The Different Types Of Bars, Explained

For centuries, humans have gathered in an array of establishments to imbibe, gossip, and relax. These watering holes have changed much over time while retaining some fundamentals. They may or may not have food, a theme, or cleanliness, but they should all have a selection of libations with someone to serve them and a place to consume them. After that, anything goes.

As noted by War on the Rocks, taverns were integral to the American revolution, as they were often the spots where strategy and politics could be argued and plans formed. In the time before mass transit, inns served as stopover points along the roads across Europe and a haven for radicals and political opposition groups. Today, they serve purposes on a broad spectrum, from a neighborhood meeting place to a gathering spot for young singles. Many folks of legal drinking age have a favorite haunt they frequent where good conversation with like-minded individuals can be found. Regardless of how an establishment fits into one's personal life, bars can be a rather enjoyable place to visit on occasion. So, for the uninitiated who may not know the ins and outs of all the particular bar scenes, here are the different types of bars, explained.


No matter where you go in this world, you can find a dive. Cities and towns of all sizes will have a small bar, often avoided by so-called respectable citizens, due to its reputation for being a seedy night spot where the scallywags and ruffians congregate. But this sort of reputation is underserved, as dives can be the most interesting and enjoyable establishments in town.

The gist of a dive is that it is a bar that is unassuming, unpretentious, and, occasionally, unclean. Some dives are kept up to a relatively high standard of cleanliness but may keep some aging decor like a pool table past its prime, and may still have a cigarette vending machine by the johns. Dives are essentially just watering holes where the focus is on conversation and generally having a good time. Nobody dresses up and nobody expects too much. You won't find a fine chardonnay, but the beer will be cold and accompanied by a cheap shot.

Vine Pair takes note of the assumption that dive bars are dangerous, saying that an element of danger is possible in some, but actual threats are mostly overblown. Most importantly, as a potential patron of such establishments, don't prejudge a place and keep your mind open and good times are sure to be had.

Sports bars

What a sports bar entails is in the name, although sports bars vary greatly. The central theme of a sports bar is, of course, the sports, but everything else is up for grabs. These establishments may have food and fine wine or just a nice selection of beer and cheap liquor. However, as Restaurant News notes, something found in every sports bar of any caliber is a TV. Most sports bars will have several screens, with the most modern and upscale examples having Ultra HD Panels throughout the place, usually with at least one colossal screen (or projector) as a centerpiece. Gathering to watch a game is kind of the purpose of a sports bar's existence.

You will find sports bars in every city in the U.S. and are likely to find some when traveling abroad — soccer, also called football, is wildly popular overseas. The most popular days to find crowds at any given sports bar include the unofficial high holiday of the Super Bowl with such events as the World Series and NBA playoffs being close seconds. USA Today lists some of the best sports bars around the country, including Stats in Atlanta, which offers smaller tableside TVs instead of a giant central screen; Don and Charlie's in upscale Scottsdale, which offers fine wines and barbeque for spring training; and Lagasse's Stadium in Las Vegas, which offers food from renowned chef Emeril Lagasse and a place to put money on the game, legally.


Only open in the evenings and often limited to the weekends, the nightclub is the place in town to see and be seen. This kind of bar is generally limited to cities, as small towns rarely support populations large enough to support this kind of business. Also, nightclubs tend to be gathered within a particular district within a city, often downtown. Features of a nightclub also vary, especially from one city to another, but the constants will mostly be loud music, packed crowds, expensive drinks, and cover charges.

In the biggest cities with a large representation of celebrities, such as Los Angeles and New York, the nightclub scene can be an incredibly expensive affair, but also provides a good opportunity to see celebrities, if so desired. For others, more reasonable excursions on a Friday night can be had at one of many clubs that may cater to dance music, LBGT+, or electronic music crowds.

Nightclubs feature various forms of entertainment to draw crowds such as live music, DJs, and even karaoke. Attractions of America highlights some of the best-known clubs including Cat's Meow in New Orleans, which features nightly karaoke; E11EVEN in Miami, which is open 24/7; and Hakkasan at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which is a five-story club filled with a large dance floor, multiple lounge areas, and a sophisticated light show.

Country bars

While country bars can be found anywhere, nowhere are they more prevalent than in places like Texas. In any given country bar will be found an array of decor items representing the rugged Western heritage. Likewise, patrons are likely to be adorned in traditional cowboy garb from the boots to the hats, but not always.

Although Texas looms large in this category, country bars can be found from New York to Los Angeles, but a good facsimile might be hard to come by in Paris. When visiting a country bar, expect to find a selection of ice-cold American brew and a fair assortment of bourbon, and, if you're lucky, some good barbecue. Wine will come from a box, and they will be playing both kinds of music — country and Western. Do not expect to see Armani suits and Italian loafers, although you won't be barred for being overdressed, probably.

To take a cue from the original, Texas Monthly tells us about the best honky-tonks in Texas. Close to the Mexico border is The Texas Rose Bar, a quintessential country dive. Wine is served on ice in plastic cups and patrons sign the John Wayne portraits in this very unassuming whiskey joint. Neon Boots Dancehall and Saloon in Houston is a country bar done in the Texas way, bigger. It hasn't changed much since opening in 1955 and many country legends have graced the stage with their presence.


A lounge, which may also be referred to as a cocktail bar, can be found in just about any location, but some of the best ones can be found around a central business district, offering somewhere to unwind after a hard day of negotiating corporate mergers and mass layoffs of the underclass. Upscale lounges often feature large leather sofas and expensive scotch paired with classy people and trivial conversation.

Cocktail bars can appear to be pretentious at first glance. Yes, some do require "cocktail attire," but that should be no reason not to give one a try. The Clavichord, a posh cocktail joint in Dubai, breaks down the differences between a bar and a lounge with a few salient points. While bars offer a lively party atmosphere, a lounge is relaxed, catering to good conversation more than boisterous celebration. The music, seating, and decor will be upscale and comfortable, creating spaces where individuals can engage in discussions while enjoying fine liquor and wine. Beer will be available, but will probably make up a small percentage of sales, and will always be served in a glass.

To get an idea from good examples of cocktail bars and lounges, Food and Wine Magazine lists some of the best around the country. Teardrop Cocktail Lounge in Portland, Oregon is a great example of a modern and chic lounge serving specialty cocktails among minimalist architecture, while Tavern Law in Seattle uses an older aesthetic, serving upscale drinks in prohibition-era speakeasy-inspired surroundings.

Bar and grills

The neighborhood bar and grill is something of an American institution and can be found in any city or town. Expect to find relatively good food and moderately priced drinks and, if you show up on the weekends, a bad cover band. 

Determining what makes a bar and grill is not an exact science and many establishments could easily fall into this and other categories simultaneously. More important is what makes one a desirable place to visit. Mostly, that would be the casual atmosphere, but good service, food, and drinks are also a draw. The Austin Chronicle suggests to would-be entrepreneurs wanting to start one of these to consider having great bartenders, a good but inexpensive menu, and a unique atmosphere.

A corporate chain example of a bar and grill most have heard of is TGI Friday's. For more unique independent examples, Thrillist suggests a few around the country. Oklahoma's Grand Lake has Mooney's, a casual waterfront joint with an expansive deck and live music during the summer. There's also A Frame in North Dakota, where you can find burgers and beer in an a-frame building among evergreen trees near the Canadian border with a cozy northern hunting lodge vibe.

Themed or specialty bars

The bar or club with a specific theme is a concept that has been around for a while, with the most stylized and extreme examples flourishing in tourist hotspots. However, they can be found just about anywhere, from a western small town to the Las Vegas strip. At its most basic, a themed bar can be one of many wine bars found throughout the country with a central focus on wine. However, on the other end of the spectrum lies something like the Swiss bar using the art and inspiration from the creator of the creatures in the famous Alien movie, the HR Giger Bar.

The basics of a themed bar go with the decor. Popular themes used in the past include Hollywood inspirations and geographical concepts. Notable examples include Quark's bar and the defunct Star Trek experience in the Las Vega Hilton; Trader Vic's tiki bars, and the 1937 world traveler-styled Adventurers Club at Walt Disney World.

Insider lists some of the highlights of American-themed bars with the zaniest themes. Dallas, Texas offers the Mutts Canine Cantina, which blends a dog park with a saloon, inviting man's best friend out for wholesome socializing while the humans do the same. Denver's Cruise Room Bar recreates the bar aboard the Queen Mary steamship circa 1933, and Los Angeles offers The Edison, a nostalgic steampunk-laden space inspired by the innovation of Thomas Edison and his peers of the 1920s.


In the U.S., a pub can be Irish or English, although not exclusively either. They are generally adorned in dark wood paneling and wainscoting, and one of several dark brown ales will be available. Food is usually accompanying the drinks in the form of fish and chips or cottage pies. They are popular for good reason.

While the pub in the U.S. is an import from the old country, it does not mean that they are necessarily false representations. Many of these establishments have been established by immigrants with a flair for their homeland and wish to share it with their adopted land. You can expect to find good ales and either fine Scotch whisky or Irish whiskey, depending on the establishment.

Features of a traditional Irish pub, as noted by Teton Tours, include a friendly and generous proprietor, catering to the working class (pubs are not for the aristocrats), and regional Irish decor. English pubs will be similar, trading out some brands of Irish beers for English ones and with the added bonus of posted images of Her Majesty The Queen. Visitors to Tulsa, Oklahoma will find the White Lion Pub to be the quintessential English pub set down in the middle of the heartland.

Beach bars

The best beach bars are literally found on the beach but not all of them are. A beach bar can also be the theme, often used to differentiate a place from other boring and generic bars to choose from. Beach bars away from the ocean may be found in chilly climates as a sort of respite from the cold, but these can still border on cheesy, if not diving completely into camp.

One of the best places to find yourself is strolling along on the sand and winding up sitting on a stool with a cold beer while watching the waves roll in. It should be a most relaxed and carefree moment in time, enhanced by a great cocktail or brew. 30a lists the features of a great beach bar, starting with the obvious: it is on a beach. Other factors that contribute to a great place are the lack of a dress code, good music, and some good old-fashioned beach games. Volleyball, cornhole, and shuffleboard are great ways to pass the time while taking in the rays. Take note that, depending on location, your bartender may offer pleasant conversation, but mobile phone service can be spotty. However, if you are already on a remote white sand beach in the Caribbean, your connection to society shouldn't be missed.


A venue is a place to go see live music and they come in all different shapes and sizes across the nations. Some of our most cherished musical icons got their start at small standing-room-only venues playing to a couple of dozen people. Larger venues host the best touring artists, booking shows several nights a week throughout the year, and many of these places are held in high esteem by the community as local landmarks.

While a venue is not specifically a bar, the bar is integral to most of them and sometimes the highlight of the establishment. Having a few drinks while watching your favorite performer just feels natural. Furthermore, while going out with friends can be a great way to spend a Friday night, going to see a band is an experience. Venues range from small rooms with a bar in the corner to large facilities with balcony seating, an expansive bar, and elaborate decorations and architecture, often in historically significant buildings.

Every city and many small towns has at least one venue. Some of the best around the country, per the Los Angeles Times, include Austin's The Continental, a cozy rough-around-the-edges spot that has hosted the likes of Robert Plant, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Billy Gibbons. The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco is legendary and features giant chandeliers over the crowd, whereas Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma was converted from an old warehouse into a city icon.