I miss being able to walk into a bar. As soon as the first reports of a COVID-19 positive person hit my local news early in 2020, I stopped going inside bars. A few weeks after that it didn’t matter since the governor ordered bars to shutdown. Being in a small space with strangers chit-chatting away was not a good thing to do during a pandemic. No more Geeks Who Drink trivia nights for me. Sure it stinks, but judging from tales of those I know that have battled off COVID-19, I can mix my own drinks at home. But you miss the ambiance and the people. Thankfully Bartender: 15 Anniversary Collector’s Edition has arrived to at least turn my TV set into 11 visits to the Eden Hall bar in Tokyo’s Ginza district.
Bartender is more than an anime version of Cheers. The tucked away bar is quite magical with a legendary bartender Ryu Sasakura (Takahiro Mizushima) ready to break out the shaker. Unlike some bartenders who just take an order, he wants to find the perfect drink for his customers. He wants a visit to his bar to be a special event instead of merely getting them to keep chugging down the discount Fireballs. But what really separates the show from Cheers is that Ryu gives not only the history of the drink, but the recipe on how to mix one up. Bartender is an anime that could be run on The Cooking Channel or Vice. This element adds a richness to the show.
The first episode “Bartender” has a hotel designer arrive in Glen Eden. He’s had a low opinion of bars and bartenders. Ryu attempts to make him realize the errors in his way as he uses all his skills to the Gods. “Menu of the Heart” has Ryu perform a bit of liquor sleuthing when a customer arrives wanting to find out what alcohol was in a bottle that broke. The drink was supposed to mend a family feud. “Glass of Regret” gets deep into one of the histories of the invention of the Margarita in order to help a retiring man deal with the passing of an old girlfriend. “Amber Dream” has Ryu dealing with two different kind of patrons. The first is a couple on their first date that need a bit of help. The second is a woman waiting for her husband on their anniversary. Things are getting bumpy for them. Can Ryu come up with the right drink for both of them to deal with their anxieties. “Things Forgotten In a Bar” brings a story about bar legend Ernest Hemingway into Eden Hall.
“The Story Inside the Glass” put Ryu to a test when a pesky customer gives him a challenge involving 4 drinks and what would be the proper 5th drink. “Closed Day for the Bar” has Ryu sick and he needs help. “The Lie at the Counter” has Ryu detect that one of his patrons is a con man looking to rip off his date. He does his best to protect his female customer and make sure his instincts about the guy are right. “The Bar’s Face” has the bar closed for a private party although it’s really a private customer with a strange mystery about his night out alone. “Christmas Miracle” goes into the technique for pouring the perfect Black Velvet. “Water of Life” wraps up the series with Ryu getting ready for his next career step. Can he handle life outside Eden Hall?
Bartender is a show that you can easily stay up all night ingesting. Ryu is that ultimate bartender that you hope to encounter on a quiet night. Sometimes you do find them in the real world. Years ago at the Heartbreak Hotel next to Graceland in Memphis, I found an amazing bartender. Not only did he serve up our drinks just right, he gave us the non-Elvis Presley Estate authorized history of the area. I remember him as more than any of the tour guides on our journey around Graceland. Plus he tipped us off to the joy of Marlowe’s BBQ Ribs on Elvis Presley Blvd. that picked us up in a pink Caddie limo. He was my ultimate bartender in real life. Now with all the bars pretty much closed, Ryu is my spiritual bartender. Now I have to figure out how to mix a Grass Hopper.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the glow of Eden Hall and the allure of the perfect cocktails. The audio is Japanese LCPM 2.0 to give you the right feel for the intimate bar. The subtitles are in English.
Clean Opening Credits (1:20) lets you enjoy the visuals and song without words in the frame.
Clean Closing Credits (16:33) includes all the credits for the episodes since they changed up the drinks in the end titles.
Bumpers (1:51) were from when the show was commercially interrupted in Japan. The cards reflected the drink at the heart of the story.
Nine Drink Cards feature the cocktails from the episode so you can mix them up without having to pause the Blu-ray at the right spot.
Four Drink Coasters from Eden Hall so you can feel like Ryu mixed them up for you.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.