Whether you run a cocktail lounge, neighborhood dive bar, nightclub, distillery or tavern, you have one goal: to serve as a gathering spot for people to share good drinks and great times. However, with the ever-growing number of bars available for patrons to choose from, how do you make your bar stand out above the rest?
On top of determination, hustle, and a great marketing plan, you need a way to keep guests intrigued and excited. Loyal patrons are the lifeblood of any successful bar — how do you keep them coming back?
We’re sharing 30 restaurant ideas to create a unique experience for your bar’s guests, as well as words of wisdom from veteran bar owners on the inspiration behind their bars.
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Bar Owners and Bartenders Serve Up The Ideas That Inspired Them
Sometimes, creative bar ideas are born out of a flash of inspiration. Other times, they might result from long-term planning. Either way, successful bar concepts have one thing in common: someone had the vision, work ethic and drive to bring it to life. And their communities responded, gaining these bars local and national recognition.:
“We take something that looks like oatmeal and make it into a delicious drink. I love the process of starting from scratch and making a product that people love.” GM and Assistant Brewer Gina DiZonno, Arrowhead Ales.
“I fell in love with brewing’s perfect blend of art and science and wanted to continue learning at a higher level. So I took the leap. We handcraft small-batch beers that are full of unique, exciting flavors and reflect the timelessness, creativity, and energetic fun.” Wilm Bens, founder of Lakewood Brewing.
“It all started with three college buddies and a shared love of beer. . While traveling in Europe after college, they drank many diverse, fresh, local beers… They wanted to bring that to Boston, so they decided to do just that. In 1986 the Harpoon Brewery received Brewing Permit #001 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And that, friends, was the beginning of Harpoon….” Founders of Harpoon Brewery.
30 Bar Ideas and Concepts
No matter what your “thing” is, the more unique and innovative the better. Here are 30 one-of-a-kind bar ideas guaranteed to fill barstools.
1. Go big or go home
When it comes to drinks, sometimes bigger really is better. Get the buzz going about your bar with outrageously oversized drinks that are sure to shock. Party Fowl, a well-known Nashville funhouse, serves up a Brunch for Two bloody margarita that comes loaded with fried chicken, fried okra, and a whole avocado. The lesson here? Make your drinks Instagram-worthy!
2. Transport your patrons to a warmer place
Who doesn’t dream of sipping cocktails on the beach with sand between their toes? Give your patrons a taste of the island life with a tropical oasis theme like The Tilted Tiki and Indochine.
3. Perfect the art of the craft cocktail
Part of the appeal of going out to get drinks at cocktail lounges like Drink and The Aviary is having a mixologist serve up something patrons couldn’t concoct themselves. It’s hard to beat cocktails made with thoughtful care, unique recipes, and fresh ingredients!
4. Provide self-serve wine
You’ve seen beer on tap. Why not wine? Let your guests steer their wine journey by offering self-service wine! At Sail Away Wine, bartenders issue a Wine Passport that allows guests to select their wine and pour size. Then guests settle their tab at the end of the night.
5. Throw it back to the Prohibition Era
There’s nothing more alluring than an underground speakeasy with a secret entrance, old-timey feel, and classic cocktails. A Prohibition Era theme can involve everything from the doorway to the decor to the cocktail list. Many speakeasies also feature live music and entertainment.
Some famous speakeasies of the modern age, complete with secret entrances and passwords, include:
6. Incorporate your culture
Many bar owners and bartenders like to pay homage to their heritage by serving up some of their nation’s traditional drinks. For example, guests can sip on a Cuban libation at Miami’s Cafe La Trova, where they bring to life the retro Cuba atmosphere with their artisanal, handcrafted cocktails, or Philadelphia’s Cuba Libre Rum Bar, where they are dedicated to celebrating the great Cuban culture.
7. Offer a cocktail class
12, a high-end cocktail bar in the heart of Atlanta, serves up drinks mixed by award-winning bartenders. On top of that, they also teach guests how to craft their very own cocktails. Classes are an intimate and exclusive setting for patrons to enjoy themselves at your establishment, and inspire events like wedding showers, company celebrations, or community gatherings.
8. Grab a drink with your pup
It turns out there really is heaven on earth, and it happens to be at Mutts Canine Cantina — an off-leash dog park and bar where both you and your K-9 pals can drink and play all day.
9. Take advantage of your building’s architecture
If you’re lucky enough to run a bar out of a unique or historic building, you can let the architecture do all the talking. The Tunnel Bar, a nationally-recognized cocktail lounge, is built out of a tunnel once used to board trains at historic Union Station. The bar’s interior plays off the building’s history and shape, making it an extremely desirable place to grab a drink.
10. Books and booze make a great combination
Infuse your bar with the hominess and elegance of a library. Like the Peter Kern Library at the Oliver Hotel and The Dead Poet, literary-themed establishments offer a cozy gathering place for friends and families. Plus, what better place for a book club to meet?
11. Bring the great outdoors indoors
Camp Bar takes the urban camping experience to the next level with mounted deer heads, a roaring fire, and an interior outfitted like a cozy log cabin.
12. Add a touch of magic
Take a page out of David Copperfield’s book and put on a show at your bar while serving fantastic drinks. At Chicago Magic Lounge, magic is performed by talented, professional magicians while the bar is serving up craft cocktails.
13. Extra extra, read all about it
Newsies, journalists, and reporters alike will enjoy a news-themed atmosphere. San Francisco’s Local Edition and Minneapolis’s The News Room offer a warm and comfortable interior complete with newsprint papering the walls.
14. Bring on the mermaids
These bars take deep-sea themes to the next level. The Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale and the Mermaid Lounge in Las Vegas both incorporate one of the world’s oldest mythical creatures along with real tropical fish. Trained mermaids perform aquatic shows in giant tanks of water for guests’ viewing pleasure.
15. Pay homage to Halloween every day of the year
Some people like a good scare now and again, and these spooky bars don’t disappoint. The Spirit Room offers screenings of cult classic horrors and tarot card readings, while Last Rites blends creepy abandoned island vibes with tiki decor.
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16. Brr, it’s cold in here
Guests will need to break out parkas and mittens before heading to these frosty, igloo-themed bars. At Minus 5 Ice Experience, the designers carved everything out of -5 degree blocks of ice. The Igloo Bar in NYC is available between November and April and features spectacular igloo domes with heated interiors.
17. Your mission, should you choose to accept it
SafeHouse is a spy-themed bar and restaurant that offers family-friendly recon missions during the day and a lively bar scene at night. Guests need to find a secret door to enter, making it a fun challenge just to get there.
18. Turn everything Upside Down
Pop-up bars are having a moment. Especially this Stranger Things-inspired pop-up bar called The Upside Down, featuring the iconic wall of lights from Season 1 and drinks inspired by the show’s characters.
19. Bring the silver screen to life
These theme bars replicate famous sets, offer drinks and menu items named after beloved characters, and allow people to experience their favorite TV shows as if they were there:
Saved by the Max - inspired by Saved by the Bell
The Whip - inspired by Friends
McGee’s Pub - inspired by How I Met Your Mother
20. Give people a much-needed laugh
Who doesn’t need a good chuckle in today's day and age? Venues like The Comedy Bar and Annoyance Theater and Bar offer drinks and a variety of improv, sketches, plays, and stand-up shows.
21. Forget beach-themed, just put it on the beach
Some bars, like O’Maddy’s, are fortunate enough to have the real estate needed to put their bar directly on the beach (or close enough to enjoy the view). It doesn’t get better than the gentle breeze off the water, live music, and a fun and lively atmosphere. You don’t necessarily have to be on the coast to bring this bar concept to life! Check out Maynards and The Cove to see how these bars took advantage of lakefront locations.
22. Offer a weekly trivia night
An easy way to please the crowd is to offer a weekly trivia night hosted by a third-party company like Trivia Mafia and Pub Trivia. Trivia nights are a great way to bring back regulars again and again and offer a fun and friendly competition for patrons to join.
23. Host a murder mystery party
Minneapolis Cider Co is well-known in the Twin Cities for its pickleball courts and fabulous homemade cider brews, but they’re also in the market of hosting nights filled with murder, mystery, intrigue, and fun. Guests can purchase tickets to play a character, and the group has to work together to figure out who the real murderer is before it’s too late.
24. Honor a late, great musician
The Mean Eyed Cat in Austin is arguably one of the best Johnny Cash tribute bars. The Austin mainstay offers creative cocktails, delicious BBQ, and a set-list of hits from the Man in Black himself in the background.
25. Celebrate Christmas in July, and every other month
LaLa’s gives patrons a chance to celebrate Christmas 24/7. It’s decked out in string lights and holiday cheer 365 days a year – a North Pole oasis in Central Texas!
26. Team up for a good cause
Patrons get a beer, you get a packed bar, and a local charity gets a hefty donation — everyone wins in this situation. Look for a local charity that supports a cause that speaks to you, and see if they’re interested in hosting their next event at your bar.
27. Make every day a holiday
We’ve covered Halloween and Christmas-themed bars, but what about the lesser-known ones that need a little love, too? Whether it’s Halfway to St. Patty’s Day (September 16) or National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (January 31), there’s no shortage of weird and wacky holidays to celebrate with your patrons. Check out the National Day Calendar to get some dates on the books!
28. Take game night up a notch
Game nights don’t have to be restricted to board games and cards! Give your guests something fun to do next time they visit by offering fun games and activities. Whether it’s an indoor mini-golf course at Urban Putt or vintage arcade games at Ground Kontrol, the sky’s the limit when it comes to offering creative activities at your bar.
29. Namaste with a drink in hand
Offer a weekly or monthly yoga event to loosen guests up before enjoying a cold drink with their pals. You can work with a company like Just Add Yoga to host an event.
30. Nothing like a little liquid courage
Karaoke nights are a fantastic way to get the crowd involved and belt out classics like “Ice Ice Baby” and “I Want It That Way.” You can host your own karaoke nights or partner with a local DJ to get the crowd going.
Belly up to your bar business plan
We hope these ideas have inspired you to take the next step with your own bar idea. Bring your vision to life and give your guests something to talk about by implementing a fun bar concept, whether it’s wacky and wild or laid back and chill.
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