What does it take for a very basic bar to succeed?

Picture a long narrow building with a nice wood bar with a brass rail bar on one side. Straightforward set up with hard liquor and a half dozen taps. No flatscreens, no stage, maybe room enough for a few tables and jukebox. Maybe a pool table, maybe not. No kitchen, no fryer. No real food sales. Peanuts or pretzels. Maybe some rustic salty bread made offsite. Very stripped down and basic.

With so many revenue streams stripped away (selling fries and Cokes to families, etc), what’s it take for a simple watering hole to turn a profit?

I love these old-school watering holes. Could a bar like this that specialized in craft beers and top shelf scotch and whiskey be viable? Is there room for a drinking man’s bar in 2012?

I know! I know! Booze?

I would say “regular customers”.

So, you’re talking about an upscale tavern? I’ve seen upscale drinking establishments and cheap taverns but never an upscale tavern. I’m not sure that the tavern crowd and the upscale crowd intersect much.

Or do you just really want to be Moe Szyslak?

I find it hard to believe that a new bar could survive without TVs for sporting events. There are fair numbers of old school bars that have been around forever in cities like New York City that don’t have TVs, but they have reputation and a clientele built up over the years.

Not necessarily so exclusionary. It would have three great rotating taps of craft classics and seasonals, and some American adjunct lagers for regular joes. Or sell Buds and Millers in longnecks and keep the taps for the crafts. Ditto top shelf scotch and whisky not elbowing out the Cutty Sarks and Jim Beams of the world.


A small corps of people that show up every day for a few hours, that will take care of keeping the lights on and the refrigerators running.

The tricky part is that you’re probably competing against bars that have most of what you have, plus food.


This would probably be a result of either good

  • location, or
  • customer service.

I disagree. Other bars don’t have the atmosphere created by a jukebox, barstools, and NO TVs. Some people (myself included) don’t want blinking lights and commentators included in every night out with friends and booze.

You can cook hot dogs with very little equipment- and that might satisfy the hungry drunks enough to keep them from leaving.

Yes, customers.

Then I look to what existing bars have to do to get people in the door, karaoke nights, two for one appetizer Mondays, big screen football, and so much more that I would want to cut out.

A couple of rentable private back rooms, possibly with TVs or good poker tables would help. Have them available by the hour or for the night. Whenever you don’t have a paying customer for them they’re just overflow areas for the general bar area.

I don’t know if I ever went in a bar that had NO hot food. At least get those nasty microwaveable sandwiches.

It may sound like a joke answer, but a liquor license. They’re not always easy to get, depending on your area. Here in Chicago there are a finite # of licenses and new bars can only get one if an old one dies off. I believe they can be inherited w/ the space though as well.

This sounds like my freaking dream bar. Open it in Chicago, NW Side. Thanks.

I always had a dream of opening a gaming bar, kinda like Dave & Busters except it wouldn’t suck.

I was thinking something like a horseshoe bar surrounded by tables, surrounded by booths with screens and game consoles (Xbox 360’s, PS3’s, or both) which were networked together so customers could play against other tables. There could be tournaments, nights for specific games, the possibilities are endless.

I can dream…

There is a book for everything. Including the business side of opening a bar.

Yeah, it sounds snarky, but those who are saying “customers” and “regulars” are right on.
You need a space in which people feel comfortable and want to spend time, and much of that will depend upon the clientele inside. This sort of needs to happen organically, I think.

I realize that’s a chicken-and-egg answer, but there are lots of intangibles. Some new places catch on and others don’t, not necessarily because they’re better or worse than other places. You just never know sometimes.

For what it’s worth, I’d definitely hang out in a place such as you describe. Good luck!

ETA: By the way, “Drastic Quench” would be an awesome name for a bar!

There are pen and paper RPG tables in this bar? If so, I share your dream…

To the OP: Karaoke?

A bar that was an exact replica of Moe’s might work as a tourist attraction.