Bar Design

by Naren Young

There’s no doubt that everyone who is reading this, and indeed everyone in the bar industry, has worked in at least one establishment that was so poorly designed that you curse to yourself every time you walk behind it. Of course I‘m not talking about design in terms of having the coolest Edison bulbs but rather the actual layout behind the bar. Because as we should know, it’s the little design details that can really affect the flow and productivity on any given night and indeed the profit and longevity of a venue.

Bartending can be a frustrating game for many reasons and for those that really take your craft seriously, the ergonomics of a bar can mean the difference between a seamless experience for your guests while making your job that much easier and enjoyable. Sadly though, too often the designers get in before we bartenders do and I’m still yet to find a designer that really values function over form or the needs of the modern bartender.

Creating something visually stunning is their modus operandi while the things that make a bar fulfill its potential is clearly not. But that award winning design doesn’t put money in the register. Sure, people do come to a place that has a striking design. But imagine if that could be enhanced by a bar that ran like a well oiled machine? Most bars don’t and a lot of the problems associated with functionality could be avoided with a little more thought and discussion with those people that are actually going to be working in that bar.

That confusing, overly-used and ridiculous moniker of ‘bar consultant’ has helped things somewhat because at least most of them have probably tended bar at some stage and understand the importance of what I’m saying right here. When a company or individual is brought in to ‘consult’ on a project, their absolute first priority should be to fulfill their client’s need to make a profit and that should first and foremost include the getting the design right. Fancy cocktails and bespoke ice mean absolutely zilch if the bar is not set up for success. But again too many consultants are brought in too late when the design has already been signed off on or finished.

There’s a myriad of design faults that we’ve all seen that just keep me scratching my head in amazement.

“Who the hell designed this bar?” is one of those questions I’ve asked on far too many times to count. I consulted on a bar recently in Australia (see, even I’m a consultant, apparently) which was about 30 feet in length. The thing was a monster and had two stations (it should have had three), the ice bins were laughably tiny, each station had a tiny speed rail that could only hold eight bottles and there was only one sink on the entire bar. One sink! The poor soul who was on point – the busiest section of most bars; usually the first ‘point’ of contact with the customers – had to walk the entire length of the bar every single time they made a drink to wash their tools. Could you imagine? I wouldn’t last one night in such a place.

How do we improve this? Many people reading this are probably not in a position to make such big changes, especially if you work in a bar that is already open. For those of you that fit into this category, you should be constantly thinking about how you can improve the productivity of your bar with a few simple steps. Is everything I need within reach? Can I move anything around that will make my life easier and the bar more money?

For those at the other end of the spectrum that are either opening your own joint or helping with an opening, make sure you set up your bar for maximum efficiency because once it’s built, it’s too late. You could go over the top like famed bartender Salvatore Calabrese did at his now defunct London bar Salvatore at Fifty, where he was able to design his own bar and had refrigerated drawers for garnishes, his own custom designed (and patented) sink and huge separated ice wells.

But some simple things will go a long way and won’t cost a lot. Below are a few things to consider (although some of them are on my ‘wish list’):


  • Large ice wells at least 48” wide and 20” deep that can be separated into sections for crushed ice, juices etc
  • Long double speed rails that can accomadate at least 30-40 bottles
  • A sink at every station
  • A freezer or glass chiller
  • Plenty of storage space for back up liquor and dry goods
  • Plenty of illuminated back bar space for all those shiny bottles
  • Cocktail prep stations with room for cutting board and with a dedicated trash can for each station
  • An inverted glass rinser for washing shakers
  • Foot pedals to turn on your sink taps
  • Extendable hoses to wash down the bar at the end of the night
  • Plenty of space for garnishes, preferably chilled or on ice
  • Lots of fridge space

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