Pub and Bar Design Strategies

By | March 15th, 2011

Casual comfort and unique themes can make “club pubs” the preferred destinations for less buttoned-up dining and social experiences.


  • Bar and pub design motifs do not have to be over-the-top to be effective.
  • A lively bar draws people to the club both in and off season.
  • Blend bar areas with the rest of the property by incorporating high-quality finishes, design touches and complementary color schemes.

As clubs test the dress-code waters while striving to stay relevant, they’re finding that more members and guests want to be able to don their favorite jeans and a collared shirt in lieu of a jacket and tie—and that creating a more casual pub or bar environment can be the most effective way to embrace this trend without compromising the quality or goals of the club as a whole.

When the Rio Verde (Ariz.) Country Club took this approach with its new Verde Pub, it was an instant success. By ditching the table linens, mounting flat-screen TVs on the walls and providing wheeled chairs that allow members to roll freely around the room, the informal space quickly took on a life of its own.

“The pub affords us more dining options and more dining space,” explains Robert Coleman, Director of Food and Beverage Operations. “While we’re doing a $200 wine-tasting dinner in the formal dining room, members who don’t want to dress up can still have an $11 hamburger at the Pub, without feeling excluded from the rest of the club.”

Combining casual comfort with superior service has proved to be a winning equation for Rio Verde CC and many other properties. To tap into the full potential of a bar space, clubs and resorts are focusing on designing efficient and comfortable areas that offer members something special and different from what they’d find at local watering holes.

Earning Back the Business

Properly positioned, in fact, bars and pubs can provide properties with a new competitive edge. When Kokomo (Ind.) Country Club was losing money on its formal dining operations, the club decided to transform the formal dining room into the Club Pub, a casual sports bar.

“Our members were quickly losing interest in dressing up to go to dinner, particularly on Friday nights,” says Jason Miller, Assistant Manager. “There are a lot of pubs and bars in town, and they were stealing our business. So our main goal was to be competitive.”

Three years later, the Club Pub has done just that. “It has gone over great with our members,” says Miller. “We now do about twice of what we used to do on Friday nights.”

Despite its sports bar theme, you won’t find any kitschy neon bar signs or gaudy beer posters on the walls in Kokomo’s new Club Pub. The marble-topped wood bar, glass shelving and hardwood flooring provide an elegant foundation. Comfort, meanwhile, comes courtesy of cushioned bar stools, wood high-boy chairs, and low-top tables with metal-framed, cushioned dining chairs. Adjustable recesed lighting keeps things simple and relaxed.

Floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the room offer panoramic views of the club grounds and draw in natural light, while the light woods further establish an airy, laid-back vibe. The bar also boasts three flat-screen televisions.

Keeping the décor simple doesn’t come cheap, however. “Once you figure in marble countertops and a few 60-inch flat screens, it adds up,” says Miller. But the bar’s immediate success allowed the club to break even on its investment just one year after the Club Pub opened.

Drinks and Then Some

The Falkirk Pub at Falkirk Estate & Country Club in Central Valley, N.Y., was designed as more than a watering hole. Teeming with entertainment options, including ping-pong tables, a moveable putting green, two chess tables, seven flat-screen, high-definition televisions, a state-of-the-art sound system and WiFi, the pub is all-encompassing. “Our owners’ vision for the pub is for more than just drinking,” says Matthew Fichera, Falkirk’s General Manager and Chief Operating Officer.

The Falkirk Pub has an English pub motif, complete with chocolate tones and heavy wood detailing. The L-shaped bar has comfortable stools, while the rest of the room is set with high- and low-top dining tables and chairs. Elegant chess tables are flanked by plush leather, coffee-hued, button-backed armchairs.

The Pub’s walls are painted light beige with bold brown wainscoting. The wood trim along the ceiling creates a cozy setting. At the same time, windows and doors leading to the outdoor patio provide natural light during the daytime, while wall sconces and overhead adjustable lighting help to prevent a cave-like feeling within the space. Artwork on the walls celebrates the club’s history, with pictures of the golf course from the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s.

This classic design also provides plenty of versatility. In fact, the Pub has become one of the club’s most valuable multi-use spaces, capable of many different setups. During the season it functions primarily as a restaurant and bar, popular with golfers, families and members looking to kick back and relax with friends. The Pub is also a popular selling point for brides and grooms, to be used for wedding reception after-parties. The entire Pub can also be rented out as a venue for a private party or event. “It is my most versatile space; it’s priceless,” says Fichera.

A Big Draw

When South Shore Country Club in Hingham, Mass. wanted to renovate a large abandoned storage area within its clubhouse, James McGrail, Director of Operations, struck a relatively risk-free deal with a local distributor of golf simulator machines. Rather than buy the machines, which can cost $50,000-$60,000 each, McGrail worked out an agreement that kept ownership with the distributor, but allowed South Shore CC to operate them and collect the money from their use. The club would then get billed, at a negotiated rate, for the time the machines are active.

Of course, South Shore knew it needed to do more than just plunk two golf simulators into the empty storage space to make the arrangement work. “I wanted a comfortable place where people could hang out, have a few beers, eat chicken wings, play video golf and watch the Pats on TV,” says McGrail. “If I can’t sell that, I’m in the wrong business!”

Thus was born The Tour—an unfussy, sports-themed oasis that doesn’t skimp on sophistication. “We wanted The Tour to have a touch of class, and still be casual,’” says McGrail. “Sports were key. But we also put in pendant and drop lighting. The color scheme follows the same colors as the rest of the club, with yellows, greens and browns.”

Of course, the simulators are the main attraction. Upon entering The Tour, two simulators are set up along the entire left-hand wall of the room.

Each simulator has its own high-top table, for people to enjoy food and drinks as they play.  High- and low-tops are then set up throughout the rest of the bar area. But the most popular place to sit is around the custom-built, Brazilian cherry hardwood bar. Strategically located to offer a clear view of the simulators, the bar has cushioned bar stools and a flat-screen television overhead.

An electric fireplace, with a slate surround, mantle and hearth, was added to create ambiance throughout the room, and another flat screen is mounted above the fireplace. The walls are decorated with local sports memorabilia and photos of the golf course.

Since its opening in November 2010, The Tour has thrived. It even drew people to the club during the off-season, despite the snow that buried the region this winter. “If it wasn’t for the simulators, it would have been a tough winter for getting bodies in here,” says McGrail. “Now a lot of people come to the club to eat dinner, and then they play.”

The venture has been such a success that McGrail expects to break even on the $30,000 renovation this year. “It is a capital improvement to the facility, and being able to recoup the costs in just one year is a pretty solid investment,” he says.

The Tour is also available for private parties and events, and the club now plans to use the simulators as an up-sell for golf outings and also as a backup when golf events, lessons or camps get rained out.

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