Have you ever had a dream of opening your own bar? The type of bar that’s right for you has to fit your personality as well as the needs of customers.

The Basics of Opening a Bar

Whether it’s a local hangout where everyone knows your name or a glitzy nightclub where people go to dance the night away, each bar has its own personality—and equipment needs. That formula is largely set by you (the owner) and the vision you bring to life, and it’s in part shaped by the clientele your bar attracts.  

While there are many types of bars, it’s helpful to start with the basics. A bar typically has a full liquor license so it can sell spirits, wine and beer. A pub—historically a public house for social drinking—also may have a full license, but typically focuses on beer, ales and ciders along with snacks and light meals. A tavern—deriving from the Roman taberna—was originally a roadside inn; now, it’s somewhat synonymous with pubs, but still finds echoes in rural roadside bars. 

Both the bar equipment and foodservice equipment you need will depend on the type of bar you want to open, its size and the extensiveness of your food and drinks menus. World of Beer in Tampa, Fla., for example, has a 1,000 sq. ft. walk-in beer cooler for draft kegs, with a beer dispensing system that puts 50 drafts on tap. Additional coolers behind the bar hold 500 bottled and canned beers on a rotating basis. Flying Monkeys in Key West, Fla, is famous for its frozen drinks and has a wall of frozen drink machines in the bar.

The type of bar you open will affect other equipment choices, too. If beer will be a focus you may want a mug froster. If you plan to sell a lot of wine, you may pick a different glass-washing machine than you would if you’re selling cocktails in highballs and rocks glasses. Obviously, your food menu, whether limited to snack foods and sandwiches or extensive, will determine what kitchen and foodservice equipment you need. Central Restaurant Product’s Product Consultants can help you with all your equipment selections.

Take the most generic of drinking establishments, give it a theme, and it’s whatever you want it to be, from the speakeasy-like Attaboy Bar in New York to Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge, the best dive bar in New Orleans, according to the Huffington Post. And yet, there are several categories of bars that have their own defining characteristics.

Types of Bars

  • Beer hall. Think long communal tables and liter mugs of draft beer, soft pretzels, and charcuterie plates.
  • Brewpub. You’ll need brewing equipment in addition to a draft beer system, coolers and a kitchen for pub grub.
  • Cocktail lounge. Usually found in hotels, airports and restaurants, these upscale bars are known for mixologists, signature drinks, and luxe spirits also can be freestanding. Think dry martinis, shaken not stirred. In addition to the standard bar equipment, you’ll need some upscale glassware and maybe a unique glass or two for signature drinks. Ask your Product Consultant for free samples of glassware to see what works best. Since you’ll most likely have more stemware than, say, a sports bar, you’ll need a commercial glasswasher that has a cycle gentle enough not to break glasses. You may want a hot water washer to remove soil like lipstick more easily.
  • Hotel bar. Hotels may have a lobby bar, cocktail lounge, or practically any other type of bar, some operated by the hotel, others by outside operators. Hotels also cater events, which require portable or setup bars and bar equipment.
  • Karaoke bar. Good sound equipment with intuitive karaoke software is a must. But the kitchen will likely play a big role to draw people in and liven them up socially in preparation for turns at the microphone, or on nights when karaoke isn’t on the menu.
  • Music bar. Offering live music several nights a week, examples include piano bars (think Rick’s Café in “Casablanca”), blues bars, jazz bars, salsa bars, etc. Here again, your kitchen will be important as a way to draw people in, whether it’s a full menu or small plates like tapas. Music and a great bar will keep people there longer, spending a larger tab.
  • Nightclub. These large venues usually have a dance floor and a great sound system. Some have a DJ, others feature live music, and some have both. They’ll also have one or more main bars directly serving patrons and service bars to handle waitstaff orders for table service. Top venues like the historic Avalon Hollywood in Los Angeles, or Tao and Omnia in Las Vegas, offer lots of live entertainment, multimedia light shows, and VIP rooms for private dining and entertaining. While they can cost a lot to build, they also bring in $25,000 to $80,000 nightly, according to nightclubbiz.com, while an average 3,000 sq. ft. club can bring in anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 a night depending on location and concept.
  • Sports bar. These popular destinations require lots of storage for beer, and large screen televisions—enough that everyone in the place can see one. You’ll need cable or satellite service and subscriptions to sports networks—not to mention spirited decor. To differentiate your place, decide on whether you’ll hyper-focus on the local sports scene, or become a haven for a particular sport’s team and its fans, or strive to be all sports for all people. Your volume on game days may be a challenge, so invest in systems that can meet your top capacity—fast pour draft systems, ice storage and transport systems, and metered liquor guns, for example. Also, think of how to keep customers entertained on nights when no games are on. Billiards, darts, foosball tables, and game nights can keep seats filled.
  • Wine bar. You won’t need as much fabrication as a full bar, but you’ll need more storage for wine bottles. And possibly a compact kitchen for turning out small plates. You also may want to investigate a wine dispensing system that keeps wines fresh once opened. Additionally, wine bars generally require some expert staff. (Learn more about delivering a premium wine experience in CRP’s Definitive Guide to Wine Service.)