Designing the Ultimate Cocktail Space for 2021’s Evolving Expectations

In 2020, the pandemic forced over 111,000 bars and restaurants in the United States to close permanently, severely impacting the drinking and dining scene abandoned last winter. Now, many are looking forward to not only returning to their favorite haunts, but to exploring the new establishments that have opened outside of the confines of their apartment. Although COVID-19 stifled progress for most, several dynamic spaces brimming with feelings of nostalgia, creativity, and flair invite the returning crowds to “take a trip” away from the chaos. To create a premium, safe, and welcoming cocktail space, there must be a holistic approach to the design, considering the guests’ perspectives on what can be seen and felt. 

Bars—and bartenders—create artistry the people at home cannot duplicate. Yes, one can mix cocktails at home, but replicating the ambiance of their favorite go-to spot remains elusive. Therefore, creating a space where patrons can interact with the bartender or mixologist, ask questions, and see the creation of their drinks will remedy this past year’s lack of live entertainment. Guests do not want to simply walk through a doorway and be seated in the corner, away from the excitement. Physically watching a bartender pour a drink over specialty ice is just one example of many handy mixology techniques useful in elevating a space for a visually hungry crowd. 

While most guests will choose to indulge in an alcoholic beverage, there is much to be said about the design elements their eyes will drink in. Nuanced, atmospheric lighting or decorative wallpaper help tell a story, creating context and points of interest for the guests. 

The floor plan of a cocktail space is another important design element often overlooked during development. Guests need the option to move fluidly throughout the venue without feeling crowded or as if they are missing part of the action. Utilizing every square inch of space to safely accommodate duos and large parties alike will not only be expected moving forward, but can also uncover bonus vignettes begging to be brought to life.

Creative and thoughtful layouts are also integral to not only guest safety, but to curating a memorable experience that will bring patrons back again and again. For example, a speakeasy format supports a playful, nostalgic theme allowing for signature drinks and elaborate mixology techniques. Meanwhile, liquor libraries are another emerging trend enabling guests to buy full bottles and store them in a locker until their next visit. 

While bar owners should be reminded that we are not completely out of the pandemic era, inserting certain creative liberties will be helpful in differentiating one bar from the next. This does not mean to reinvent the wheel by any means, but offering something new and exciting can draw in those ready to reinvigorate the bar scene. In this new era, what’s paramount for designers is cultivating a familiar space welcoming customers to the ultimate cocktail experience, giving them a night to always remember.