We’ve all walked into a bar area that filled our senses. The design, lighting, and atmosphere made us feel welcome, a little bit like coming home. In some instances, the environment was so unique and fun that it lifted our spirits before we’d even taken the first sip of an alcoholic elixir.
How are these intriguing cocktail spaces that make repeat guests out of first-timers created? It seems the trick is in the details that form an unforgettable experience. Let’s look at a few of the old and new designs that call customers in and then keep them coming back for more.
What is better than the combination of your favorite book and libation? Welcome to the world of liquor libraries. The cocktail lounge that doubles as a library are equipped with books and drinks that inspire a toast to Twain. The Novela in San Francisco serves drinks like Hemingway’s Code Hero, Jay Gatsby, and Tom Bloom, which contains hibiscus gin, pineapple, and grapefruit juice, and a hint of mint to sip on while immersed in an Instagrammable book collection.
Visit the Library Bar in Los Angeles, and you’ll walk through velvet curtains into a room filled with hardcover books and memorabilia. Grab a Tequila Mockingbird and some garlic fries and buffalo cauliflower before cozying up with a book.
Mike and Brian McMenamin began resurrecting and redesigning intriguing old buildings back in 1983. These buildings that were once schools, churches, and old hotels became craft pubs with movie theaters with rooms for overnight stays and soaking pools.
A few of their historic renovations include transforming a county poor farm into a 74-acre property with bars, restaurants, spa, lodging, soaking pool, and an outdoor concert venue. There was also a flatiron building and tire shop that became a live jazz club. Now a brand with 56 units, McMenamins pubs, breweries, and historic hotels boast yearly revenues that exceed $200 million.
When speakeasies emerged in the 1880s, they were establishments that sold cocktails without a license and then rose to fame during the prohibition era. They were usually tucked away in discrete areas with entrances that looked like walls or even bookcases, demanding a password for access and asking patrons to “speak easy” so as not to alert authorities. They were reborn in 1999 when Milk & Honey opened in New York City with a hidden entrance, craft cocktails, and vintage decor.
A Nod to a Place and Time
These establishments are all about recreating the mood of a particular place or time. Walk into the Angry Crab Shack, and you know you’ve been transported to a Louisiana backyard during the Mardi Gras. It’s loud, fun, and colorful, and guests don’t mind talking over the music or the football game.
Just For Fun
These are the bars that make you want to stay awhile, play a game of pool or enjoy a round of ping pong. They’re fun and friendly, and inspiring. The Mad Hanna, in Portland, Oregon, is an open space self-defined as “your neighborhood living room.”
There are also entertainment spots that go from neighborly to technical wizardry. These entertainment hotspots focus on a particular sport, like golf or ping pong. For example, the 6,000 square-foot Flight Club with a 26-foot-long bar features high-tech dartboards with tracking technology and automatic scoring. It’s the type of atmosphere where you leave with a few more friends than you came with and a promise to return next week. What started across the pond now has two U.S. locations, Chicago and Boston, with more expected.
While these different venues draw people in, what makes them stay is excellent service, good food and drinks, and bartenders having fun instead of looking at their watches. You can always tell a place that has heart—a bar or restaurant that the owner dreamed about, put their unique stamp on, and then went into business full throttle.
For a bit of inspiration, check out who made Esquire’s 2021 Best Bars in America list.