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Borrowing from History to Create Atmosphere in Bar Design

The makings of great bar design go far beyond location. It’s more than a great flow for the bartenders. It’s more than finding the best way to bring in as many guests as possible. At the heart, a bar is really about an experience, a concept that creates a mood. That mood is the foundation of bar design.

Though every bar needs a schtick that sets it apart from all others, most designs fall into one of several categories: vintage, rustic, lounge, or modern. One of the most popular bar styles, vintage, creates a mood that’s unmistakable.

Vintage style bars create an experience with opulent materials, a dim and moody atmosphere, and details that cover every surface imaginable. Thanks to the Prohibition era, it’s a design that automatically transports guests into a well-storied history of secretive yet popular speakeasies.

Take a look at what makes these vintage bar designs work—both those in history and those you can enjoy today.

Opulent Material

The most luxurious materials make up a vintage bar design. Leather covered bar stools and velvet upholstered loungers are standard. Rich carved woods and tinkling crystal chandeliers add an air of distinction. Bar tops of marble and polished brass details finish the look.

Alongside stone bar tops, a newcomer is making an appearance and doing it with as much distinction as any other material: concrete. Concrete is one of the hottest luxury materials in design today. It can be dyed to match any Benjamin Moore color. It can be finished to have a wood grain texture. It is custom fabricated to fit any space to a T.

Trueform Concrete of New Jersey has been a go-to for several designers in creating vintage styled New York City bars. Their attention to detail is just what’s needed for these refined spaces.

Mood board with speakeasy design ideas.

Moody Atmosphere

The moody atmosphere of the Prohibition speakeasies was mostly a consequence of having to remain in hiding. But the aesthetic stuck and became one of the hallmarks of the style.

Speakeasies didn’t often have windows so lighting was key, not only to functionality but also to the atmosphere. Dim ambient lighting with distinctive accent and task lighting are the name of the game for the vintage feel. Lighting the bar with pendant lights or even candle light is a good move. Lighting the shelves behind the bar is a necessity.

Color is another key feature that creates atmosphere in the vintage design. Dark, rich colors in as many aspects of the design as possible is never too heavy for a moody vintage bar. Browns and reds are especially popular. Pick warm metallics like copper, oil-rubbed bronze, and brass.

Every bar is home to a collection of some sort. These collections make great decor. For instance, the Apotheke bar in New York City is filled with hundreds of antique medicine bottles. Period art and photography are also popular collections that decorate the walls of vintage bars.

Defining Details

Vintage bars are all about details. From extravagant materials to historic decor, thought has gone into everything. Every available surface is covered in details that make every vantage point luxurious.

One big detail that a vintage bar doesn’t overlook is the ceiling. In a space that was historically devoid of views out of windows and often underground, the ceiling was another place to add some beautiful details to increase the atmosphere of the space. Tin tile has always been a favorite for the vintage bar ceiling. Vintage patterns add a splash of authenticity to the space. Patterns #9 or #14 are reproductions that fit the bill. Or go with the clean-lined Pattern #1 or #15 for a more straightforward look.

Don’t overlook areas where there’s opportunity for more details, the bar front or shelf backing, for instance. These are prime places to add details that really set the space apart.


Great bar design in the vintage style is within your reach. Add the right details, material, and atmosphere and voila, you have a bar that creates an experience not soon to be forgotten.

 

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