Around here, it’s an actual menu, usually either in a book form or a photocopy held by a stand on the table. Maybe you’re just looking in different places?
Usually, the menus have 3 sections:
Beers and wines
Soft drinks/non-alcoholic drinks.
On a typical menu, wines are sold by the glass, beer by the bottle, and cocktails have varying prices. You can also see if they offer pitchers, entire bottles of wine, etc.
In general, if a bar doesn’t have a menu, it’s what we would consider a “watering hole.” You’ll drink what the house has and not order anything fancy. The bartender probably has no idea how to use the spigot to count off shots, they don’t know how to make cocktails, etc.
My advice is that if you want to tell if you are in a nice bar in the US, you generally have to ask two questions:
- Do you have a menu?
- What do you have on tap?
A good bar generally answers #1 with “yes” and #2 with “more than one beer.”
A watering hole generally says “no” to #1 and “only X” for #2.