The Difference Between A Bar With Beer And A ‘Beer Bar’

Beer is popping up everywhere.  More and more restaurants and bars are now serving craft beer in many shapes and forms.  However, a ‘Beer Bar’ is a special place and differs from just a bar or restaurant in a variety of ways.  These practices can be implemented at any place trying to run a good beer program.

So, what makes a good beer bar?

1. Tap Quality, Not Quantity, Matters

Bar XYZ has 100 taps, so it must be a beer bar.  Wrong.  Some of the best beer bars have as few as 10 taps but utilize them far more successfully than bars with over 100 taps. 

Take those 100 taps, and eliminate anything from Budweiser, Miller, and Coors.  Now eliminate stuff you can buy every single day of the year at the gas station or grocery store1.  What does that number look like now?  The tap list at a beer bar looks different every time you come in.  Local one offs and seasonal beers are not the exception, they are the norm.  If you can’t try something you have never had before (either in a bottle or on tap), you either are not in a beer bar, or you are and just have a drinking problem.

2. Beer Is The Main Attraction

Serve wine, serve liquor, serve food; I like them all.  But beer is the star of the show here.  It is called a beer bar, after all.  The staff should be educated about the offerings and be able to make recommendations to novices and seasoned veterans alike.  There is a manager dedicated to the beer offerings that is in frequent contact with local breweries and distributors.  And if food is served, pairing recommendations are a must!

3. There Is Always A Fresh IPA On Tap

Americans like hoppy beers.  Beer nerds like hoppy beers.  Keep a good, fresh IPA on at all times.  Just in Ohio alone, there are around a dozen very good IPAs brewed in state.  Add states touching Ohio, and that number jumps even higher.  Keep them rotating, variety is great!  And the more local, the better!

4. Seasonality Matters

In the winter, Belgian Strong Ales, Stouts, Porters, and Barleywines dominate the taps.  In the summer, Saisons, Pale Ales, IPAs, and Pilsener are the star of the show.  Does this mean there are no barrel aged Barleywines in the summer and no sessionable Saisons in the winter?  Of course not!  But there are beers styles associated with seasons for a reason.

5. It Looks More Like A Pub Than A Club

Music is in the background.  Did you hear that, I said BACKGROUND.  T-shirts are perfectly acceptable attire.  There is not a dance floor.  The ratio of girls to guys does not matter.  The jukebox contains more Bob Dylan than Pitbull2.  You get the idea.

6. There Is Some Effort Input

If you take the effort to stock hundreds of different beers, why be lazy and not print them onto a list?  Update social media with your tap offerings.  Collaborate with local vendors, musicians, and artists.  Get involved in the community.  Organize fun events.  Little things like these pay big dividends.

So, what do you think defines a good beer bar?  Did I miss anything?



1: I am not saying there aren’t great everyday beers available.  Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, Bell’s Two Hearted, these beers are staples at great beer bars.  But there also has to be some effort put forth to keep things fresh and interesting with at least portion of the taps.
2: No offense meant to Mr. Pitbull.

6 thoughts on “The Difference Between A Bar With Beer And A ‘Beer Bar’”

  1. Appropriate glassware! I’m tried of seeing shaker pints, or worse, everywhere! Get some damned snifters already people. Even better, get some local snifters both MadTree or 50 West.


  2. Some excellent points here! I would add, in addition to seasonality, variety. And appropriate variety: sure, America loves hops, but if you’re a cafe known for decadent dessert and you don’t have a stout or porter anywhere, that’s just sad.


  3. Fantastic post! And so true in every way, it’s quite sad how little attention some real Beer Bars get in comparison to others posing as such.
    Hard to think of anything you didn’t cover, and though I don’t think it has to be true for all Beer Bars, I think one can fairly say that a lot of the REALLY good ones have fantastic, above-quality Food offerings. I’d say the term “Gastropub” probably resulted more from the Food aspect of some of these great Beer Bars than it did the Beer, though it required both. And of course managers that really put effort to pairing the Beer with them.


  4. “Some of the best beer bars have as few as 10 taps but utilize them far more successfully than bars with over 100 taps.” Can’t agree more. It’s always frustrating me to go to a place which advertises all these beers on tap, but none of them are _interesting_!


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