Back in the ’90s the weird craze for Cheers-themed airport bars was coming to a peak and showed no sign of stopping. Bearing a reasonable resemblance to the set of one of America’s most famous shows, these venues offered beer and the chance to sit near the sitcom’s beloved barflies…Hank and Bob.
In the early 1990s, Cheers was not only one of America’s most highly-rated sitcoms, but a burgeoning motif for airport bars around the country. As VinePair explains, during these years, Cheers-themed bars popped up in terminals across the country, venues that came complete not only with beer, but with the cozy – if robotic – camaraderie of the show’s two famous barflies.
Given the wide choice of refreshment outlets available in most American airports today, the choice of a Cheers-themed bar seems odd.
However, as the website explains, “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, airfares were finally becoming cheaper and more accessible, bringing American travelers off the interstates and onto the tarmac in massive numbers. The airports’ desire to provide quality amenities for travelers was likewise improving. The problem was, airports didn’t quite know what travelers truly wanted…”.
Thanks in part to this change, as well as generous licensing arrangements from Paramount – the production company behind the show – and an opportunistic move by a food, beverage and merchandise distributor then known as Host International (a company now called HMSHost), Cheers bars became all the rage.
In addition to a cozy, convivial feel, their most memorable gimmick was perhaps the animatronic versions of the show’s two beloved barflies that featured at every venue.
But despite bearing a reasonable resemblance to the show’s Norm and Cliff characters – played by actors George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, respectively – Host International was unable to refer to these figures by these character names for legal reasons; rather, the figures were dubbed Bob and Hank.
However, Bob and Hank were a thinly-veiled disguise for Norm and Cliff. The outlet reports that Wendt and Ratzenberger, “…who had never agreed to be Bob and Hank in the first place, and certainly weren’t compensated for it,” filed a legal suit against Paramount.
The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found in the actors’ favor. Paramount offered a settlement to Wendt and Ratzenberger in 2001, just as the craze for Cheers and its themed airport bars was on the wane.