Bars and Pubs and Clubs

Dada bar in Sheffield.

Last week, we inter­viewed the founders and own­ers of North Bar in Leeds, arguably the first ‘craft beer bar’ in the UK, and, in the course of our con­ver­sa­tion, asked: ‘So, what makes this a bar rather than a pub?’ After much head-scratch­ing, they had to admit defeat: they did­n’t know. ‘But we know a bar when we see one.’

Here’s a quiz, then: are the fol­low­ing bars, or pubs, or some­thing else?

  1. Dada, Sheffield
  2. Craft Beer Com­pa­ny, Isling­ton, Lon­don
  3. Craft Beer Com­pa­ny, Clerken­well, Lon­don
  4. The Par­cel Yard, Kings Cross, Lon­don
  5. any branch of All Bar One.

A pub has to sell beer, but then so do most bars. A bar is more like­ly to sell cock­tails, but some don’t, and some pubs do. Pubs are more like­ly to be brown, while bars will have white/cream/grey walls, but white-paint­ed pubs and brown bars do exist… no, this isn’t get­ting us any­where.

In the intro­duc­tion to her 2002 book Bar and Club Design, Bethan Ryder defines bars as fol­lows:

They are mod­ern, spec­tac­u­lar forums, under­pinned by the ideas of dis­play and per­for­mance, rather than util­i­tar­i­an, more casu­al places in which peo­ple meet, drink and gos­sip – such as the pub…

We’re not sure that works – North felt pret­ty casu­al, for exam­ple, but is def­i­nite­ly a bar. She also, how­ev­er, says this in attempt­ing to define the night­club: ‘…to a cer­tain extent they have always been what­ev­er a… pub is not.’ Now that, vague as it is, might work as a def­i­n­i­tion of a bar.

As, per­haps, might this: a pub should always feel as if it is in the British Isles; where­as a bar should feel as if it is in Man­hat­tan, Stock­holm, Moscow or Paris.

If you think you’ve got it cracked, let us know in the com­ments below.

Our answers would be 1) bar; 2) pub; 3) bar; 4) some­thing else; and 5) chain pub with pre­ten­sions.

29 thoughts on “Bars and Pubs and Clubs”

  1. I’d define a bar as like a pub but with more peo­ple stand­ing around rather than sit­ting, but with­out the loud music and utter wankers you get in night­clubs. Instead, how­ev­er, you get a dif­fer­ent type of wanker – the suit.

    1. See, that could be a descrip­tion of any num­ber of Lon­don pubs on any giv­en Thurs­day evening, and the Hand Bar in Fal­mouth is a large­ly suit-free zone.

      1. Fair point, but I’m talk­ing of a place that pur­pose­ly has a lack of seat­ing. Not just hav­ing to stand because it’s so busy.

        1. Ah, gotcha. We con­sid­ered that but North Bar threw us for a loop: it’s got about as many seats as any pub we’ve been in, con­sid­er­ing the size of the place, and bar stools too.

  2. By defin­ing all bar one as a pub with pre­ten­tions you set ‘bar’ up as some­thing aspi­ra­tional. Maybe best going back to orig­i­nal use of terms pub = pub­lic house thus imply­ing a build­ing rather than sin­gle room in larg­er com­plex. Bar would sim­ply be any bar counter from Which alco­hol is sold. Hotel and the­atre bars make good exam­ples as do stand alone coun­try pubs. Exam­ples like North or the spoons in Leeds train sta­tion sit in grey mid­dle area but I fail to see log­ic why they would­n’t be in the same cat­e­go­ry along with many all bar ones. Maybe we are bet­ter going back to define craft 😉 dis­cus­sion may be more pro­duc­tive and give clear­er results.

    1. Maybe we are bet­ter going back to define craft 😉 dis­cus­sion may be more pro­duc­tive and give clear­er results.”

      We always quite enjoyed that con­ver­sa­tion until it got sunk by peo­ple moan­ing about how bor­ing it was.

      Any­way, this isn’t an attempt to define it so much as to work out what peo­ple mean when they use it. Why is North Bar called North Bar and not The Brig­gate Arms? What does a cus­tomer expect from some­where flagged as a bar rather than as a pub?

  3. The same ques­tion arose on my blog a few weeks ago. These are good offer­ings:

    Blog­ger Cur­mud­geon said…

    A pub is some­thing whose iden­ti­ty endures through changes of own­er­ship, and even name, where­as the iden­ti­ty of a bar is essen­tial­ly defined by its cur­rent own­er.

    18 June 2013 19:22
    Anony­mous Mar­tyn Cor­nell said…

    A pub is some­thing that looks as if it could be con­vert­ed with­out too much expense into a fam­i­ly home. A bar is some­thing that looks as if it could be con­vert­ed with­out too much expense into a shop. (And, of course, vice-ver­sa – which, since such con­ver­sions hap­pen all the time, is QED.)

    19 June 2013 08:36

    1. Fun­ni­ly enough, I think we’ve had the same con­ver­sa­tion on Face­book with Cur­mud­geon, too.

      Mar­tyn’s def­i­n­i­tion falls down when you look at, say, most Lon­don Fuller’s pubs: the Jugged Hare on Vaux­hall Bridge road is def­i­nite­ly a pub (we think) but does­n’t resem­ble a fam­i­ly home. (It resem­bles a bank, unsur­pris­ing­ly…)

      Cur­mud­geon’s is bet­ter, though when we put it to the chaps at North Bar they imme­di­ate­ly coun­tered with sev­er­al exam­ples of pubs defined by their own­ers’ per­son­al­i­ties, and bars which had stayed the same through sev­er­al own­ers over the course of many years.

  4. I think pubs and clubs are quite spe­cif­ic things. A bar is just a catch all term for any­where else that sells alco­hol for con­sump­tion on the premis­es that does­n’t fit into either cat­e­go­ry.

    1. But why does­n’t North Bar fit into the cat­e­go­ry of pub? What about it sets it apart?

      1. I’ve nev­er been there, but it does­n’t look like a pub from the pho­tos, it looks more like a cafe.

        A pub­lic house is lit­er­al­ly that: a house for the pub­lic. Its like the down­stairs of some­one’s house with com­fy seat­ing and peo­ple you know sit­ting around, a pool table and a dart board, a tv show­ing sport or eas­t­en­ders, beer in the fridge and sand­wich­es avail­able from the kitchen, and gar­den where you can kick a foot­ball around with your kids. If it does­n’t have an absolute min­i­mum of 50% of those things then its not a pub.

  5. Even in a big city like Man­ches­ter it’s notice­able how vir­tu­al­ly all pubs are free-stand­ing build­ings, not just the bot­tom floor of some­thing else. Scot­land is dif­fer­ent, of course.

  6. Hmmm – let’s try to nar­row this down a bit more.

    Does the per­son in charge live on the premis­es? If yes, it’s a pub

    Does the per­son in charge lock up and go home when the trad­ing day is over? If yes, it’s a bar.

    And yes, I’m sure mul­ti­ple excep­tions can be found to both those state­ments. …

    1. Yes, that does con­fuse things! If we asked you to sug­gest a good bar in Not­ting­ham, because we did­n’t fan­cy going to a pub, you’d know what we meant though, would­n’t you?

      1. Now that’s tricky… I might go to Mar­tyn’s def­i­n­i­tion above and send you to a ‘bar’ where the per­son who locks up at night lives in a dif­fer­ent ‘pub.’ Con­fus­ing, but yes I know what you mean, even if I’m strug­gling to think of one I’d active­ly rec­om­mend with­out it only being a bar on a tech­ni­cal­i­ty!

        I’m also pret­ty sure some pubs call them­selves bars because they want to sound cool (Amer­i­can). Draft beer any­one?

        1. The Social/Bodega what­ev­er its now called? Thats def­i­nite­ly a bar not a pub. The Malt Cross?

  7. Tra­di­tion­al­ly at least I would have thought that a bar is designed for night time drink­ing where­as a pub is a more relaxed all day affair. But I realise this is chang­ing now that bars (like North Bar) are becom­ing more like con­ti­nen­tal style bars – ie. more like cafes.

  8. I real­ly can­not decide on a def­i­n­i­tion that works but I know that in most cas­es I’m going to pre­fer a pub to a bar.

    What makes CBC Clerken­well a bar though? The design? It cer­tain­ly makes a focal point of the bar with seat­ing down­stairs being con­fined to the edges. But it’s still a pub in my mind.

    The Isling­ton branch is the most pub­bish of them all, which is why it’s my pre­ferred choice. But the Clerken­well one is still a pub to me. It just tends to get too busy for my tastes espe­cial­ly on week­day evenings which is why I tend to steer clear.

    The Par­cel Yard = soul­less train sta­tion pub. But still a pub.

    1. What makes CBC Clerken­well a bar though? The design?”

      Good ques­tion. We tried to pick exam­ples where the answer was­n’t obvi­ous and then fol­lowed our gut instinct. Maybe it’s because it’s bright, noisy and (sor­ry, CBC…) a bit uncom­fort­able?

  9. My think­ing is with Mar­tyn’s home/shop dis­tinc­tion. Though as with many things it’s a bell curve dis­tri­b­u­tion, and the curves over­lap.

  10. Here’s my def­i­n­i­tion of a bar from my Lon­don guide, if it helps. “Some places with pub licens­es don’t feel at all like pubs, and I’ve des­ig­nat­ed these bars. Most fol­low non-native tra­di­tions, homag­ing Low Coun­tries cafés, Bavar­i­an gäst­stätte or US dive bars, for exam­ple. A few are flash­er estab­lish­ments in the inter­na­tion­al style.”

  11. The ori­gin of the term “pub­lic house” is not, as py0 thinks, because it’s a bit like some­one’s house that hap­pens to be open to the pub­lic, though that’s rather an appeal­ing notion. It’s a licens­ing dis­tinc­tion – it’s pub­lic because it’s per­mit­ted to serve alco­hol for con­sump­tion on (and usu­al­ly off) the premis­es to the pub­lic, as opposed to hotel guests, or the­atre­go­ers, or din­ers or anoth­er more select group.
    A “bar” used to be sim­ply the counter itself where the drinks were served, and by exten­sion the imme­di­ate area sur­round­ing it, and we still use the term in this sense in pubs, which can have more than one bar. Thus also the usage of bar in con­nec­tion with places where the pri­ma­ry pur­pose isn’t sell­ing drink, as in the­atre bar, restau­rant bar, hotel bar etc.
    When a place that’s main­ly about sell­ing drink, like the North Bar, bills itself as a bar, it’s sim­ply a mat­ter of style – in the British con­text, it’s an indi­ca­tion that the place does­n’t style itself after a stereo­typ­i­cal pub. In fact most so-called bars have iden­ti­cal licens­es to pubs, oth­er­wise passers by would­n’t be able to drop in at ran­dom to enjoy an expen­sive half of import­ed Ital­ian craft brewed pil­sner or a mud­dled mint and sin­gle sug­ar cane plan­ta­tion moji­to with­out also con­sum­ing at least a plate of chips.
    I’d be inter­est­ed to know more about how the use of the term ‘bar’ devel­oped in the US, where places for every­day booz­ing used to be called ‘saloons’. I’m the­o­ris­ing it’s because the term ‘saloon’ devel­oped very neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the runup to Pro­hi­bi­tion, and ‘bar’ was a neu­tral alter­na­tive that could be made aspi­ra­tional and upmar­ket by stick­ing the word ‘cock­tail’ in front of it.

    1. …‘bar’ was a neu­tral alter­na­tive that could be made aspi­ra­tional and upmar­ket by stick­ing the word ‘cock­tail’ in front of it.”

      Or ‘Rococ­co’.

  12. Nice ques­tion. For me, my answer is an emo­tion­al one, per­haps. Bars, for me, should be that – the focus being ‘The Bar’ as in one bar, on one floor, usu­al­ly dark­er and loud­er than a pub, with a focus on ‘quick’ drinks, chat, social­is­ing. Not fam­i­ly friend­ly. Not ‘Sun­day Paper’ kind of place. no beer gar­dens. Usu­al­ly urban.

    Obvi­ous­ly, as I write this, I realise that ulti­mate­ly a pub can be these too, but gen­er­al­ly should­n’t be – in my most hum­ble opin­ion!

  13. From an Amer­i­can point of view, a pub is a place that serves a cer­tain kind of food and has a long beer list. A brew­pub, is a place where beer is brewed and food is served. A bar just sells alco­hol. Some­times bars are with in restau­rants. I don;t know if that helps but that is what it looks like to me here in the states.

  14. I don’t think it’s ever going to be pos­si­ble to draw a line and say that All Pubs do X where­as All Bars do Y. Then there’s the unre­solved ques­tion of whether Wether­spoons are pubs, and if not what they are; they cer­tain­ly aren’t bars, but there are quite a few un-pub-like things about them.

    I think we can say that bars are more like­ly to serve posh and/or pre­ten­tious bar snacks, and pubs are more like­ly to serve some­thing to go with a pint. (“Some­thing to go with a pint” may in fact be very tasty and unusu­al, but it’s not sold as such.) Some­thing sim­i­lar applies to food in gen­er­al – the dif­fer­ence between get­ting some­thing to eat (pub) and try­ing the char­cu­terie plat­ter (bar). Even on the booze front I’d say that bars are more like­ly than pubs to make a big deal of the par­tic­u­lar beers they serve, although this is a bit less obvi­ous – you could say that just hav­ing a list on a black­board isn’t actu­al­ly mak­ing a big deal at all.

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