It’s no secret that many celebrities paid the bills by mixing drinks before their careers took off.
While we can’t vouch for the quality of their cocktails or their bar-side manner, they’ve certainly gone on to be great performers. We’d like to think being able to test out new material or characters on unsuspecting patrons must have helped.
So check out these eight superstars who used to sling drinks across the country—you may just be surprised who worked behind the stick.
Did we leave anyone off the list? Tell us in our comments below!
The daughter of an opera singer and a voice teacher, Sandra Bullock was no stranger to the stage as a kid. But after she moved to New York to start a grown-up acting career, like many other aspiring (and struggling) actresses, she took a job bartending to help pay the bills. It also taught her some unexpected skills: According to People, serving customers from around the world helped Bullock learn to speak with different accents. Eventually, acting jobs started piling up, she stopped slinging drinks and, in 1994, she found major stardom with a role in the hit film Speed.
Maria Bello was a bartender long before she appeared as a bar owner in the 2000 guilty pleasure Coyote Ugly about a group of cowboy boot-clad girls slinging drinks and being sassy. After landing a few noteworthy TV roles in the early ‘90s, Bello’s career behind the stick was over—but at least the training came in handy later!
The Grey’s Anatomy star was mixing drinks at a restaurant in New York when a commercial casting director discovered her and approached her about a job. Not long after, she was cast in a L’Oreal ad and then started landing roles on television and the silver screen, including a small part in Old School.
Before selling 30 million records, Dave Matthews was a bartender at Miller’s, a Charlottesville, Va., dive bar. While working at the establishment in 1990, Matthews befriended lawyer Ross Hoffman, who encouraged him to start writing more songs and playing with local musicians. (Hoffman also became the band’s first manager.) Twenty years later, the Dave Matthews Band is still performing, and Miller’s has become a destination for the group’s super-fans.
Unbelievably, Bill Cosby never planned on a career in show business—much less becoming one of the most highly respected (and paid) comedians of all time. But that all changed after he took a job behind the stick at a Philadelphia watering hole to help pay for classes at Temple University. His knack for entertaining patrons soon led him to try stand-up. The rest, of course, is history.
We weren’t surprised that talk show host Ellen DeGeneres supported herself by bartending before doing stand-up comedy—after all, she grew up in America’s booziest city, New Orleans. She even spoke at the graduation ceremony for bartenders at the National Bartender School in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She dispensed some bartending wisdom to the graduates, telling them that “one of the toughest decisions a customer can ever make is whether to have their Margarita on the rocks or blended” and that “vermouth is like a cheap perfume: A little goes a long way.”
Recently, Jon Stewart, the acclaimed host of The Daily Show, opened up to Vulture about his mid-‘80s career as a bartender at famed New Jersey punk venue City Gardens. While there, he got to see bands like Black Flag, GWAR, Ween and even Joan Jett perform and had some less-pleasant experiences cleaning up vomit, stopping bar fights and keeping the place from being burned down. We must admit, we’re pretty impressed by Stewart’s street cred.
Bruce Willis started his film career after a casting director gave him a small, uncredited role as a bartender. It wasn’t a stretch, since he had worked in New York bars and had even served stars like John Goodman. There’s even a possibility that Willis was a flair bartender (which he neither confirms or denies), much like Tom Cruise’s character Brian Flanagan in the 1988 film Cocktail—check out his interview on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for more info.