What's the coolest thing you've ever seen at a bar?
January 6, 2009 1:28 PM   Subscribe

What's the most unique feature you've ever seen in a bar or pub?

Ideally, this would be something that could be replicated anywhere, so "an awesome view of the Pacific ocean" wouldn't quite fit. I'm looking for that one special thing that, when you're sitting around talking about cool bars with your friends, spurs you to say, "I went to this one bar in [Anyplace] and they had [cool feature]. It was AWESOME!"

I'm brainstorming ideas for a potential bar, and have several unique features in mind, but I thought I'd query the hive as well. Anything from unique drinks, unusual architectural details, nightly/weekly specials/events, waitresses with all the same first names, or whatever else!
posted by bjork24 to Food & Drink (94 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Beer taps at the tables.
posted by nitsuj at 1:29 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: That's sweet. I wonder how they monitor it?
posted by bjork24 at 1:33 PM on January 6, 2009

The Palace of Wonders in DC houses an oddity museum, and features regular freak/sideshows and burlesque shows. In other words, it's a pretty kick-ass destination.
posted by General Malaise at 1:34 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

A wheel with seat numbers spun every hour. Winning number gets a free drink. Seen at an American Legion Hall. I thought it was cool.

Small detail: Hooks under the tables and bar for coats and purses.
posted by studentbaker at 1:35 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

A beach bar in Cozumel had wooden swings for seats (suspended by ropes from the ceiling), another place I'd heard of had saddles to sit on at the bar (maybe Reno, NV?)
posted by albertagirl at 1:36 PM on January 6, 2009

I always liked the spinner they had at Redbones in Somerville, MA. I don't go to a lot of bars, so it's probably pretty common, but it was always nice when you can't decide what kind of beer you want, they'd just spin the spinner and decide for you. They also do valet bike parking, which is sort of cool.

Shame the food has gone down hill.
posted by bondcliff at 1:37 PM on January 6, 2009

Indoor double-deck bike parking.

(not my photo ... thanks, flickr)
posted by gyusan at 1:38 PM on January 6, 2009

There was also some bar that my fiancee went to in Ireland that required you to wear a colored tag on your shirt with a unque number. Red meant "taken," yellow meant "taken but willing," and green meant "single." You could leave messages for other patrons by referencing their unique number, and the messages showed up on a huge screen in the bar. Half frat bar-ish, half Japanese, but unique nonetheless.
posted by nitsuj at 1:40 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

This has always been my favorite gimmick - it's at Brokers Bier Börse in Berlin.

Their menu after a certain hour (can't remember when) is set up like a stock market system. There's a big screen that shows what drinks cost, and as things are bought, their price goes up. It's like a stock exchange for drinking. It's more of a gimmick than anything else, but it's really fun.
posted by SNWidget at 1:40 PM on January 6, 2009

Nick's Ice House in Hattiesburg, MS has toilet seats instead of bar stools. I can't believe I was able to find it after one visit 20 years ago.
posted by TedW at 1:41 PM on January 6, 2009

I didn't see it personally, but read about this and thought it was super cool.
posted by Ugh at 1:43 PM on January 6, 2009

Not super unique, but real photobooths (not digital!) are always fun.
posted by wsquared at 1:46 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Black Friar Pub in London. Everything about it.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:47 PM on January 6, 2009

Um, a small (2mtr x 2mtr) in-ground open topped tank of crocodiles situated just behind the half wall of the corridor leading to the toilets in The Dead Fish bar, cafe and guesthouse. Unsuspecting toilet-goers could be heard to gasp and sometimes scream. Good times.

Granted, it was in Cambodia.
posted by Kerasia at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Of course, this was not entirely intentional, but a few years back, a full grown moose got lost in the city of Kungsbacka, Western Sweden, and eventually ended up in a restaurant. The newspaper of that day had a picture of the thing standing behind a row of beer taps, looking bewildered.
The police saved the animal (and the beer). I'm not making this one up.
posted by Namlit at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


In days-gone-by the Hong Kong (Cambridge, MA) would keep track of the different beers you had. Once you made a trip "around the world," having tried something like 100 different brands, you'd receive a mug, t-shirt, and name on a wall plaque, etc.

At the Bow & Arrow (Cambridge, MA) they'd serve free hot dogs and popcorn and $1.00 drafts (welcome by area students) on Sunday afternoons.

The Warren Tavern (Charlestown, MA) places small brass nameplates for their regulars and long timers (under the bar ledge at their favorite seats, as well as on the wall).

At Captain Tony's Saloon (Key West, FL) patrons are encouraged to tack their business/personal card on the walls, rafters and posts, not to mention hanging their bras from the ceiling.
posted by ericb at 1:52 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, I also went to a bar in Italy that had a weekly event similar to what nitsuj describes. Everyone who comes gets a numbered sticker to wear and each table had scraps of paper and pencils. You could write notes to other people in the bar using their numbers and a "postwoman" (just the waitresses, I guess) delivered the notes. Usually amusing, sometimes creepy.
posted by wsquared at 1:53 PM on January 6, 2009

The Miracle of Science bar here in Cambridge, Mass has a periodic table of the elements up on the wall as their menu (i.e. element Hb is hamburger), which I think is cute.

My favorite was a bar in Cholula, Mexico called Alquimia ("Alchemy"). All their drinks were named after famous wizards (Merlin, Gandalf, etc) served in beakers of various sizes and shots were in test tubes. The flowers on the tables were in Erlenmeyer flasks. It was very neat.
posted by olinerd at 1:54 PM on January 6, 2009

there's a big touristy bar/restaurant in dallas that has a 2 story slide, made a big impact on me as a child. i would definitely enjoy one as an adult, but have never seen one for grown ups.

photobooths are totally in right now so depending on your location (ie, how hip/big a city you live in) you wouldn't be that unique, but i think they're a great bar feature no matter how trendy. and only the vintage kind, not the sticker or digital types.

a bloody mary buffet, you buy the booze and basic tomato juice at the bar and then you add whatever you want.

i went to a brewery in a small town in colorado, alamosa? i don't know. but the bar was in the old bank building and they had saved and restored the giant old safe door and used it as a back bar.

old bowling alley lanes as a bar.
posted by dahliachewswell at 1:55 PM on January 6, 2009

I went to a bar in Nebraska that had champagne on tap. Not very good champagne, but champagne nonetheless. It was awesome.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 1:58 PM on January 6, 2009

You should open a bar with every single of these suggestions, and call it the "AskMeFi Bar."
posted by nitsuj at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

It's not a big flashy feature, but I like bars that have Buzztime trivia.

In days-gone-by the Hong Kong (Cambridge, MA) would keep track of the different beers you had. Once you made a trip "around the world," having tried something like 100 different brands, you'd receive a mug, t-shirt, and name on a wall plaque, etc.

I was going to say this as well. It seems to be more popular in college town bars. I'm happy when a bar has any sort of decent beer selection, so even without participating in a contest it's nice to go to those kinds of bars.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2009

seconding hooks for purses under the tables and bars. Such a nice detail.
posted by pearlybob at 2:10 PM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

In Melbourne, at Cherry Bar, they used to have a blackboard behind the bar. The idea was that you could buy a drink for someone that wasn't there. The blackboard was covered in things like "alice q bought a pot of Coopers for Fitzroy Jo". As the recipient came in and noticed, the entry was rubbed out. I can't say how well it worked, but it seemed like a fun idea.

Some years ago they also had a stunning bartender with a tattoo of an anime-like robot welder on her arm and back. I thought she was a damn fine idea as well. But I digress.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:13 PM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

One of the local bars has a patio, with those fire-pit thingies, and you can buy a "s'mores kit" for five bucks, and toast your own!
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:16 PM on January 6, 2009

I haven't seen it personally, but I posted in the Blue a few years ago about the Sourtoe Cocktail.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:17 PM on January 6, 2009

A wall.

Built by the Romans, BCE.

(Separating the bar from the restaurant, in an English-style pub in Brugges.)
posted by IAmBroom at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I say also, purse hooks! A bar with purse hooks makes me a very happy girl indeed. Also, the recently dearly departed B-Side Lounge in Cambridge, MA had a long, horseshoe-shaped bar. Down the middle was the counters for liquor. Over the liquor (on a kind of chilled metal shelf thing) was a long heap of ice chips upon which martini glasses were kept, upside down over little piles of the ice, for perfectly chilled glasses all the time. It was practical and visually striking.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2009

New York is chock full of "unique" features that border on gimmickry, but here are a few off the top of my head:

Barcade has about 20 vintage arcade games, like Frogger and Moon Patrol.

Cheap Shots has Rock-Paper-Scissors Tuesdays where patrons who beat the bartender get a half-off drink.

Bushwick Country Club isn't just a clever name--two existing members have to sponsor interested applicants, and has a putt-putt course in the back, complete with a mini-windmill made out of PBR cans (I know).

Greenpoint Tavern is decorated like a loony grandma's parlor, with troll dolls and plastic flowers and Precious Moments statuettes.

Pete's Candy Store hosts a spelling bee that's wicked fun the drunker you get.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:26 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

One of the local bars has a patio, with those fire-pit thingies, and you can buy a "s'mores kit" for five bucks, and toast your own!

The Turf in Oxford has coal braziers outside in the winter, and you can buy marshmallows to toast over them from the bar. Mostly it's just smoky, chilly, and an ineffective way to toast marshmallows, but it's usually kind of fun too.

Somewhat like the business card idea mentioned above, The Bear in Oxford encourages patrons to donate their schools ties to the pub, which are then pinned up all over the walls, covering a good chunk of the interior wallspace.

I love a good pub quiz - I bet a regular quiz night could be quite popular.
posted by iona at 2:26 PM on January 6, 2009

I think the coolest bar feature I've seen yet is the huge aquarium behind the bar, though lighting can be tricky depending on your atmosphere. Still I've seen it work-- especially with hand-blown glass aquarium decoration/habitat.
posted by baphomet at 2:26 PM on January 6, 2009

I'm sure this is fairly common in some places, but at Ireland's Four Corners pub in Arlington, VA, they have several hundred mugs imported from Ireland that bear the pub's symbol and are engraved with the name of each "owner." I forget how much it cost to set one up (it wasn't too cheap), but as a regular you could use your mug and, if I remember correctly, get something like $1 each draft. More info, including pictures, at the link above.

I always loved how pubs in England had the liquors hanging upside down behind the bar. I don't think I've seen that in an American bar, aside from maybe one or two bottles in a chintzy holder. The pubs I saw in England had the bottle holders mounted to the wall.
posted by arco at 2:27 PM on January 6, 2009

Bar in Chicago that had a cat that would walk across the bar all night long

Bar in Portland where the bartender would take a dollar bill you tipped him, and somehow magically throw it up on the ceiling where it would stick ( Me thinks magnets )

Bar in New Zealand where you had to put on a parka and went in a giant ice cube / freezer to drink. The bar next door, had some crazy ice dispending machine that was up in the ceiling so the bar back never had to reload the ice containers. It was simply on demand ice all night long.

Bar in Madrid that served prawns / shrimp in the shell to anyone who walked in the door. Once eaten, shells and napkins where thrown on the floor. Every hour, once you couldn't see the floor, a little man would come out and sweep up. Rinse, repeat.

And of course, the Web, in Grand Rapids, that served 40's straight from the bottle. I shed a little tear when I took my first gulp.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:27 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was at a bar/restarant in Tiapei 20 years ago that had Flinstones-style tables and chairs amid ENORMOUS fake dinosaur skeletons filling a 4 story high room. It was AWESOME!
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:28 PM on January 6, 2009

The bar with champagne on tap is The Homy Inn in Omaha, NE. They also serve peanuts in plastic divided dog bowls (that way you get one side for the nuts, and one side for the shells.)

Personally, I am a fan of the boot at my favorite place in Omaha, The Crescent Moon.
posted by Ostara at 2:29 PM on January 6, 2009

air hockey tables! i love bars that have an assortment of table games rather than just 18 pool tables or whatever. mainly because i am horrid at pool and completely awesome at air hockey.
posted by kerning at 2:31 PM on January 6, 2009

Coolest feature ever: Table-top video screens ( think old-school ms. pacman with joysticks on opposite sides of the table ) where you could play trivia, play donkey kong, or order more wings and beers. Of course, because their flat, you can rest your drink and food on them. Put 20 or 30 of them in the bar, fully networked, ftw! I have not seen this, but it would be awesome. Endless possibilities.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:32 PM on January 6, 2009

I've been to a couple of places where the bar itself was made of ice, to keep the drinks cold. Actually, it was just a wide strip of ice, so you could rest your elbows on the non-ice part. One of them was lit from below. Very freaking cool.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:40 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Small detail: Hooks under the tables and bar for coats and purses.

Yes! This is my main gauge of a decent watering hole. All the older places have them. Very convenient.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2009

2 (one not being enough) very large, very awesome neon signs stating "I LOVE BEER" in large letters, with a cartooney neon guy knocking back a large mug of beer. On the ceiling (!) of a bar in Daejeon, South Korea (!!)
posted by Spurious Packets at 2:43 PM on January 6, 2009

In Seattle, the Five Point has a periscope in the mens bathroom, so you can look at the space needle while peeing.
posted by nomisxid at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best thing I've ever seen in a bar? A good bartender.

Don't get me wrong, I love the gimmicky stuff, but a good bartender blows everything else out of the water. I was at a place in Albuquerque whose name I forget, but the bartender was absolutely incredible. All the juices were fresh squeezed - he had boxes of cut limes and lemons right there - and anything that required a twist was carefully rubbed around the rim with a piece of peel followed by releasing the peel oils into the glass itself.

But what finally got me was when he made my drink, a Manhattan. Carefully measured and stirred, he skewered a maraschino and laid it over the glass while he poured the drink over it to get some of the flavor out. He then places the glass in front of me and, noticing a small piece of ice floating on top, pulls out a spoon and carefully removes it.

"Sorry about that," he says.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:53 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Slightly more on topic, the campus pub back at school would run a beer "tour" every semester. Every week there was a special beer that followed some sort of theme - New England, Germany, IPAs, whatever. The trick was that each beer was only available that one week. If you made it in each week to get all the beers, you got a t-shirt at the end.

My last year there they also started doing "poor man tours" or something like that. Cheaper than the regular tour, it included such majestic brews as Schlitz, PBR, Coors Lite...

Also, the Sunset Grill in Allston, MA has about 350 different beers available. They also have 40s of malt liquor, which they will serve to you in a paper bag.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2009

Eskimo Joe's in Stillwater, OK has a giant retractable dome over one section of the bar. Sitting there on a nice fall day with that dome open to the sky is one of my all time favorite hanging out in a bar memories.

I think one of my favorite features to be found in any bar is the ability to carry on a conversation without having to shout across the table at my friends. Sure, we all like to listen to music, but does it have to be so loud that my ears ring for the next three days? If I can't hear the person next to me unless they're yelling, I'm going to find some place else to spend my money and time. And yes, it is too loud, and I am too old. Now get off my lawn.
posted by ralan at 3:01 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oddly, both of my favourite bar features are bathroom related. I swear I do not have a bathroom fetish.

At a bar in Cork, the bathroom is intensely lighted. The colour changes from pink to green to blue to purple. The change is not noticeable but it's fast enough that you'll go through all the colours in a normal girl length bathroom trip. However, the coolest bit is that the water coming out of the taps is, I dunno, oxygenated or something and it runs out of the tap in hot pink, dayglow green, etc. Way cool in the small doses.

At a bar in London, the men's room adjoins the women's room. The bathrooms are separated by a wall. The wall is made of one way glass. From the men's room to the women's, it's a mirror. From the women's to the men's, it's clear. (Urinals are outside the viewing area, promise!)
posted by DarlingBri at 3:02 PM on January 6, 2009

I admit I'm partial to bars with faded "Free Beer Tomorrow" signs. Also, snugs.

Otherwise, take a look at the Safe House in Milwaukee. It's a spy themed bar, sure, but it has secret entrances/exits, hidden codes, false doors, and a whole host of other awesome stuff. All of that wouldn't work for a normal bar, but I bet a few elements could help liven a place up.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:03 PM on January 6, 2009

I almost forgot, Davy Jones' Locker on Waikiki Beach, it was kind of underground and the wall behind the bar was plexiglass and the hotel pool was on the other side of the glass. Lots of fun watching unsuspecting swimmers, even more fun for the guys when girls would swim up close and flash the bar! Not really an easy concept to just put in a bar, but had to mention it because it was so cool.
posted by albertagirl at 3:06 PM on January 6, 2009

There's a bar near me that has nearly every available surface covered with bottle cap figurines (kind of big in Japan, especially by Pepsi), convenience store character toys, and the like. The front window has a waterfall behind it, so you can see if the bar is crowded, but you can't see who's in it. The best part? Parts of the floor have been replaced by plexiglass. Underneath are scale models of parts of Japan, with Gundam toys battling each other.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:07 PM on January 6, 2009

There's a local bar here in Austin that has a shark tank under the floor. Can't say I care much for the crowd there, and I have concerns about how the vibration would affect the sharks...but it certainly is an interesting and memorable feature.
posted by kaseijin at 3:14 PM on January 6, 2009

Asylum, also in DC, does a Miller High Life countdown. At 5, the beers are a quarter. At six, they go up to 50 cents, at seven it's $1, and so on.

I'm not actually sure on the price jumps but I think it goes up by 50 cents each hour after that.
posted by troika at 3:17 PM on January 6, 2009

Seconding bars where you can carry on a conversation inside. Because shouting all night is rarely fun.

"Around the world" isn't that uncommon (maybe more common in college towns). Some places I've seen have little plaques. One had a wall dedicated for portraits of people who had 100 different beers, and the portraits were all drawn/painted directly on the wall.

The local Irish pub lets you put up your own shamrock if you're a regular, though they may only add them on St. Paddy's Day.

A friend of mine was at a bar on Halloween which hit $666 for the nightly tab, and they gave everyone a free shot.

I like bars with bands when there's enough space to dance. Avoiding spilled drinks in a crowded bar is one thing - avoiding it while dancing in a crowded bar can be impossible.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:17 PM on January 6, 2009

Oh, and good ventilation is great, too. Maybe some are fond of spending time in stinky, humid bars, but I am not one of 'em.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:19 PM on January 6, 2009

Condom machines.
posted by jgirl at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2009

A place in Budapest set up in the courtyard of an old two or three-story residential structure, not too far from the Synagogue. I seem to remember at least one tree and a basement dance floor.

I think my memories would be clearer if less Becherovka / beer / faux absinthe had been involved.

Szoda, maybe?
posted by brennen at 3:25 PM on January 6, 2009

There's a bar here in Portland that has a couple Skee-ball tables which is really, really fun.
posted by amanda at 3:42 PM on January 6, 2009

This seems a little mild, but. Fifteen years ago a pub in North Bay, Ontario gave out a free basket of fries with every pitcher, and for fifteen years I've been telling people about that in cool-bar conversations. It was a fairly little basket, but they were really awesome fresh-cut skin-on fries.
posted by kmennie at 3:44 PM on January 6, 2009

No gimmick bartending. No bottles flying around. No 12-drinks-poured-at-once spring-break bs. Just a good, solid bartender who isn't flummoxed by someone ordering a Sidecar.

And no bar mix!
posted by Thorzdad at 3:47 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

i saw jimmy superfly snuka at a bar on my 21st birthday. but the cool part was my friend imitating him by jumping off the bar in his vicinity. im 35 now. i think superfly has passed.
posted by fumbducker at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2009

A free popcorn machine is always a nice touch. Some dives have free hot dogs.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2009

nothing over the top, but thinking of some interesting things bars close to my house have...

one has tables with things inside under the glass... each table is different, antiques to live fish

a large statue or something inside is usually interesting... one here has a manequin that's been mosaic-d over sitting on the bar.

one room in a large bar is kinda shaped like a trolley, it looks like the people in that room are in the trolley windows.

some places here have antique sewing tables as the tables.

a story! one of the bars closeby is haunted. they sell postcards where you can catch a glimpse of the ghost
posted by nzydarkxj at 4:12 PM on January 6, 2009

It's a small thing, but I've always liked it when there were little holders of Trivial Pursuit cards (not a ton, maybe 30-40 cards) on the table.

Along the same lines, all the pub quiz nights I've ever been to have been very popular - they usually have them on Mondays. It may take a little while to build up a following, but once it gets going, the teams will come every week. (Don't do what my current local bar does though - they have it for a couple months, then it goes away. Then it's supposed to come back, but it doesn't. Then, 8 months later, I get an email that it's starting again...and then after a month of it, they shut it down again. Lame! I can understand taking the summer off or whatever, and I get that it's not really run by the bar, but they have people come in and do it...but either do it or don't do it, guys!)

And yes to purse/coat hooks on the underside of the bar.
posted by AlisonM at 4:28 PM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

A place in Toronto had a map of Ontario on the wall near the largest table. It was great when you were telling stories about vacations or whatever. It wasn't a Pearly's or national Geo map or anything like that, more of a faux-antique 19th century reproduction - new enough to be useful and accurate (unlike say a 1700s map) but old enough to be interesting looking. It looked classy and helped the conversation along. They had a bit of an antique motif in the decoration.
posted by philfromhavelock at 4:29 PM on January 6, 2009

Scalectrix track suspended from the ceiling with controllers at every table/booth. The excitement lasted all of 5 minutes.

The best thing you can do is keep prices low, the place as full as possible, and encourage plenty of clientele participation in open mic/quiz nights and get a good "scene" going that will make people return. Couches are also good.
posted by fire&wings at 4:30 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

It has been 25 years, but I vividly recall a bar called the Monkey Wharf in Anchorage, that had a huge aquarium behind the bar holding two or three monkeys.
posted by yclipse at 4:33 PM on January 6, 2009

There was a bar at a private club for attorneys in New York that called the bathrooms the "Jury Rooms". The doors were labelled "Hung" and "Split".
posted by dinger at 4:38 PM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Two weeks ago, for the first time ever in Toronto, after 27 years of drinking here, I got my first drink-on-the-house. I'll be going back for that reason alone.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Irish Bank Bar in San Francisco has a private booth made from a confessional.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2009

The Brick Tavern in Roslyn, Washington has a 'water running spittoon' that is at your feet at the bar. You can't quite see it in this pic or this blurry one, but its there. At first we thought it was supposed to a urinal...
posted by J-Garr at 4:56 PM on January 6, 2009

Well, at least one regularly changing guest beer is an absolute must.
posted by Dysk at 5:56 PM on January 6, 2009

Someone already mentioned the Safehouse. I was there a few nights ago, and a couple of the cool features are: a mirror in an alcove in one of the bathrooms that is actually two-way, so when you turn on the light above it people outside in the bar can see you, then, there is a private booth that can rotate 180 degrees, spinning you from the bar next door into the Safehouse, and another nice touch - if you order a Spytini it is sent through pneumatic tubes before serving so it is shaken, not stirred. But one of the best features isn't a gimmick; there are several private sitting areas near the dance floor, much like a restaurant booth, without the table in the center - two benches facing each other, with tables in the corner against the wall. The booths are surrounded by beaded curtains so they feel private, but you can still see what's going on around you.
I've also like the idea of phones at each table that connect only to the other tables, like at the Kit Kat club in the movie Caberet.
posted by catatethebird at 6:05 PM on January 6, 2009

To add a bit to nitsuj's comment, I was in Prague this summer. Some local friends of mine took me to The Pub. As you can see from the pictures, there are beer taps built into each table. Just like at a gas pump, you pay by the liter rather than by the glass. Although a small LCD screen at the top of the tap shows the running total for your table, there's also a very large screen in the back of the pub showing the totals for all tables at this pub and related pubs throughout the Czech Republic. Apparently this is a competitive sport there, but I can't imagine the lawyers here could ever go for it.

Albertagirl mentioned one in Mexico, but there's a local place here (Maplewood, Missouri) that also has swings suspended from the ceiling instead of bar stools.
posted by tomwheeler at 6:08 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nobody's mentioned board games yet? I don't make use of them much, but it's always charming.

I like bars that have accessible coathooks close to every table, especially in cold-weather areas.

I never made it to this now-gone Rochester (NY) landmark, but they had a weekly sing-a-long of old time tunes, and a distinct, wearable? decorating scheme.
posted by knile at 6:14 PM on January 6, 2009

There used to be a bar in NYC called Remote Lounge. It looked like a normal lounge with bar, tables, and booths, but by each seat was a video camera, video screen and intercom. You could look at other people through the cameras and control them remotely. You could also talk to the people through the intercom. Very innovative approach to the whole meet market concept, but I found it off-putting.
posted by sswiller at 6:55 PM on January 6, 2009

Dollar food, of some sort of another. Doesn't matter what, really. Hot dogs, a mug of spaghetti, french fries, whatever. Beer + cheap food = happy crowd.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:58 PM on January 6, 2009

An old tree (that had stood there before the building was built), a mural of all the regulars, monday night movies with free popcorn in dog dishes, and a concrete turtle. Oh, and a possum that occasionally got inside, but mostly hung out in the *cough* artsy fountain.

(Frederick's Music Lounge, St. Louis. RIP)

oh, and an owner who occasionally, during a really good band, would grab a bottle of Jack and make everyone in the bar take shots.
posted by notsnot at 7:42 PM on January 6, 2009

Portraits of regulars on the walls (oh, and one or two naked politicians), and a free book exchange.

There was a place in Chicago with a bar that was one huge fish tank, but danged if I could remember it now.

Madison, WI had a bar called Bennett's Smut 'n' Eggs that delivered as advertised. It's gone now, because the owner really liked his tobacco too.

The Plaza in Madison had a seriously old cowboy-themed pinball machine, like from the fifties.

A good jukebox is always nice, but the vintage jukebox full of jazz 45s at the Hopleaf in Chicago is nicer.

Chicago's Club Foot has the owners' massive collection of new wave/punk memorabilia on display.

All said and done, however, my favorite bar feature is the absence of a television.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:12 PM on January 6, 2009

Free peanuts in the shell and hard boiled eggs behind the bar. Beer that is cold. Pool table. A jukebox with good songs of course. A back exit for when a hasty retreat is appropriate.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:25 PM on January 6, 2009

my favorite bar feature is the absence of a television.

This. So hard to find these days.

Also, a killer jukebox.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:28 PM on January 6, 2009

The bar in the foyer of the concert hall of the local symphony orchestra here is made from some type of clear resin (or something) and has the keys from an old piano sunk into it. I think there might be a flute in there as well...
posted by Emilyisnow at 4:30 AM on January 7, 2009

A bar with a laundromat worked for me way back when.
posted by maloon at 5:30 AM on January 7, 2009

Arctic Ice Bar. I think there's one in London now. I went for the literal definition of cool.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:27 AM on January 7, 2009

I almost forgot! The absolute, best thing ever to happen to bars (well, since the introduction of alcohol): No smoking.

Allow smoking on a deck or someplace separate from the main bar area, for those who want that experience. But for those who want to have a good time without smelling like a dead animal in the morning, please ban smoking if you're in one of those states that hasn't done so already.
posted by arco at 6:44 AM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

In a dive bar in northeast Mississippi: A shelf above the urinal to set your beer, and below that, a padded rest for your forehead. No one ever believes me on this, but it was true, I was there.

One bar here in Columbia has a private room inside an old bank vault, complete with the giant steel door and old bronze dial.

The number one item that will cause me to fall in love with a bar is having pickled items available in large jars behind the bar, served to you via tongs and bev-naps.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:12 AM on January 7, 2009

SHUFFLE BOARD. With rules prominently posted to avoid drunk punch-outs. I adore shuffle board, as I suck at both darts and pool.
posted by kidsleepy at 8:28 AM on January 7, 2009

The Jekyll and Hyde restaurant/bar in NYC is a pretty cheesy tourist trap, but the funnest thing I thought was the hidden bathrooms. When you ask where the bathrooms are, they direct you to a bookshelf-lined hallway that is seemingly a dead end. Start pushing bookshelves and eventually you find the hidden doorway that leads to the bathrooms. Pretty funny! :)
posted by thejrae at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2009

The model trains at the Railway Club in Vancouver.
posted by awenner at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2009

I quite liked Airport Lounge. It is a bar underneath the flightpath right near the San Diego airport. You can stand on the back patio and watch as planes fly directly overhead. The interior design looks like an airplane, and all the bartenders/waiters are dressed in aviation uniforms.
posted by escher at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2009

London Porter House, King's Lynn circa 1972. Landlord asleep along the top of the bar.
posted by Dr.Pill at 5:43 PM on January 7, 2009

On a wall in a pub in SW Western Australia (near the town of Denmark), is a really weird, ten-or more foot long piece of what appears to be leather. It looks like a grungy bull whip that's been left out in the weather for a year or two then sliced open longways and flattened out. There is no sign or plaque near it.

Behind the bar there is a small sign that says that it will cost a dollar donation to the local Nursing Home to be told what the biological oddity is. I refused to pay but my girlfriend's curiosity got the better of her. We were told that it's a dessicated whale's penis: a dork, in the original whaling vernacular.

I like the idea of having something puzzling in a bar as a means to help a charity. But please leave the whale penises alone.
posted by peacay at 4:11 AM on January 8, 2009

You could leave messages for other patrons by referencing their unique number

A couple of people mentioned things like this and I just wanted to put in my two cents that I would never go into a bar which boasted a "feature" like this. I am a woman, and a lesbian, and I get enough unsolicited comments on my appearance and sexuality in my day-to-day life, and it only gets worse at regular bars. The last thing I would want would be a social outing where inebriated people are encouraged to send anonymous comments to me about whatever crosses their mind. I know it would be somewhat regulated, but still, no.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:30 AM on January 8, 2009

I like getting free beers.

Most of these are in Austin, some of them are long gone:

* Charlie's Attic: free peanuts, huge drifts of shells on the floor, horse saddles @ bar

* C.Hunts: Free popcorn machine, washers in the parking lot, beers by the bucket

* Spats in Providence where the tip jar was behind the bar, and regulars would idly hurl quarters at it from afar. If you missed, it made a huge racket amongst the liquor bottles, and people would silently shake their heads at you.

* A bar I used to go to would have impromptu coaster fights. The place would suddenly erupt in a huge storm of coasters, and then just as suddenly stop.

* Freddie's in Austin gives away brisket on Tuesdays.

* Carousel Lounge had an old blind guy playing standards on an organ (RIP Jay).

Here in the south, it's common for there to be outside seating all year round. Some of my favorite places offer blankets during the winter.
posted by popechunk at 6:06 PM on January 8, 2009

Yes! Serve your own beer. Tried it once, loved it. Nitsuj and Tomwheeler mentioned it already, here's a link with pictures of it in action in the Baggot Inn, Dublin.

Your credit card goes behind the bar, you see the running total on a display above the taps.
posted by kev23f at 6:19 AM on January 9, 2009

Features to keep me coming back:
- A small selection of good food, rather than a larger selection of mediocre food
- Good variety of drinks
- Trivia of some kind (I'm partial to the live team trivia where you win in-house cash to spend on your next visit, as it keeps people coming back regularly. But Buzztime type trivia works in a pinch, as does Trivial Pursuit cards on the tables)
- Comfortable chairs/booths
- Some interesting architectural feature, particularly if it's totally inappropriate to the location. I remember a bar somewhere in Arkansas that had an Egyptian theme of all things, and I still remember having a blast there.
- Pinball machines or some kind of non-pool entertainment
- Music low enough to carry a conversation
posted by gemmy at 6:08 AM on November 29, 2009

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