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Beyond the Drinks: The Key Elements of a Great Bar Experience

Service, decor the drinks menu and food selection, or at least snacks for bar patrons, all contribute to make a great bar. However, within those broad headings it is the small details that contribute to make a truly great bar. The following is a bit of an overview.


Door staff

A warm welcome at the door rather than “You’re there but not in the queue. You’re not coming in mate”.

A warm and warm welcome

Ideally every guest should be greeted and made to feel welcome upon entering.

Consummate host

It’s hard to have a conversations with the people seated at the bar, so at the Savoy’s American Bar Peter Dorelli used to introduce guests to their neighbors to spark conversation.

Table service

Service at tables that is efficient and friendly sets a bar apart. An attentive server will notice that glasses are empty and, after recollecting what the guests previously ordered will ask if they’d like to order another. Also, they should be aware that guests aren’t drinking and ask if the drink is suitable for them.

Clean toilets

Toilets must be kept clean and regularly watched. Hot water and hand towels are an expected part. Toilet attendants who are waiting to hit you on you with a little soap and a hand towel in exchange for a tip are to be avoided.

Age gracefully

Good-looking bars get better as they age however it’s a good indicator of that bars require a new look every few years.

Minimal or cluttered

Interiors that are minimalist can look stunning but cluttered bars tend to be more comfortable with walls adorned with photos or other items that are arouse interest especially for drinkers who are on their own.

Atmospheric lighting

Great bars radiate a warm light that is not glowing bulbs.

Robust flooring

The bar’s floor not only has to look nice, it has to be strong enough to endure high heels and spills. Hardwood floors with thick planks are the most popular surface.

Bartender station

The best bar near me has well designed, practical and well laid out bartender station areas are vital. Bartenders should have everything they require at arm’s reach without having to move.

Bar counter

People like to sit at bars, therefore great bars offer plenty of counter space. Barstools must be comfortable with backs as well as foot and arm rests. The ideal height for a counter at a bar is 43 3/4 inches or 11 cm. Counters must have enough overhang (at least 10 inches / 25 1/2 centimeters) so that guests can sit comfortably on their legs to allow them to sit closely to the bar. This is especially important for those eating at the bar.

Coat hooks

Each bars should be equipped with hooks placed at regular intervals underneath the bar counter for handbags and jackets. If there is no the cloakroom facility, then there should also be sufficient coat hooks close to each table.

Chairs and seats

Chairs must be comfortable and not too low that they are difficult to climb out of. An ledge or table to rest food and drinks must be accessible from every chair.

Good airflow

Good ventilation is essential particularly in areas where smoking is still permitted.


The temperature must be maintained at a level that is comfortable – not too hot nor too cold. In the bathroom, too.

Toilet signs

Discriminating gender on toilets can be an embarrassing initiative testing guests. They should be straightforward and clearly explained to people of different languages.


Space empty

A good atmosphere is the most difficult thing you can achieve. It’s hard to define, but bars can either be characterized by it or do not. Some bars do this while attracting a few people. Space that is empty can be depressing and island bars are an excellent method to divide space and make even bars that are quiet feel more intimate. False walls that are able to be opened up to reveal more space in times of crowds are effective as well.


See design above. The bright light in the picture above is not atmospheric.


Music should fit the mood and should be played at an the right level.


Friendly and varied crowd but not overly busy.

Fruit flies

Fruit flies are off putting and are a sign of a dirty bar.

Drinks offering


The most excellent bars offer 20 plus beers on draught and 100s on bottles but even if just three beers are offered the choices should be varied and include different styles, not just boring Euro lagers.

* Beers must be served in clean, suitable cold glassware – ideally specific to the beer. Don’t drink directly from bottles.

* It’s wonderful to have an alcohol menu that includes tasting notes as well as food recommendations.

* Beverages is best offered by knowledgeable and experienced staff members who provide tastings of the draught beer they serve.


* The most excellent bars offer wine lists that knock down 3-Star Michelin restaurants, but one dozen wines will make for a decent list. The list should comprise intriguing bins that have a variety of grape varieties and styles. Blends must go beyond two grape varieties.

• The list of wines must be well-designed, with brief tasting notes & food matching suggestions.

* Wines should be served by knowledgeable staff who can provide recommendations.

The wine should have wide selection of wine by glass that are served with an the Enomatic system, or secularized to ensure that wine is served in their peak.


* Truly fantastic bars offer a wide selection of top liquor brands in all categories – not just gin.

Some good choices include interesting quirky spirits as well being more well-known must stocks.

* All, except for the fastest moving bottles should be sealed to prevent evaporation and contamination. The pour spout will not ensure the seal of the bottle.

* The top bars have spirits menus with tasting notes that include suggestions for aperitifs and after dinner drinks.


* Any ‘cocktail bar’ which claims to be one should offer great balanced, tasty cocktails using freshly squeezed juices.

* The best bars use great ice with drinks preferably served on carved or moulded Ice. (I prefer stirring and shaking with inch cubes.)

* Cocktails should be served in clean, elegant and chilled glassware. No Z-shaped stemmed Martini glasses or big Martini glasses (5 to 7oz maximum).

* Better to make some great cocktails rather instead of presenting a list of 100 mostly badly made ones. A lot of the best bars only have 12 drinks in their drink menu.

* A assortment of modern and classic drinks with at least one house signature cocktail.

* Cocktail menus must not include the mention of “sour mix”, “grenadine” and local laws that permit “sugar”.

Menus should be limited to drinks that bartenders are skilled and confident in creating. “Our trained bartenders can create every cocktail you’d like” is a nonsense claim to put on an menu. Have you noticed the amount of cocktails on this website alone?

* Great signature cocktails can boost a bar’s reputation. Examples are the Pisco Punch in San Francisco’s famous Bank Exchange Bar, the Bellini at Harry’s Bar, Venice, the Bloody Mary at Harry’s Bar, Paris, the Singapore Sling at Raffle’s Hotel, Singapore, the Daiquiri at El Floridita, Cuba, Tommy’s Margarita at Tommy’s in San Francisco.

Be aware of the three key variables of bartending a cocktail: 1. Ice and dilution: size of cubes old ice, length stir or shake. 2. Accuracy of measure – difficult to “free-pour” just a fraction of a shot. 3. Quality of ingredients (particularly juices and syrups made from sugar).

Temperance drinks

* Alcohol-free drinks and cocktails should be offered to drivers, pregnant women as well as children… as well as those who simply thirsty.

A good bar must have great coffee.

Each bar should offer iced water for free with alcohol-based drinks, particularly in short drinks and spirits.

The most important accompaniment

Many others and I consider food as an essential component for responsible consumption of alcohol and in a lot of cities, like Portland, Oregon it is obligatory for bars to serve food.

Don’t do it!

Customers spend longer time at bars with food instead of leaving to go out for food.

Simple will do

Simple foods like a club sandwich as well as cheese and charcuterie boards made of great bread will be sufficient.

Finger food

Snacks at the bar should just that and should not require knives or forks.

Chips and dips

Every bar should serve chips (fries) or dips.