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difference between pubs and bars

6 Differences Between Pubs and Bars: The Ultimate Guide

by Martha Simmonds

One of the oldest debates in the liquor world is the difference between pubs and bars. Although the two are simple English words describing the same thing, they’re distinct in several ways. Therefore, it’s important to understand these differences so that you can use the words appropriately even when having normal conversations.

This article offers you a detailed comparison between pubs and bars to help you understand their differences.

What’s a Pub?


A pub is short for a public house where revelers go to enjoy refreshments. It’s a licensed establishment where alcoholic drinks are served for consumption. This term first emerged in the late 17th century when people had to differentiate between private houses and public houses such as taverns, inns, and alehouses.

Although nowadays there’s no strict definition of a private and public house, a pub has several unique characteristics that distinguish it from other houses. For instance, it’s open to the public and doesn’t require you to have any membership or residency permit to access it. Additionally, a pub serves draught beer or cider without accompanying it with food.

A pub should at least have one interior space that’s not laid out for food. It should also allow revelers to buy drinks at a bar, not just table service. Pubs date back to the eras of taverns in Roman Britain and alehouses in Anglo-Saxon. However, pubs, as we know them today, became popular in the early 19th century.

They also became very popular in regions that were influenced by British culture. In most of these places, pubs are still an important part of their traditions. In such places, pubs are considered the focal point of communities, especially in towns and villages. In the late 17th century, Samuel Pepys – a famous English diarist and naval administrator – described a pub as “the heart of England”.

Initially, the main drinks that were served in pubs were cider and draught beer. But today, pub owners have introduced a variety of other drinks, including wines, distilled spirits, coffee, tea, soda, and other soft beverages. They also serve meals and snacks, especially the so-called gastro-pubs. These ones serve the same meals served in restaurants.

You need a license from the local authority to operate a pub. The owner of the license is commonly referred to as the landlord, landlady, or publican. Many people prefer to go to pubs because they’re usually located near their residences and most of the revelers are friends, relatives, and neighbors.

Also referred to as “locals”, pubs offer a nice social atmosphere where you can catch up with friends and relatives on your way home from work or on weekends. Aside from enjoying drinks and food, you can also play your favorite pub games like snooker, darts, etc. Many pubs today also stream sporting events like soccer, rugby, basketball, hockey, and many others.

The common architecture of an ordinary pub is very simple as it comprises normal elements like a lounge/salon, public bar, beer engine, snug, and a counter.

What’s a Bar?


A bar is a retail establishment where alcoholic drinks like beer, cocktails, wine, soda, mineral water, distilled spirits, and soft beverages are served. Also referred to as roadhouses, saloons, or tippling houses, bars usually serve meals and snacks, including crisps, peanuts, steaks, and other foods from a typical restaurant menu. The word “bar” usually refers to a countertop where beverages are prepared and served.

This term is derived from the metal or wooden barrier erected along the countertop, separating it from the general lounge. In the past, the countertops were fully covered with metal or wooden bars, hiding the bartender from the full view of the revelers. Over time, these bars have been shortened and opened to the full glare of the partygoers sitting in the lounge.

Some bars have also added high stools around their countertops where patrons, who don’t want to sit in the general lounge, can sit and have a chat with the bartender. Like pubs, bars offer different forms of entertainment, including live music, karaoke, live streaming sporting events, etc. In some places, bars are also referred to as “nightclubs”, especially if they operate at night.

A bar can be a simple dive bar or an elegant place of entertainment that accompanies a restaurant where patrons can dine. In the United States and Europe, many well-established bars operate discount periods when they have designated “happy hours” to encourage off-peak-time patrons. Some bars, especially those that offer live music performances, are often filled to capacity, forcing them to implement cover charges or minimum drink-purchase requirements.

It’s normal to find bouncers at the entrance and in strategic positions inside the bar. Their work is to maintain order, collect cover charges, and prevent underage patronage. Many bars today have in-house comedians, live bands, vocalists, and DJs to entertain patrons.

They also have spacious lounges where revelers can sit or dance. Depending on its size, a bar can serve drinks at the counter by the bartender, at the tables by waiters and waitresses, or combine both. Bars became popular during the colonial era because they served as important meeting places.

Their popularity grew even more in the 19th century when the working class used them as entertainment joints during their leisure time.

6 Differences Between Pubs and Bars


While pubs and bars are similar to some degree, they have several fundamental differences that you should be aware of when deciding where to have your drink. Here are the main differences between the two.

1. History

As noted above, pubs first appeared in Britain where they were, initially, referred to as alehouses. The alehouses served the traditional English ale, which was made from fermented malt. Each alehouse had its unique ale.

Bars, on the other hand, first appeared in the US where distilled spirits and other types of hard liquor were served. Bars acquired their name from the counters that were covered with metal or wooden bars.

2. Alcohol Served

Traditionally, bars have always specialized in hard liquor and cocktails, while pubs mostly serve beer, wine, and cider. But nowadays both places offer a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as meals. However, minors aren’t allowed to enter bars but they can enter pubs as long as they’re not served alcoholic drinks.

3. Ambience and Patrons

In British and Irish pubs, the ambiance is very relaxed and tranquil without loud music. This makes them suitable for both the young and old. They usually open at 11:00 AM and close at midnight.

Bars usually have a very obtrusive ambiance with loud music, dance floors, and DJs. This makes bars suitable for the younger generation. Bars are very common in the US and are usually patronized in the evening by people looking to have a wild night out. The legal age limit for consuming alcohol in pubs and bars around the world is between 18 and 21 years.

4. Meals

Traditionally, bars don’t serve food, at least not in large quantities. They usually serve snacks like pizza, chicken wings, and other light appetizers. They also have adjacent restaurants where patrons can dine.

Pubs, on the other hand, have a more elaborate menu, serving a variety of meals, including chips, fish, chicken, steak, bangers, mash, ale pies, pastries, etc. You can expect to get a more filling meal at a pub, with soups, desserts, and salads.

5. Owners

The owner of a bar is commonly referred to as the bar manager, while that of a pub is known as the landlord, landlady, or publican. However, some pubs in the UK and other European countries are owned by breweries.

6. Types

There are many varieties of bars in different parts of the world, including sports bars, topless bars, gay bars, karaoke bars, cop bars, dance bars, salsa bars, singles bars, and many more. The varieties of pubs are limited to either brewery-owned, private-owned, or free houses.

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