On the Line / Bar & Nightclub / What is a Tavern?

What is a Tavern?

A cross between a restaurant and a bar, a tavern typically serves American classics and enhanced comfort food fare.

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1. What is a tavern?

A cross between a restaurant and a bar, a tavern typically serves American classics and enhanced comfort food fare. 

The upscale atmosphere, the expanded food menu, and a larger selection of beers, wines, and spirits distinguish a tavern from a local pub. Step inside a classic tavern, and dark wood abounds. 

Guests can sidle up to a large bar and order a drink and appetizers, or they can eat in a cozy dining room with a full menu and sit-down service. Low lighting, fireplaces, and a warm, convivial vibe define most taverns. 

Some modern versions introduce news spins to the genre with globally-influenced cuisine, patio seating, and minimalist décor. Still, the heart of the classic tavern remains with a friendly atmosphere and filling food.

2. What is the history of taverns?

Around the time of the United States’ founding, taverns had already emerged as popular gathering places. Most believe taverns emerged as soon as the first Dutch settlers arrived. 

In addition to supplying guests with food and drinks (mostly rum, cider, and brandy), colonial taverns were inns for travelers who would spend the night after several drinks. They served all manner of purposes: trading posts, local post offices, convenience stores, and even courtrooms. (Legend has it that the Boston Tea Party protest was planned at a tavern.) 

Through the 20th century, the tavern remained a community hub in towns and cities in North America and a roadhouse in more rural areas. That history is alive today in modern taverns where guests still gather for discussion and debate with friends over a couple of ales and a hearty meal.

3. What is typically on a tavern menu?

A traditional tavern menu sticks to comfort food, but the ingredients often come with a pedigree. Classic menu items include premium burgers, prime steak dinners, caesar salads, broiled fish, shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, and homemade soups. 

But modern taverns keep pace with larger restaurant industry trends and increasingly offer inspired seasonal cooking using organic and local ingredients. Some menus reflect global influences and a farm-to-table philosophy. A defining feature is a full bar, with seemingly endless combinations of spirits and pairings.

4. How do you start a tavern?

One of the most crucial decisions you’ll make is location. You’ll need somewhere accessible to customers (preferably with parking), in the correct zoning areas, and large enough to accommodate a bar and a dining area. 

Because of the multi-purpose nature of taverns —a bar, a restaurant, and a gathering place — the interior design is essential. It should look and “feel” the part with comfortable seating, inviting décor, and spacious eating and drinking areas so guests can move around without feeling crowded. 

A solid hiring plan is a key consideration, too, as you’ll need both bar and kitchen managers, waitstaff, bartenders, and hosts/hostesses to cover all areas.

5. How much does it cost to start a tavern?

The cost of opening a restaurant ranges between $100 and $800 per square foot, with a median of $450 per square foot, but many factors are at play. The actual cost varies depending on the location, the size of your tavern, the materials and equipment needed, and whether you’re buying the space or leasing/renting. 

For instance, buying a pre-existing restaurant or bar will be considerably less expensive than building from the ground up. Utilities average $1000 to $1,200 monthly for a 4000-4500 square foot space. According to Sweeten, interior finishes average around $160 a square foot, including permits, build-out, equipment, and design.

6. Most popular types of taverns

The most successful taverns offer a place of community, a home away from home, where customers can drink with friends and dig into affordable filling dishes. Hospitality, a charming atmosphere, and well-executed comfort food will always draw customers, whether a modern tavern or a nostalgic throwback. 


In a time when people stayed home and stayed away from any gathering, the tavern is that much-needed “third space” that customers are seeking once more. A place where you can sip on a Sidecar, catch up with friends, and eat a good meal.

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