10 Things Every Good Bar Must Have

By The Kenyan Bar Guy

Published on 14/04/2023

There is a scary trend among Kenyan bars lately. They have become blood-sucking and energy-draining spots that only come alive during the night. They have abandoned their tradition and opted to appeal to a new demographic that is comfortable in duvet-size jackets and polyester blended dresses that are allergic to the knees. This demographic reads. But only captions on TikTok and their views on current affairs are as deep as the shot glass of tequila they order.

This has left a huge gap. We have the seasoned man. The man who knows that his belt should match his shoes. The man that will fold up their sleeves and get down and dirty when the need arises. He will not call AA when the car gets a flat tire – he will change it. He has a collection of books that feed him knowledge and wisdom. His music is not limited to YouTube DJs, if anything, the lad has a vinyl player or a chronograph. His idea of fun is going through the dailies in the morning – the actual paper, not snippets by a news house on Twitter. The feel of paper, as he turns the pages, gives him a fulfillment many will not understand. Poring through the words tenaciously, eating up each sentence, and digesting the information. This man deserves a good bar. But sadly the only ones left are located in member-only clubs and while he might be a member of such they are not necessarily accessible daily or practical, say when he wants to hang out with his boys who are not members of his club.  

When I hear the word bar even from a younger age, I knew it was where people went to have a drink, catch up and soak away the weariness of a long day. When a man said they were going to a bar back in the day, there was even a certain level of respect they would get from their wives. They would understand. Try that today. You will get side eyes, silent treatment, and food in the microwave to warm yourself. That is what it has come to.

But should we go back in time and decide to finally fill in this gap – here are some 10 characteristics that would make a good bar.

  1. Convenience

A man wants to walk to a bar. He does not want to take a road trip just to let his guard down and enjoy a good pint. First, he is weary, the day has beaten down on him like he stole its phone. He just wants to let his tie loose, order his favorite pint, mooch over his thoughts, and gather himself readying himself for the next day. Sadly this is not the case, because even in the neighborhoods where he could just walk in there are peppered and salted with “bars” that are not a place of solace but instead dens of debauchery. Too loud, too dirty, and sometimes too far.

  1. Variety

While thinking about bringing back the old days, there is something we cannot forget. That was a time lingering in the shadows of colonial times. There were usually three, maybe four beers a man could order. In 2023, we have been exposed to different cultures. He knows more than just to say “leta Tusker Mbili baridi”. So the bar should have variety. He should be able to ask for a gin vermouth casually and the bartender will know exactly what he wants. He should be able to sample a mojito with his tie loosened while biting on roasted groundnuts served on the table. He should be able to ask for a double scotch with a splash of bitters. Bar is not synonymous with boring.

  1. Good service

Just because we are talking about the traditional bar, this does not mean men are looking for a rude barmaid in her 40s, with missing teeth, and legs curved out of a tree stump, with three kids, and never have been married. Such have served their time and now it is time they hang their boots. Some bars are so run down, their urinals rank with the putrid odour of urine and poop, it is unacceptable. Men still want a place with aesthetically pleasing servers. They should be soft on the eyes, able to unload 2 percent of your problems with a smile, and dressed decently. Take a cue from airlines.

Back to good service, when you make an order they should not make you wait like adverts in between primetime news. The drink should be served swiftly, cold, and frothy. In case you opt for something different, the menu should be tattooed on their forehead, oops, brains. The only excuse allowed in this case is if the bar has run out of the item – which should NEVER happen.

While on service – a good bar should have a bartender that knows his mint leaves from his angosturas. It is not too much to ask for. Sometimes this man will not know what he wants. It happens. He will go sit at the counter, chat with the bartender, and ask him to recommend something good. Like a doctor the bartender should be able to read this man and determine based on his moods what would be the best treatment. Every drink usually has a story – a bartender should be able to narrate the history of the drink and why he is recommending it. A story that gives you the first sip of the drink before they even whip it up.

  1. Good food

Traditional bars normally had nyama choma, some kachumbari on the side, and a poor concoction of maize flour and hot water – because there is no way any normal person would call that ugali. It tasted as if it came from a high school kitchen ready to be served with watery beans.

A good bar should have a selection of delectables for the picking. Now, before stones are thrown,  delectable does not mean expensive either. These are your normal bites ranging from chicken wings to finger sandwiches. If the bar chooses to expand the menu and include a more diverse selection, even better. But having the option of choosing something exciting to go with your drink or as you wait for your drink is a definite plus.

All this will take is hiring a chef. Someone who can samba around the kitchen without breaking a glass or dropping a spoon. The kind that gets turned on when he sees a cooker. One that will have him forgetting he is in a bar and might just tell the server “Send my compliments to the chef”.

  1. Entertainment

First, let’s not forget that the bar is supposed to be a place of solace, refuge and to connect. However, we cannot forget that even when you want to be alone with your thoughts there is always a need for a complimentary soundtrack. A good bar should have good entertainment.

However, this man is not looking for an overplayed YouTube playlist that is blaring out of a faulty speaker. Music. Not noise. He is not looking to have a live band making a commotion on stage. God forbid, he is not looking to have a DJ at a booth either. Entertainment should not be intrusive, it should be the backdrop to thoughts and conversation. A good selection of slow and soft music smoking out of moderate speakers is enough to set this mood. This is the kind of music you do not even notice. At a good bar, music should never be used to attract patrons. A good bar is just like a wife. They know the man will always come home.

  1. Non-Exclusive

While still observing the laws of the country, a good bar should be a walk-in. At the moment most bars, especially when the sun turns its face away post burly men on the outside. Most of the time you will find a group of people standing outside because they have been “frozen”. This form of exclusivity is usually ubiquitous for flimsy reasons such as dress code. Age restriction is just a form of cover they use to bar (hehe) people from entering.

There is a fallacy that the more difficult it is to enter these bars the better they are. Do not believe it. You just end up paying five times more for the price of a drink accompanied by all the inconvenience of rowdy revelers.

Now, here is the thing: a good bar should not have such flimsy restrictions, but that does not mean it should not have its regulations. This man might want to walk into a bar on a Sunday afternoon while his car is being massaged with foam. At such a point he will not be in a suit. He might be in shorts and Crocs. That should not be a reason to deny him service. You might think that “kids” will start flocking to your bar. You are wrong. Those “kids” are looking for thrills not likely to be found in a local. They will easily get bored when they cannot request “kuna kuna”, louder music or just the fact that B.B. King’s The Thrill is Gone is hanging in the air.

  1. Reasonably Priced

This man has no problem paying for drinks at a premium – it is the reason he rolls up his sleeves anyway. A good bar, however, should not take advantage of this. A good bar is not interested in making big bucks over a short period of time. It should not act like a seasonable nightclub that is interesting one day, that revelers leave in droves when a younger hotter woman comes along right across the street. 

This man knows and values loyalty. To keep him you have to protect his pockets. Within reasonable prices, he will keep coming over and over and many times he will bring in new recruits. People of his ilk. A good bar will value longevity over short cheap thrills. Leave crowds given to extravagant displays of their wealth and don’t mind exorbitant bills. The type that wants to flash their money and entice women.

  1. Ambiance

The traditional bars did not pay much attention to the ambiance. They were a crossbreed of an upcountry church hall and a roadside nyama choma joint. But in those days that was the appeal and people loved it that way. They would not complain about it as long as their beers came cheap and cold.

But, this man has acquired taste over time. He is thinking of new ways to make money and spend it. A good bar will pay attention to its decor. It does not have to be something too extravagant but just fancy enough that one can either have a business meeting or just a casual date. Those who go alone too want to enjoy the environment. They do not want to soak in any more chaos. A good ambiance will go a long way in making a good bar memorable.

9. No Rice Gang

A good pub takes care of its revelers. That means, the waiters and the security team are acutely aware of the marauding pests in the name of mchele gang. Spiking drinks not only sets back your patrons in terms of what they lose, but someone can actually die. It is your duty to ensure that fishy characters are kept at bay. No patron has to lose a phone, money, or anything for that matter. So, keep off the mchele girls and the pickpockets. Generally, ensure that there are no nuisances in the vicinity. People who can’t handle their liquor should be kept out. People who get violent, vulgar, and crude, or dash without paying should be blacklisted.

10. Karaokes Suck

As you have noticed, thankfully, Karaokes have slowly gone out of fashion. The only people who like Karaokes are the host and the crowd of three or four people. The rest of the patrons wish the whole thing was over before it even began. If some young woman approaches you with the idea of Karaoke, chase her away, or give them an off day like Monday, between 7.30 p.m to 8.03 p.m.

In short, it’s time to resuscitate the good bars. Bars are our second homes. Bars have firm handshakes and wear good cologne. It knows how to treat its guests well, make them feel wanted, and is non-judgemental. It accolades the heavily burdened taking their load off without neglecting those in high spirits. Treats strangers with the same regard as the newbies. Ready to groom the next generation in the good old traditions of gentlemanly behaviour. A well-mannered bar, because as we know manners maketh a man.

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