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Bar Design Ideas Pt. 2: Where These Bar Owners Get Inspiration

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Coming up with whacky bar design ideas is an easy way to make your bar stand out from the intense competition. But sometimes it’s easy to get stumped just coming up with something a little different.

Here at Impos, we know it can be tricky to do all this alone so we’ve chatted with the owners of renowned Australian bars and true bar aficionados.

Rob Sloan of Bulletin Place and Dave Kerr of The Beaufort have gone through the hard slog to come up with their own unique bar design ideas – proven to be a success among patrons. Now they’re sharing their tips with us.

What has been the inspiration for your bar design?

Dave Kerr: I like the thought of making a venue feel transformative, taking you away from the surroundings you’re stepping away from on the street.

But I do love that Melbourne hosts some of the best restaurants in the worst locations. The anti-design theory with particular Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants, for instance, is something that can only really fly in Melbourne.


Rob Sloan: We always set our designers the brief that we’d like the venue to look like a design professional hasn’t been involved. Not that we’re anti-design, but we’re mindful of the current global homogenisation of ideas spawned from a thousand Pinterest boards.

Speaking of Pinterest, where do you get your inspiration for your bar design ideas?

Dave Kerr: Ashamedly, Pinterest is one place I spend a lot of time on.

I try not to reference things too close to home and I want some sense of originality in everything that we do. So, I travel as much as I can and go to as many bars as I can.

Small towns have a greater authenticity than big cities when it comes to our aesthetic of trying to make something look authentic. You just can’t rush making something look timeless and lived in; the Australian country pubs have great cues for that authenticity.

Rob Sloan: Everywhere and anywhere. Much of the inspiration for Bulletin Place came from our cumulative experiences as operators in the industry.

We really wanted to open a venue that displayed all the things we like in terms of product, service and design – and none of the things we don’t!

What are some noteworthy venues with stellar bar designs?

Dave Kerr:  I was blown away the first time I walked into Shady Pines Saloon in Sydney. And now, every time I walk into another one of their venues, you know that it’s going to be something that is fully thought out from day one.

The use of materials isn’t defined by architects and trends; they find reference points like I do, from places that have been lived in. And they somehow translate that to their venues from the day they open the doors.

The Houston Brothers in LA are also making great waves with their venues, cranking out theme bars that people love. It costs a lot of money to make a theme bar truly great and we’ve haven’t seen anything that great from theme bars since the heyday of Tiki.


I’m also a strong fan of restraint in other bars and I’m truly proud to say that I live in the same town as Above Board. Beautiful materials, a great minimalist concept that’s been executed well. It shows that there is more than one way to open a bar and we should all be thinking about flipping the normal on its head sometimes. Who really needs a back bar anyway? 

Rob Sloan: The guys at Swillhouse (Shady Pines Saloon, The Baxter Inn & Frankie’s Pizza by the Slice; all based in Sydney) are the benchmark for venue design in Australia. They’re not so much bar moguls as theatre designers.

Each of their venues is an interactive set, unimpeded by the outdoor world (no windows anywhere to be seen). They’re masters of creating a voice and an individual tone to each concept.


Starting a bar from scratch isn’t easy, but with a good bar design, you’re one step closer to differentiating yourself from the competition and drawing in more patrons.

For more ideas that get you closer to opening your bar, check out our comprehensive Bar Startup Guide today or the first part of this 2-part blog post series: bar design advice!