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View Full Version : Why are bars dimly lit?


Chairman Pow
11-03-2004, 02:24 AM
A friend who doesn't get out much asked this question awhile ago and I couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer.

At first, I simply said, "tradition." Some prodding got me thinking.

I went on about how it was a demarcation of a separate space, contrasting with the well-lit spaces that people run into in nearly all other parts of their lives. That association with dark gave a sense of intimacy as well as "heightened" moods that formed an association in people's minds. Thus, they associated bars, good time and dark together.

Is there a reason that bars are always dimly lit (while I don't make it to many bars these days and I always forget to ask, I can't recall a bar from my youth that was well-lit the same way an office, living room or bookstore, say would be)?

Mesquite-oh
11-03-2004, 04:24 AM
I believe one factor is that dimly lit places add to feelings of privacy and intimacy among people who know each other, and somehow adds to less self- consciousness and more comfort among those people who do not know each other.

I can give you an anecdotal example. I am associated with an agency that works with kids and teens. We held a Halloween dance with a turnout of about 80 kids in a gymnasium. We had a great DJ with a great system, fog machine, decorations, food, the works. At first we had the gym lights on and no kids would dance, they barely even talked to each other. It was pretty dead. However, we dimmed the overheads and just used the side emergency lights. Quickly, the teens started talking to each other, the little kids started chasing each other around, and soon most were gathering around the DJ shouting requests and dancing. We had to turn the overhead lights on for a few minutes, everyone yelled, and then went to the sides of the gym again. When we dimmed the lights again, the party started up quickly.

Although a portion of these kids had attended night time dances, most had not. I can be fairly certain that they had not spent time in clubs and bars. However, they might have learned from TV and movies that the dark is supposed to be traditionally more fun. In my observation, the dim light seemed to make the kids more interested in social interaction, and in some ways, more brave.

SenorBeef
11-03-2004, 06:08 AM
I thought it was mostly the simple matter that alcohol tends to make you more sensitive to light and brightness and it can be uncomfortable.

Roches
11-03-2004, 06:22 AM
Some bars and clubs are a little brighter than most, but I can't remember being in any that was really bright. Alcohol does increase your sensitivity to light, but I don't think that's the main thing, because bars aren't the only places that are dimly lit. A lot of restaurants also dim their lights in the evening.

It's hard to give a concrete answer, but I do think dimming the lights makes for a more relaxed, comfortable, even romantic atmosphere (depending on how the rest of the place looks). This might be because people associate bright lights with serious places -- offices, classrooms, libraries, and so on. Dim light also makes it more difficult to see other people's features clearly, so others may look less threatening and even more attractive (particularly if alcohol is involved =)). Bright colors seem to fade and distinguishing between colors becomes more difficult.

I've been in a few places that looked fine in dim light but proved to be filthy when the lights came on. Floors look dirty and sticky, you can see dust and debris in along the walls and in every corner, the furniture looks cheap and worn, and there are cigarette butts everywhere. Even in bars places that are clean during the day, there's always going to be a few spilled drinks and a lot of dropped cigarettes during the night, and dim light helps hide that.

Princhester
11-03-2004, 06:22 AM
When I was doing Psych 101 the lecturer showed us a two photos of a woman's face and asked whether she looked more sexy in the left photo or the right. 80% percent of us said "the right" (or whatever). But only a few had enough awareness to pick why we liked the right picture: it had been taken with the woman's pupils dilated.

What happens in a dim room?

picker
11-03-2004, 06:30 AM
Strictly IMHO here, but it seems pretty valid to me.

a) Everyone looks a little better in subdued lighting - it tends to minimize such things as wrinkles (in skin and clothing), shiny foreheads, harsh profiles and the shadows of double chins, etc.

b) People consume alcohol in bars. This makes them less inhibited and more open to social advances.

c) Bar owners are in it for the money. If people feel more comfortable in dimly lit bar settings, and feel that they are both more attractive and more receptive to social interaction, they're going to prefer to socialize there than in the brightly lit bar next door.

a + b = c

BwanaBob
11-03-2004, 07:24 AM
People (and rats) drink more in lower light than in bright light.

There was a study (no cite sorry), but I remember that after I read it I would notice in our campus pub that they would lower the lights slightly at happy hour.

jester21
11-03-2004, 09:09 AM
if it was well lit... it'd take much more beer to get lucky :D

Polycarp
11-03-2004, 09:14 AM
When I was doing Psych 101 the lecturer showed us a two photos of a woman's face and asked whether she looked more sexy in the left photo or the right. 80% percent of us said "the right" (or whatever). But only a few had enough awareness to pick why we liked the right picture: it had been taken with the woman's pupils dilated.

What happens in a dim room?

Princhester alludes to the actual reason here. Attraction (sexual or otherwise) to another person is signaled by dilation of pupils in a pretty-much-involuntary reflex. The dimming of lights in bars, bistros, nightclubs, romantic restaurants, and the like induces dilation of pupils for the quite different reason of response to dim lighting, but it induces the same sense of intimacy that dilation due to attraction does.

drhess
11-03-2004, 09:17 AM
I thought it was mostly the simple matter that alcohol tends to make you more sensitive to light and brightness and it can be uncomfortable.

It does that? Didn't know that.

I think also low lighting makes that ugly single that's left in the bar more attractive to you at 3am. I know red lighting is often assumed to make you look "better" becuase your skin will look more smooth. Not sure why that is.

msmith537
11-03-2004, 09:27 AM
I think also low lighting makes that ugly single that's left in the bar more attractive to you at 3am. I know red lighting is often assumed to make you look "better" becuase your skin will look more smooth. Not sure why that is.


Which would explain why Amsterdam has a "Red Light" district and not a "White Hallogen Bulb" district.


Most of it has already been said, but I think that we basically associate dim lights with intimacy and mystery while we associate bright lighting with a more utilitarian, institutional setting. Dim lighting also hides imperfections. I'm sure we've all been in a bar at 2/4:00 am (depending on where you live) when the lights come on. It's like someone ripped the roof off the place. In dim light, my fraternities party room is the coolest place in the world. In the daylight, it's a concrete room with a drain in the floor and a couple road signs on the wall.

LuckySevens
11-03-2004, 10:01 AM
Because no one looks their best in full lighting.


I keep thinking about me at a bar, looking at my reflection, and thinking 'damn i look good tonight'.

Later that night I'd stumble into a 7-11 looking for some food. Complete lighting, and I looked terrible. Exposes more flaws.


So the answer? Sex appeal. You want your bar to look as sexy as possible.

Finagle
11-03-2004, 10:04 AM
Princhester alludes to the actual reason here. Attraction (sexual or otherwise) to another person is signaled by dilation of pupils in a pretty-much-involuntary reflex. The dimming of lights in bars, bistros, nightclubs, romantic restaurants, and the like induces dilation of pupils for the quite different reason of response to dim lighting, but it induces the same sense of intimacy that dilation due to attraction does.

Of course, you lose a lot of the romance when you eat part of the centerpiece because it's too dark to tell it's not your salad.

The dilation of pupils is actually a major plot point in Larry Niven's "A Gift from Earth". And I've actually wondered if you could improve glamour photography by having the models close their eyes briefly before taking the picture. (Although the strobe would hurt a lot...)

And from this site (http://www.herbal-shaman.com/database/atrobell.htm) : "Belledonna os one of the important hexing herbs of old. The word nightshade is derived from the Medieval practice of some Italian women using cosmetic eye drops made from this plant to dilate their pupils, and give the eyes a bright, glistening appearance. Large pupils were thought at the time to be a sign of feminine beauty, hence the name bella donna or beautiful woman."

Joe Mahma
11-03-2004, 10:39 AM
Beer goggles work better in low light.

Nametag
11-03-2004, 10:52 AM
Dim lighting also hides imperfections. I'm sure we've all been in a bar at 2/4:00 am (depending on where you live) when the lights come on. It's like someone ripped the roof off the place."And the whole damn place goes crazy twice,
And it's once for the Devil and once for Christ;
But the Boss don't like these dizzy heights --
We're busted in the blinding lights
Of Closing Time (http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/album10.html#77)..." -- Leonard Cohen

vetbridge
11-03-2004, 12:32 PM
Is there a reason that bars are always dimly lit

A friend who owns a bar in Blawnox, PA claims it is to keep folks from seeing the less than optimum sanitation stuff (bugs in liquor, etc).

Bear_Nenno
11-03-2004, 12:54 PM
Two things in this world are solely responsible for the fact that I ever get laid: Alcohol and poor lighting. I'd hate to imagine trying to pick up sober girls under adequate lighting!

TellMeI'mNotCrazy
11-03-2004, 05:02 PM
A friend who owns a bar in Blawnox, PA claims it is to keep folks from seeing the less than optimum sanitation stuff (bugs in liquor, etc).


To me that statement would be an invitation not to patronize his bar.

Musicat
11-03-2004, 05:12 PM
If you can barely see, your imagination provides the view.

And your imagination can run wild, improving on reality. Ever wake up the next morning and see in the harsh daylight what you brought home the night before? Yecch. :eek: