What is the Difference Between a Bar and a Tavern?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The difference between a bar and a tavern varies, depending on the region of the world where one is. In some areas, the two terms are used interchangeably, while in other places, people mean something very specific. Some regions distinguish between the two when it comes to licensing, making the difference primarily legal in nature.

The main purpose of a bar is to serve alcohol.
The main purpose of a bar is to serve alcohol.

Both facilities are established for the purpose of selling alcoholic beverages, typically for on sale use only, meaning that people cannot buy alcohol to take away. The beverages on offer vary, but typically include beer, hard liquor, various mixed drinks, and wine. Most bars and taverns have a literal bar, as in a counter where people can sit and socialize while drinking. The bar is used also as a staging point for mixing drinks, interacting with customers, and storing various equipment such as cups, garnishes, and so forth.

Taverns, unlike bars, serve food, and so minors are allowed in.
Taverns, unlike bars, serve food, and so minors are allowed in.

When people do distinguish between a bar and a tavern, they usually think of a bar as an establishment where only alcohol is available, while a tavern offers food as well as alcohol. In the legal sense, people below the legal drinking age may be allowed into a tavern, under the assumption that the facility acts as a restaurant, and therefore non-drinkers would have a legitimate reason to patronize it, whereas bars might be strictly off-limits to underage individuals. These facilities may also be given different licensing permits in terms of the hours of legal operation, the ability to provide live entertainment, and so forth.

Both pubs and taverns typically serve beer.
Both pubs and taverns typically serve beer.

Bars tend to be more likely to offer live entertainment like bands, strippers, magic acts, and so forth, and they may include things like jukeboxes, pool tables, and other forms of entertainment. The bar environment is very much geared to socialization and entertainment, with small tables which encourage people to crowd together, ample stools at the bar, and a relaxed atmosphere. Taverns, on the other hand, may be designed more for dining, with larger tables which can accommodate dinner or lunch service.

In some parts of the world, taverns are thought of as operating like restaurants.
In some parts of the world, taverns are thought of as operating like restaurants.
A bar is more likely to offer a pool table.
A bar is more likely to offer a pool table.
Bars are usually more geared toward socializing than taverns.
Bars are usually more geared toward socializing than taverns.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

indemnifyme

@JessicaLynn - I've been to many bars that serve food, and of course I've been to places that only serve alcohol. I think whether the bar serves food or not is another things that varies by region.

JessicaLynn

It's interesting that most people think of a bar as a place where only alcohol is available. However, I have been to a lot of different bars that are definitely bars and not taverns that serve food.

Granted, most bars that also serve food don't have an extensive menu. Some only serve small plates and appetizer type things, and then many have an even smaller late night menu.

Monika

@SZapper - As the article said, the terminology for drinking and eating establishments varies regionally. What might be considered a tavern one place might be called something else entirely in another location. And of course there are other kinds of establishments that blur the lines between the two, like lounges.

SZapper

Here in the United States, I rarely hear anyone use the term tavern. I think the only time I've ever seen something called a tavern is in the name of a themed restaurant. Around here, most people say something is either a bar, a club, or a restaurant.

A restaurant sounds like it's probably the closest thing to the definition of a tavern given in this article though. Most restaurants serve food and alcoholic beverages, and also many have a separate bar area.

CopperPipe

@rallenwriter -- Re the whole pub/tavern thing, I think that pubs serve a different social function than taverns, clubs, or bars.

In the UK, pubs really have a very special set of functions. It's not just a place to eat or drink, it's a place to socialize, meet your buddies for a pint or two, and even play on the local pub quiz team.

When I lived in York, the pubs were the only things open after 6, and that's where everybody would go after work. It's really so much more about socializing than drinking though. Of course the alcohol is part of it, but the primary function of a pub, I think, is for socializing.

googlefanz

Does anybody know where there's a good Italian tavern in downtown Detroit? I am really craving a good tavern pizza, and have no idea where to look for one.

Any help, fellow wisegeek readers?

rallenwriter

What's really fun is when you get into the difference between a pub and a tavern. Although both serve food, a pub is usually a more British style of thing, while taverns are kind of all over.

Although some consider pubs and taverns to be the same thing, I would argue that although pubs and taverns are both cafe-like in that they serve food, they still have different feels to them.

And don't even get me started on the difference between a club and a tavern...

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