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All the Different Types of Bars and Venues

There are many types of bars out there, and each of them has distinctive characteristics. Some bars are a little more upscale than other, and some will be serving completely different drinks than the rest. 

Bar area of famous Blue Note Jazz Club New York full of good drinks

Every kind of bar has its own charm, if you ask us, so it really just comes down to what you’re in the mood for. 

Whether you want to visit some dive bars, stop at sports bars to watch a game, or check out a hotel bar during your trip, here’s what you should know about your options.


Beach Bar

Beach bars, as the name implies, are located along a beach. Many are open during the day, often starting service late morning or early afternoon, and cater to tourists visiting and enjoying the area.

Tropical beach with palm trees and a bar in Key West

Beach bars may have specialty food to go with their drinks, and many cocktails are available to go. Most beach bars focus on tasty but lower-cost drinks available in decent sizes.

However, some areas have more upscale beach bars in private zones, and these tend to have more expensive options. Fruit flavors are popular in beach bars, and the bar may have fewer or no basic drinks like beers.

Beach-themed bars that aren’t located on a beach are considered specialty bars. These bars tend to have sand floors, tropical decorations, and elaborate fruit-based cocktails.


Biker Bar

Biker bars are a kind of specialty bar that caters to motorcycle riders. They don’t exclusively serve motorcyclists but tend to have designs and decorations emphasizing the lifestyle. Many biker bars have little or no parking for cars.

Portland's famous Kelly's Olympian Bar

Some biker bars are the favorite hangout spot of a specific group. Others enforce what’s called a “No Colors” rule, meaning patrols can’t wear things that identify positions or alliances in different groups.

This rule helps reduce potential friction between biker groups. When biker groups adopt a bar as their official hangout, they may reserve a section of it, help provide bouncer services, and otherwise support the place as regular.

Biker bars can be rougher than other locations, but many welcome casual visitors, so it’s good to research them before you visit.


Cocktail Bars

Cocktail bars, also known as cocktail lounges, are relatively upscale locations that focus on mixed drinks. They tend to have higher prices than most other locations, but also unique menus and a lower number of people competing for the bartender’s attention.

The Gatsby's Cocktail Lounge or bar

Cocktail bars often hire mixologists who specialize in creating new and original drinks for guests. If you’re looking for a wholly custom flavor, this is an excellent place to find it.

Internal designs can vary, but most cocktail bars prefer to emphasize their status as a classy location. Expect limited food options.

However, cocktail bars are usually in urban areas, so it’s often easy to find a restaurant that’s open nearby. If they do serve food, it’s often high-end tapas-style options.


College Bar

College bars are set near campus dorms and occasionally on school grounds. They tend to attract members of fraternities and sororities and often have a vibrant, crowded nature.

Many college bars have a decent amount of food, live bands, activities, games, and alcohol. They can also be one of the more affordable bars around, as college students are often strapped for cash and look for places that meet their budget needs.

Many college bars profit through the volume of drinks sold rather than high margins. As college bars cater mainly to students, it’s rare to find older people there unless they’re associated with the school.

They’re also hard to find away from schools, which sharply limits their presence in other areas.


Country Bar

A country bar, sometimes known as a honky tonk, is a bar that focuses more on rural culture than the urban focus of many other areas. Country bars often feature live music from local country bands, dancing classes, karaoke, games, trivia, and more.

local band singing favorite songs at country bar

Country bars can be larger than many other types of bars and often have a clear space in the center for entertainment and dancing. Country bars tend to have an older clientele than some of the other options.


Dive Bar

Dive bars are essentially the average person’s bar. They may look dimmer or dirtier than other bars, with simple interiors, a bit of food, and only the occasional live music performance.

However, dive bars tend to have a decent selection of drinks on their menu. Some dive bars are specialty bars that try to play up the characteristics of dive bars, mixing eclectic decorations with moody lighting.

Broadly, however, dive bars are a reliable place to get reasonable-quality drinks at sensible prices. They’re not as much of an experience as some other locations, but if you’re looking for a simple drink made well, they’re an ideal choice.

Plastic bars are essentially a lower-quality version of dive bars. Plastic bars don’t pretend to have much of a theme or style to them, but they do sell alcohol, and that’s enough for their patrons.


Fern Bar

Fern bars are upscale locations that cater to singles rather than couples, families, or groups. They typically feature plants in the interior (especially ferns, hence the name), design choices like Tiffany lamps, and feel more like a living room than a traditional tavern.

tables and drinking counter at fern bar

Despite their focus, fern bars often attract groups who are looking for a sophisticated party space. Drink options are more upscale and feature menu items like wine spritzers and frozen daiquiris.


High-Concept Bar

High-concept bars are upscale, luxury joints mainly found in major urban centers. They tend to focus on specific themes and may have unique menus alongside their alcoholic beverages.

Out of all the types of bars on this list, a high-concept bar is where you can expect to pay the most. However, they tend to be outstanding experiences, with creative flair and personal attention from the staff that you can’t find elsewhere.

I’ve been to many high-concept bars that offer experimental cocktails and incredible food pairings.


Hotel Bar

As their name implies, hotel bars are available inside hotels, particularly larger ones. These are among the most common types of bars, and while most don’t have a theme, they tend to have a wide range of liquor options

nice hotel bar with bottle shelfs and seats

Some have cuisine or let you order food from an attached restaurant, and usually offer solid customer service. Hotel bars tend to be quieter than most other bars, as they’re more for drinking than socializing.

They’re both welcoming and straightforward, so they tend to be popular with visitors and travelers. They will also have higher prices since they cater to local and international travelers.


Ice Bar

Ice bars are a type of specialty bar made of ice, including furniture carved out of it. Many focus on selling vodka, and they often redesign their interiors regularly to provide a fresh experience.

nice hotel bar with bottle shelfs and seats

Unlike some other bars, ice bars usually place a time limit on the experience. Coats, earmuffs, and similar protective wear are available for guests who don’t bring their own. Ice bars are mainly found in urban areas and snowy regions and offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Irish Pub

There are many types of pubs out there. Gastropubs, theme pubs, micropubs, and pub pubs all make the list. However, nothing’s quite as classic as a good Irish pub.

group drinking beer in irish pub

They usually have filling food, live music, and seating areas big enough for larger groups. Irish pubs tend to have high-quality beers on tap and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

They also focus on affordable prices, so they’re far more accessible than many concept bars. In terms of atmosphere, Irish pubs have moodier lighting and laid-back furnishings such as wooden stools.


Live Music Bar

Live music bars are specialty bars that emphasize the music side of their entertainment. Most of them have live music every night, often from different bands and genres, though the music tends to be quite loud.

woman singing for entertainment at live music bar

Most live music joints are cheap and crowded and tend to cater to younger crowds. They may be too noisy or active for older patrols, so consider another type of bar if you want to go to a bar to connect with friends.


Retro Bar

A retro bar is any specialty bar with a theme from previous decades. For example, a Prohibition-style bar is a retro bar, while something focused on the 70s is a retro bar for anyone born in the 90s.

retro bar showing drinks at counter

Many retro bars serve alcoholic beverages that are fitting for their time period, resulting in a limited selection of high-quality offerings.

Most retro bars feature music from their target time period, making them an interesting experience if you love classic things.

Common decoration choices include industrial finishings, neon signs, and distinctive chair and table styles.


Sky Bar

Sky bars are elevated bars that offer a picturesque view of the surrounding area. Many are located on the tops of local buildings, but they can also be on dedicated floors inside structures.

sky bar sunset scene with seats for drinking

There’s some overlap with hotel bars, and a bar can be both, but hotel bars are usually at ground level. Sky bars aren’t necessarily located in hotels.

They can appear in office buildings and similar locations. Some sky bars are exclusive and only open their doors to hotel guests or people who have a membership plan.

This exclusivity is most common in luxurious hotels, where the owners want to maintain a certain atmosphere.


Specialty Bar

A specialty bar is any bar that revolves around a specific theme. For example, a cigar bar focuses on smoking, while vertically challenged bars are underground and may only be known to locals.

men with cigar drinking alcohol at specialty bar

Most of the other options on this list are ultimately a type of specialty bar. Bars want to be memorable and known for something.

Often specialty bars focus on a type of alcohol instead of a theme. Common specialty bars include wine bars, gin bars, whiskey bars, and experimental cocktail bars.


Sports Bar

Sports bars are gathering spots that emphasize sports, typically live-streaming games and events as they happen across multiple televisions.

friends watch football with drinks in sports bar

They mainly cater to men but also serve families. Sports bars are relatively common in most areas, including rural locations.

Unlike some other bars, sports bars tend to have a solid selection of food. They usually feature American meals like burgers and wings.

Drink selections trend towards the cheaper end, with beer, rum, and gin as popular choices.


The Pub

Pubs are broadly decent locations that serve both food and alcohol. Some have age restrictions and don’t allow minors in at all.

cleaner interior design of modern pubs

They welcome new customers, tend to be cleaner than a hole-in-the-wall location, and often have a robust selection of reasonably high-quality drinks.

The biggest difference between pubs and regular bars is the menu. Pubs have more hearty food, usually catering to lunch and dinner crowds, so they’re a better place for visiting after a hard day’s work.

Pubs can show up in places where you may not find bars. They’re a common sight in shopping malls and suburban areas that don’t have enough patrons to support a bar through alcohol sales alone.


Tiki Bar

Tiki bars are specialty bars that usually emphasize elements of Polynesian culture, plus nautical and atomic age elements. Most tiki bars are relatively small, free-standing areas and they’re definitely more popular late at night.

tiki bar serves refreshing mai tai cocktails

Tiki bars heavily emphasize cocktails, though some serve other drinks as well. Rum is the main ingredient in most of their drinks, standing out thanks to its association with sailing and the ocean.

Many tiki bars are part of hotels or Asian restaurants, and larger ones may have live entertainment.


Wine Bar

As the name implies, wine bars focus specifically on wine and have few or no options like beer and hard liquor. Unlike restaurants, which usually sell by the bottle, wine bars typically sell by the glass.

bottles in wine bar served in drinking glasses

They also have servers who can talk with customers about wine preferences to find a good match. Wine bars open earlier than some other bars, possibly catering to brunch and lunch crowds.

They tend to have bright and open designs, with paler wall colorings and large windows to let light in. Many also have outdoor seating areas and lots of greenery.

You’ll often find these upscale bars in urban or very metropolitan areas.


Which Type of Bar is Your Favorite?

As you can see, there are many types of bars around. Each one has different characteristics, and most people who go to bars have a few specific types they prefer.

Some people even choose a single bar to frequent, becoming a regular patron and well-known to both staff and other customers.

So, what’s your favorite kind of bar to visit? Leave us a comment with some stories about the places you’ve been and what makes you choose to go back.

Written by Rocco

Rocco is a Florida State University alumnus with years of bartending and hospitality experience. From slinging hundreds of vodka sodas a night in jam-packed college bars to serving carefully crafted cocktails in upscale restaurants, there’s not much he hasn’t done behind a bar. Now, Rocco shares his knowledge and passion for all things alcohol-related here on My Bartender for bibulous readers everywhere to enjoy.

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