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Pub vs Bar: What’s The Difference? (Explained)

If you live outside the UK, the term pub might look very strange. It becomes even stranger when you realize that the ‘pub’ is essentially the European equivalent of a bar. While a pub and a bar may seem similar, there are several distinctions between them. So, pub vs bar, what’s the difference?

PUB stands for a Public House in the United Kingdom. The public house is the British analog to a bar, but unlike bars, pubs have been a part of British culture for centuries and usually serve as a gathering point where people can meet, relax, and grab a bite, while a bar is all about the alcohol.

Although the easiest way to describe a pub to non-UK natives is to compare it to a bar, however, it’s far more than that. If you’d really like to learn more about pubs, including what they are and how they differ from bars, then read on.

What Is a British Style Pub?

Your first time stepping into a pub might be a bit of a culture shock, depending on how well you’ve been prepped. Even reducing them to simply ‘English bars’ might be stretching the truth a little. If you’d like to visit one and are perhaps unsure, understanding what it is, is the first step to being comfortable in one. 

Pub vs Bar: What's The Difference? (Explained)

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A pub is an establishment primarily for serving drinks. Although this seems similar to a bar, a pub is more encompassing. While bars mainly just serve drinks, a pub is usually a gathering center for friends and family and also regularly serves food.

Pubs are a core part of British culture. In fact, they form the basis of some communities, and many people have bonded over a glass of cold beer or ale. 

Differences Between a Pub and a Bar

With the description given, the lines between pubs and bars might become a little blurred. While there are similarities, there are also enough differences for each to stand alone as its own thing. There are a few easy ways to understand the differences between a pub and a bar.

Friends gather at a British Pub.
Friends gather at a British pub for drinks and a meal.

Pub vs Bar: Atmosphere

The first key difference between both is in their names. Bars are named after metal bars due to the long counter from behind which the bartender serves drinks. On the other hand, a public house is named such because many pubs used to be situated in houses.  

This definition highlights a key difference between the two. The bar is made almost exclusively to sell drinks, and everything about it is usually engineered to keep the drinks flowing. On the other hand, a good pub is usually created with comfort in mind. As a result, pubs are generally more comfortable to stay in for long periods.

Inside of a typical British pub.
A pub has a much more relaxed and homey feeling to it.

Once you know what each means, it becomes apparent that each stays true to its name. While the bar almost exclusively caters to its patrons’ alcohol needs, the pub does the same but has a more homey feel. Many pubs in the UK serve as a home away from home for many people, including families with children. Sometimes Pubs have decades or even centuries of history behind them.

What’s an IPL Beer? x
What’s an IPL Beer?

With the amount of history behind them, pubs quickly become a mainstay almost anywhere they spring up as locals grow attached to them, unlike a bar which usually has only a few regulars.

Location of Pubs and Bars

Another easy way to differentiate between a pub and a bar is to base it on their location. You usually only find pubs in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, bars are found both in the UK and globally. 

This distinction doesn’t mean that every establishment that serves drinks in the United Kingdom is a pub. On the contrary, the UK has quite a lot of bars. The difference between the two usually lies in the feel of the establishment, and with time and familiarity, the differences become easily apparent.

Types of Drinks Served at a Pub Versus a Bar

The types of drinks being served are also usually a good indicator of what type of establishment you’re in. As a rule of thumb, bars usually serve all types of alcohol, depending on their liquor license. On the other hand, pubs usually only serve beer, ale, lager, and similar drinks. 

You won't find these kind of drinks at a Pub. You'll need to go to a bar.
You won’t typically find these kinds of drinks at a pub. You’ll need to head to a bar.

Some pubs also provide a wide range of drinks similar to bars. However, this isn’t particularly common and is usually restricted to ‘posh’ pubs.

Pub Etiquette

Regardless of how much you learn about a pub, very little can replace personal experience. A casual visit with friends can be a good way to have fun and learn a little bit of English culture. 

That said, knowing how to communicate in a pub can be difficult. Hence, here are some pointers on how to handle yourself in a Pub:

  • Don’t push your way past the other patrons. Pubs can get very busy, especially during peak times when people relax after work. It can sometimes be tempting to throw your weight around and push your way through to order your drink when it gets like this. However, this is very frowned upon and could attract the ire of other customers at best or get you thrown out at worst.
  • Order drinks in rounds. Unlike traditional bars, where people usually order each drink separately, pub culture generally promotes ordering drinks in rounds. Since most pubs will have you go up to the counter to get your drink rather than have a server bring it to you, it’s easier to order a round of beer for everyone at once.
  • Dress casual. How you dress plays a big role in how you’ll be received in a pub. As important as it is to behave well, it’s also important to dress appropriately. Wearing clothes that are too formal or too flashy will at the very least attract a few strange glances. People go to pubs to relax and let loose, and fitting in with that ideology will make your visit far more pleasurable.
Check out this video to learn more about Pub etiquette.

Conclusion

Pubs or Public Houses are one of the few things leftover from centuries of British culture. They have been around for quite a while and have permeated into the everyday lives of the people there. 

Although they seem similar to bars on the surface, there’s a significant difference in ambiance and etiquette, and understanding this is key to having fun while you’re there.

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