flickr photo by vwcampin shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

You know, sometimes you’ll be sitting in a bar and you just feel uncomfortable. The drinks are good, the bartender know what they’re doing, you’re in good company and still you don’t feel like you’re having a good time. Then, it hits you: the decor is just bad. Whether it be personal taste or not, a bar that doesn’t look nice can make even the best of nights mediocre. And as a bar owner, it’s costing you money, to boot. People won’t hang around in a bar if they don’t like the way it looks, if they even come in at all. So what can you do to make sure your bar not only stands out amid the others, but is pleasant to sit in?

Interior Designers

Some bars hire interior designers to take care of that end of the business, and I wish more did so: they are nicer places to drink in and always seem to have that extra bit of style that draws in patrons. Some may balk at hiring an interior designer because of the cost associated with it or because they think their bar will turn into some yuppie dream that reflects whatever the going taste is at that moment. If you take some time, though, and interview them like you would any other member of staff, you’ll soon find that a lot of designers are more than willing to work in any theme theme given to them and that their focus will be mostly on providing a finishing touch that you may be having trouble with. After all, you’re a bartender that’s what you know: let them do their job and you may be surprised.


That brings us to something that is very hard for anyone to help you with: what is going to be the theme of your bar? A lot of bar streets are filled with joints that are all kind of samey, which leads to customers being unable to distinguish one from the other. A unique theme will help you stand out which should bring in the customers. At the same time, you don’t want it to be too idiosyncratic as people still need to feel welcome and comfortable rather than weirded out. Again, these are the choices a designer can help you with so you can strike a balance between what works for you and what works for patrons. After all, they are just visiting, you have to work there: by keeping enough of your personality in the decoration of the bar you should be able to create something unique yet pleasant.


Often overlooked but very important, you have to maintain your decor. Just because you’re going for, say, a rundown look, doesn’t mean your bar should be run down. If, for example, you want to have a lot of steel and metal around you need to polish it as often as you can. Currently in Europe a lot of new venues like to appear post industrial, with a lot of concrete and metal pipes around. A nice look if you can pull it off, but a lot of joints with that theme don’t take care of it with rust spots and rotten concrete as a result. Not very pleasant to hang out in a bar when you’re worried about what could be hidden in a dark hole in the floorboards. Same goes for wood finishing: if you don’t polish it regularly your bar will end up looking like the canteen at a particularly rough building site rather than the classy place you want it to be.


Arguably one of the most important aspects of bar “decor” is actually very simple: it’s keeping the place clean. We’ve all been in some dive where the beer mats, and sometimes your hand, stick to the surface and the entire place reeks of age-old beer. Though this is not entirely devoid of charm, generally the health inspector will eventually shut these bars down. This is just one side of the spectrum: you’ll be hard pressed to find any one boozer or restaurant that is truly spotless. By sticking to a thorough schedule and making sure staff stick to it you’ll have the place neat and tidy at all times. Not only is this way more attractive to customers, in the long run you’ll be saving on maintenance costs, too.

No matter what your theme, style and decor, you won’t be able to please everyone. But if you keep the place clean and well maintained, you’re well ahead of the game. If you’re not sure about your decor, or have ideas for changing it, don’t forget you can always chat with your regulars to get their thoughts and advice!

Fergus O'Sullivan

Fergus has spent a lot of time in bars, both behind and in front of them. He likes to share the expertise gained during this long, fuzzy time with others on the Internet.