines rock 'n' roll, copious amounts of booze, drunk women (or men), and the ability to sleep late the following morning.

I can't believe it took Hollywood so long to make it. I also can't believe Cocktail is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Thursday at the Penn Station T.G.I. Fridays, where much of the movie was made and where screenwriter Heywood Gould (wooo-hooo, the writer!) gets honored for his ability to see inside an adolescent boy's soul. I should note Gould's a former journalist. 

Thinking about Cocktail got me thinking about some of the conversations I've had with Derek Brown, the master mixologist with the master plan to, once again, make bartending a respectable profession, like a sommelier without the pretentions. I wondered what Brown thought about Cocktail.

"I have to admit that it helped the profession. People began to see the potential in professional bartending," Brown wrote to Y&H via IM. "The problem is that some people took the smug, ego-laden side of it and thought being a jerk and flipping bottles is what being a bartender is all about."

Did it have any influence on you? I wondered.

"Not a bit," Brown responded.

I asked Brown how old he was when the movie came out.

Our IM thread picks up from there:

Derek: That's part of it. I was born in 1974.

The flick came out in '89?

I was too young to care about bartending.

me: Yeah, it was 88. You were still a teen.

Derek: And I just saw this moron flipping bottles and naming a bar, Cocktail & Dreams?


My hero was Jello Biafra.

Ian macaye [Note: It's Ian MacKaye.]

What would they have said?

me: Well, I was older than you and thought the movie was so stupid I never saw it...until recently on cable.

Derek: Well, actually we know what Ian macaye would say.

me: Jello would have loved it.

Derek: Yeah, "Is my muddler big enough, is my brain small enough, for you to make me a star!"

me: He would have turned it into a concept album, something like Holidays in Cambodia's Tiki Bar.

Derek: Nice. Nevertheless, just because I was a little straight-edge brat doesn't mean there is no value in the movie.

Brown passingly noted that he'd love to know what Todd Thrasher, the man behind PX's inventive cocktails, thinks of Cocktail. I'm on it.