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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. Other than education and her family, her passion has always been writing.

Some of my Tuesday Night Drawing friends at my favorite bar, Bargenta (Argenta, IL)

Some of my Tuesday Night Drawing friends at my favorite bar, Bargenta (Argenta, IL)

My Qualifications

I'm missing my Tuesday nights with friends and my Friday afternoon happy hour at my favorite bar way too much. I've had a lot of time to think lately about why my favorite bar is my #1. 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, right there, is enough to bring in patrons. That sense of humor trickles out, though, into genuine hospitality and graciousness for their people. With this attitude, they cannot help but be successful.

If you are lucky enough to have a bar like this to frequent, you know what I'm talking about. These are hardworking people who put blood, sweat, and tears into this business, and their sacrifices do not go unnoticed. My heart breaks for them right now, having to stay closed. But they have done a marvelous job with curbside service and staying connected with their customers through social media.

If you do not have a favorite pub, maybe the criteria I list below can help you find one. When social distancing is but a memory, I will be at Bargenta on Tuesdays and Fridays. 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 that will determine if you go back. And when you go back, that bartender should remember your face and maybe even your name and your drink of choice, although it might take an extra visit or two for this to happen.

2. A Visible and Present Owner

I like a bar where the owners are working there or make an appearance regularly. From past experience, this tells me the employees are working hard and doing their best to serve the customers. If the owners are present, it also shows they are invested in the community and care about the people in their business. Off-site owners create a disconnect between the bar and the patrons. The vibe at a bar where the owners are present is much more infectious than one where they are absent.

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. Having to go out to smoke on the street with cars driving by is a no-no in our book. The outdoor space should not only accommodate smokers. It should be a place where a large group can gather and talk in nice weather.

4. Theme Nights

Bars, especially small-town bars, sometimes have to be creative to draw a crowd on weeknights. The best bars have theme nights to accommodate a wide variety of patrons.

For example, on Tuesdays, Bargenta and two other area bars go together and have a drawing where patrons can win a "pot" of money donated by the bars. At 7:00 pm, the host bar draws for a time between 7:00 and 8:00 to pull the winning number. Then the host bar goes live on Facebook and draws the winner so the other two bars and their customers can be involved. The winner can be from any of the three bars, and you must be present to win. If the winning number belongs to a person who is not present, the money in the pot rolls over to the next week. It is a lot of fun and tends to draw a large crowd on Tuesdays.

There are lots of other 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

It's been a long work week. Many people like to retreat to their favorite bar on a Friday after work for happy hour. The best bars have a gimmick to draw in a large crowd, which makes for a lively atmosphere. Whether it's killer drink specials or freebies, 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? Finally, having snacks available is a plus. Bargenta not only has free popcorn but also free snack mix at the bar. It's the little touches that make a favorite place your favorite and keeps 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

First off, a bar must have a certain level of cleanliness. I may go to a bar that isn't quite at that level, but I won't go back. I guess I'm spoiled because the owner of Bargenta is a phenomenal decorator. She just 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

Especially during this stay at home order, it has been wonderful to stay connected with curbside specials at my favorite bar through fantastic social media communication. For business owners, keeping up with all of the marketing aspects of a business must be exhausting, but business owners who make it a priority have more business because people are kept informed. To generate traffic and stay connected to regular customers, a bar needs to use a variety of social media advertising venues. Traffic will flock to places that advertise in multiple venues.

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 the 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. It can be a fine line sometimes, and these situations require experience and a keen sense of how much patrons are drinking to keep everyone safe.


There you have it. Ten must-have's for a bar to reach favorite status. You might live much too far away to ever experience my favorite bar, but I bet you probably have your own. Drop me a line in the comments and tell me about the pub that makes you smile.

© 2020 Marcy Bialeschki


Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 06, 2020:

It doesn't get any better!! Angie, I enjoy all my time there with you, especially!!!

Angie Young on May 06, 2020:

I’m sure my Aussie friends will agree...when they visited us in Argenta, we took them down the street to Bargenta for a cold one (or two) and at night’s end, the bar owner Gary took us all for a starry golf cart tour around town before taxiing us home. That’s hospitality!

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 05, 2020:

I agree 100%, Michael!

Michael Rambo on May 05, 2020:

Great bar, great bartenders, great owners On top of a great little town

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 05, 2020:

Thanks, Jessica! You are one of the great bartenders I was talking about. You and Kim...Sam is questionable...hahaha. JK Sam, we love you, too. You do a great job with the Tuesday drawing.

Jessica Gremo on May 05, 2020:

And we miss you!! Great article and your cold ones will be ready and waiting!!

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 05, 2020:

Thanks, Liz. My really good friends own that bar, and my heart is breaking for them. We are still on lock-down in Illinois.

Bill - I commend you. Keep going strong!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 05, 2020:

I'm thirteen years sober. I've never seen a bar I didn't like. lol

Liz Westwood from UK on May 05, 2020:

You have listed sone great criteria for bars in this article.

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