A bartender's view of 'Cheers'

Kevin Cowherd

January 20, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

AS A FORMER bartender, I'm often struck by how little the enduring sitcom "Cheers" resembles life in a real bar.

The first thing you notice is that no one in "Cheers" ever gets the slightest bit drunk -- not even Norm, the fat guy who appears to have a full beer mug surgically attached to one hand.

This flies in the face of reality. Let's face it: People who spend a lot of time in bars tend to drink heavily. And if you're not drinking in a bar, what's the sense of being there in the first place?

Not to pick on Norm, but a man who appears anchored to a corner bar stool for long stretches at a time is probably a falling-down drunk.

Certainly that was the case with Easy Ed Milton, one of my best customers when I tended bar.

For years, Easy Ed was a fixture at the end of the bar, on the stool directly under the TV set. The man never seemed to leave his seat.

Of course, there was a reason he never left his seat: Generally he had passed out.

In that regard, Easy Ed's schedule was very predictable. He would come in each night about 7 and drink steadily (rye with beer chasers) for a few hours. Then his head would begin to droop. And the next time you turned around, Easy Ed would be sound asleep with his chin in the bowl of complimentary peanuts.

Clearly, it was a pretty classy joint. My mother walked in there once and reported the overwhelming urge to immediately wash her hands.

Not only did she see Easy Ed passed out in his usual position, but she also saw a guy trying to whack his girlfriend over the head with an empty Heineken bottle.

Yeah, I bet Mom glowed with pride that day and thought: Look at how far my son has come! Look what four years of college did for him!

Getting back to Easy Ed, though, an amazing thing would happen at the end of each night.

No matter how drunk he was, as soon as last call was announced, Easy Ed would suddenly sit bolt upright.

"Shot of Seagram's and a beer," he'd mumble. "Back me up, too."

I'm telling you, it was an absolutely incredible sight. Even if he was out cold, slumped over the bar with peanut shells in his hair, some internal mechanism would cause him to awake for last call.

Like Easy Ed, the crew of "Cheers" seems to spend an inordinate amount of time in a bar, which -- call me an alarmist -- is certainly suggestive of a drinking problem.

These people are in Cheers 24 hours a day. Which leads to the obvious question: When do these people ever work?

Take Dr. Frasier Crane, the shrink. I don't see how the man has any kind of practice at all given all the time he spends in Cheers with his buddies.

During a particularly difficult session with a patient -- let's say it's a sobbing woman recalling a traumatic period in her childhood -- I envision Dr. Crane suddenly jumping to his feet and saying: "Listen, let's hold that thought for a minute. I'm popping out for a drink."

It's the same with Cliff, the mailman. The man is forever parading into Cheers in the middle of the day in his uniform, with his mailbag slung over one shoulder and that goofy hat with the flaps.

God knows when he ever walks his route. Instead of relying on Cliff, you'd probably have a better shot at seeing your mail delivered if you threw it out a window.

Unlike a real bar, you never see anyone smoke in "Cheers," either.

When I tended bar, we'd open at 7 a.m. An hour later the smoke was so thick you'd think you wandered into a tenement fire. Besides, common sense tells you Norm is a closet three-pack-a-day smoker, anyway.

Another thing about Cheers: you never see anyone pay for a drink.

Complete strangers walk in off the street, order a beer and never once reach in their pocket. I hope someone is keeping a tab for these people, or else they'll be boarding up the windows and Sam Malone will be filing for bankruptcy any day now.

One final thought: How could any responsible bar owner hire a rockhead like Woody to pour drinks?

Look, you don't have to be a Yale Law Review staffer to be a bartender -- I was living proof of that. But I don't see how you can hire anyone dumber than Woody.

Even Sam isn't dumber than Woody.

Hell, Woody makes Sam look like Jonas Salk.

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