The things that make for excellent bar design is more than a good layout, perfect location, or high occupancy. Bottom line, what makes a bar stand out from the rest is the experience. As designers lean more towards concept design, they focus on the mood of the space. And it’s that mood that brings a bar to life.
One of the most recognizable bar moods is the historically-influenced Prohibition-era speakeasy. It’s characterized by details in every corner, luxurious materials, and of course, its moody atmosphere. It’s also a look that has stood the test of time and continues to be a popular aesthetic for bar design today.
What are the best ways to bring this little piece of history into your designs? Take a deeper dive with us and get a sense of the components that make a successful vintage bar.
Prohibition speakeasies have a reputation for being dim, moody, and elegant—in a Gatsby sort of way. They earned that reputation mostly because of Prohibition, which forced them into hiding. They were often in windowless basements where bootleggers attempted to make the spaces feel like anything but a dingy basement with opulent surroundings.
Today, that same moody aesthetic prevails in vintage bar design. The ambient light should remain dim and warm with opulent task and accent lighting in the form of crystal chandeliers, period pendant lights, or even flickering gas lights.
Use dark, rich colors that define vintage design like burgundy, dark green, or walnut brown. No speakeasy design would be complete without the steadying hand of metallics. Choose aged and distressed metals or dark metals like oil-rubbed bronze, gunmetal, or pewter.
Decor is a good definer of atmosphere. Every bar has some kind of collection displayed that becomes its signature. Whether it’s a collection of fine scotch, antique books, or vintage photography, these items bring with them a feeling that helps define the atmosphere.
A hallmark of the speakeasy bar design is luxury materials. Leather, velvet, stone, rare woods, crystal, polished metals, etc. all contribute to the overall vibe.
Give special consideration to the bar top. It will be a center of attention and can be instrumental in defining the space. Marble or other stones are classic choices, but don’t forget to consider concrete.
Though concrete doesn't have the history of the more usual stones, it is an excellent option that seamlessly blends into the vintage aesthetic. Its smooth finish, careful craftsmanship, and customization should put it at the top of your list for bar top materials.
It can be dyed to match any Benjamin Moore color. It can be finished in various textures. Every bar top is custom fit to the specs of the space so it’s a perfect fit. It’s the height of luxury.
The speakeasy bar style is all about the details. Carved wood, intricately patterned tiles or parquet floors, curated decor, accent lighting on the shelves, and a decorated bar front all add to the final, stunning result.
One detail that vintage bars nearly always get right is the ceiling. It’s the fifth wall after all and should get some attention. A favorite aesthetic for the ceiling, and one that is historically accurate, is the tin ceiling tile. American Tin Ceilings produces reproductions that perfectly suit the vintage bar design. Murals are another option that make the ceiling spectacular.
Anywhere there’s space, there’s room for tasteful details that help define the space as an opulent place to unwind in luxury.
Vintage bars are a design that have always been beloved and will continue to be for a long time yet. You’re never going to regret the extravagance and leisure of a speakeasy-inspired design.
See more concrete design inspiration for other spaces.