Build a Better Bar Top

By Barron Schimberg, AIA LEED AP

During a restaurant redesign, the importance of choosing the right bar top can’t be overstated. The surface should combine form, fashion, and function in a way that reflects the spirit of the establishment.

Bar tops can be made from dozens of different materials, including wood, laminates, granite, steel, clear or frosted glass, or resin. Two of the most memorable bar tops we have designed include an onyx bar top which was lit from below and a terrazzo bar top that was crafted to our specifications and sealed for durability.

Here are a few things to keep in mind, when designing a bar top:

Aesthetics. Think about the overall look you are trying to create for the space. Consider the bar top as an opportunity to make a visual statement.

Maintainabiity. The bar must be easy to clean and resistant to stains and scratching. Try to think of everything the bar top might be exposed to: water rings, alcohol, coffee, food, wine, salad dressings, etc. The softer the material, the more maintenance it will require.

Drink Rail. Find out if the bartenders have any preferences with regards to the drink rail. The drink rail is a lowered trough that can be added to the inside edge of the bar top to contain spills while drinks are being mixed. A rubber mat or stainless steel grate in the drink rail keeps glasses from sliding on a wet bar top. Don’t forget drains spaced about every 3‐4’‐0” for cleaning purposes.

Extra Support. At some point, bar patrons or employees may feel the urge to stand on the bar. In theory, a bar shouldn’t have to be designed to support the weight of people. But experienced restaurant owners know that in the real world, it’s necessary.

For the bar area in The Sandbar Restaurant on Anna Maria Island, we worked with Ben Nettles of Ben Nettles Concrete Design in Sarasota  to create a custom‐mixed terrazzo bar top. We selected the base color of the concrete as well as the exact color and the sizes of the crushed glass mixed with the concrete. Before the final bar top was poured, cured, and sealed, we had samples made, then tested them by pouring wine, oil, and mustard on them. The key to a successful terrazzo bar top is allowing the correct amount of curing and sealing time. This process can take anywhere from one to four weeks depending on the thickness of the bar top and the type of sealant used. (Photo: Dara Townsend Caudill)

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  • This is a really great article. You clearly work with some extremely talented people.