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What Makes a Great Bar? Top 10 Traits of the Best Pubs

Marcy is a school counselor at an alternative school in Illinois and a part-time bartender who loves writing in her spare time.

Me with some friends at my favorite bar

Me with some friends at my favorite bar

What Makes a Bar Your Favorite?

My favorite little pub is Bargenta in the quaint little village of Argenta, Illinois. You can see right away the owners have a sense of humor. That on its own is enough to bring in patrons. Their sense of humor trickles out, though, into genuine hospitality and graciousness for their people. With this attitude and approach to business, they cannot help but be successful.

If you are lucky enough to have a similar pub, you understand. These hardworking people put blood, sweat, and tears into this business, and their sacrifices do not go unnoticed.

If you don't have a favorite watering hole, maybe I can help you find one. Here are some guidelines to consider when you go looking for your own Bargenta.

One of our favorite bartenders!

One of our favorite bartenders!

1. Friendly Bartenders

Most bars have friendly bartenders, so let me qualify this criterion. I might be showing my age, but do you remember the television show Cheers? The theme song says it all, "where everybody knows your name."

Remember how the characters would enter the bar, and the bartender greeted them with a smile and by saying their name? This practice is the gold standard for bar hospitality. Even if you've never been to that bar before, the bartender should greet you with "hello" and a smile almost immediately. Getting that welcome feeling from the first second you walk in is a critical factor in determining how long you stay and if you go back. And when you go back, that bartender should remember your face and maybe even your name.

2. A Visible and Present Owner

I like a bar with visible owners. Owners who manage from afar inevitably create a vibe of disconnect between the bar and their patrons. When owners are present, employees work harder and put their best foot forward when serving customers. Additionally, if the owners are on-site, they are invested in the community and honestly care about the people supporting their business.

3. Inviting and Discrete Outdoor Space

I'm not a smoker, but my husband is. He snubs bars that do not provide a discrete and inviting outdoor space where he can socialize and smoke. Going out to smoke on the street with cars driving by is a no-no in his book. The outdoor space should not only accommodate smokers, however. It should also be a place where a large group can gather, relax, and have fun. The outdoor space at my "tried and true" not only has ample seating but also a stage where bands regularly perform—another reason why my hang out is the best!

4. Theme Nights and Drink Specials

Bars, especially small-town bars, have to be creative to draw a crowd on weeknights. Therefore, the best bars have theme nights and even drink specials that cater to a wide variety of patrons.

There are tons of ideas for theme nights: trivia night, karaoke night, '80s nights, and more. These themed nights are an excellent way to bring in a regular crowd on what might have otherwise been a slow night.

One of many Fridays with my happy hour buddy.

One of many Fridays with my happy hour buddy.

5. Extras: Happy Hour Specials, Giveaways, and Apparel

If it's been a long week, many people like to retreat to their favorite bar for Happy Hour on Friday. Part of the attraction for this crowd is a lively atmosphere, some delicious snacks, and possibly the chance to get a great deal or even something free.

Whether it's killer drink specials or free munchies, going the extra mile is a slam-dunk for bars. And who doesn't like buying a cool t-shirt or hat from their favorite pub? It's the little touches that make a place your favorite and keep you coming back.

6. Reasonable Prices

Let's face it, you might really like a bar, but if the prices are so inflated you can't afford to go there, you will go somewhere else. Knowing the competition's prices and being in their range or slightly lower will be good business in the end.

Street view of Bargenta

Street view of Bargenta

7. Pleasing Decor and Cleanliness

A bar must have a certain level of cleanliness. I may go to a bar that doesn't meet this standard, but I won't return. I guess I'm spoiled because the owner of Bargenta is a phenomenal decorator. She has a knack for putting all the right decor in all the right places, and it makes a difference. She has taken the time to search and collect the right items from auctions and flea markets to create her masterpiece. The front of the building is unique and inviting, and the other decor inside is just perfect. I have frequented many bars that lacked a decor theme and some that lacked decor altogether. Trust me. You'll be more likely to stay longer and go more often if you like the aesthetics.

This photo was taken 3/16/20, the night before the bar closed. I had a great night with friends.

This photo was taken 3/16/20, the night before the bar closed. I had a great night with friends.

8. Music

Most bars have pay-and-play music, which is a nice feature; however, the bars that host bands are definitely at an advantage. Live music puts off a vibe that gets people moving, drinking, and having a great time. It is true, though, some people get to an age where they don't like the loud music, so having enough space to separate the band area from the regular bar area usually makes everyone happy.

Curbside pick-up during the coronavirus shutdown!

Curbside pick-up during the coronavirus shutdown!

9. Great Marketing and Social Media Connections

For business owners, keeping up with all of the marketing aspects of a business must be exhausting, but business owners who prioritize have more business because people are informed. Therefore, a bar should use a variety of social media advertising venues for maximum exposure. It's a fact—bars with stellar social media communication get traffic!

10. Discrete Honesty Concerning Your Condition

Experienced bar owners keep track of patrons who might be drinking too much, especially if they know those customers are driving. Being discrete and genuine when dealing with this situation is a sign of a great bartender/bar owner. True, cases involving alcohol can get out of hand sometimes, and another great attribute of a bartender/owner is knowing when to take control and show someone the door to protect the others inside.

Find Your Favorite

There you have it. Ten must-haves for a bar to reach favorite status. You might live much too far away ever to experience my favorite bar, but I bet you probably have your own. And if you don't—now you can start looking!

© 2020 Marcy Bialeschki