The History Of The Bar Dates All The Way Back To Ancient Greece

Chances are, you've been to a bar at some point during your lifetime. Whether it's a rowdy Mardi Gras spot on Bourbon Street, a club-music-filled neon festival, a Japanese karaoke bar, a classic Irish pub, or a wine bar, bars are a significant part of social culture nearly everywhere in the world (well, except for those places that ban alcohol). According to author Rebecca Dalzell, bars played a particularly significant role in American history — especially during the American Revolution (when taverns were the primary gathering and organizing spots for nascent revolutionaries) and the Stonewall riots of 1969 (often considered the dawn of the gay rights movement).

But have you ever wondered about the history of the bar, and where it originally came from? How did we get to a place where "let's drink booze with strangers" became one of the primary vehicles for social interaction, not just in America, but everywhere? The answer is a pretty familiar source: the Greeks.

The history of bars is very, very, VERY long

Like a lot of things in modern Western society, bars owe their existence to the Ancient Greeks. Known as kapeleia, these Greek tavernas were largely the stomping grounds of the working classes. Unlike modern society, the Ancient Greek elite preferred to drink at private parties known as symposia (the root of the modern "symposium"). Beer typically wasn't served there (it was considered the libation of barbarian cultures), but there was wine aplenty, stored in large casks known as amphorae. Because wine needed to be significantly watered down, archaeologists have actually been able to trace the locations of bars in Greek cities like Athens by triangulating the locations of ancient wells.

Despite this, there's surprisingly not a lot of historical research on what bars were really like in Ancient Greece. The primary theory as to the lack of information is because of historical (and largely inaccurate) perceptions of the Greeks as totally civilized and hoity-toity, while bars are typically associated with sin and debauchery. These cultural perceptions don't apply equally to the Romans, who have historically been considered far more hedonistic than the Ancient Greeks — as a result, we know a lot more about Roman taverns than we do Greek ones.

Over time, the idea of taverns and bars spread from Greece and Rome throughout Europe. Considering the modern-day importance of taverns, bars, and pubs to countries like Ireland, France, Italy, and the U.K., European drinkers owe a lot to these ancient civilizations.

Bars are historically important to tons of different cultures

This origin story really applies to European-style bars far more than anything else, yet those only make up a mere percentage of historical watering holes. While Western bars owe their existence to the Greeks, not every bar tradition can be traced to them. This is somewhat of a case of cultural convergent evolution, where multiple unconnected cultures come up with the same concept (albeit with local variations) independently of one another.

One excellent example of this phenomenon is the Japanese tradition of sakaya, the forerunner to the modern-day sake bar. The precursor to the modern-day izakaya, which is something like a gastropub and has gained traction around the world since the '80s, the sakaya's primary attraction was sake. It wasn't just sold on the spot, but brewed there, making it a lot like a modern-day microbrewery. We're not quite sure when they date back to originally, although we know they were already well-entrenched in Japanese culture by the 1400s. During the Edo period (1603-1867), sakaya evolved as the Tokugawa shogunate started requiring sake brewers to possess licenses. As a result, a lot of them started buying their drinks from vendors and reselling them, essentially creating modern-day sake bars.