Great public spaces make great cities. But so do great private spaces. They provide opportunities for people to socialize, and provide the character that make a city more livable and unique. We have already talked about how restaurants add value to a city– but thought we’d look at bars in the same way.
Now, what makes a great bar depends on who you talk to- but regardless of if you prefer a wine bar with small plates, a gastropub, or a dive bar with ski ball (or without ski ball)—bars contribute to a city’s livability and an individual’s experience within a city. Trying to argue that one is better than another is, well, a way to start a barroom brawl. So while we can’t resolve which cities have the best bars, we can at least count which cities have the most bars.
We used County Business Patterns data to analyze the number of bars per 10,000 workers each the top 51 most populous metro areas. (The latest data is from 2012, reflected below):
It’s no surprise that New Orleans comes up first—it is renowned for its bars. (In case it wasn’t on your calendar, Mardis Gras is right around the corner..) There’s no particular rhyme or reason for the rest of the ranking; a variety of things can influence bar culture, such as policy and availability of licenses, availability and strength of public transit, age of residents (younger residents will desire more bars than older ones), and weather (colder places have seen higher consumption rates of alcohol).
Of course, the number of bars per capita isn’t a measure of quality (much like it isn’t for restaurants, either). More bars may reflect loose regulations, a higher city-wide per capita income, and of course, a desire for variety. For example, Pittsburgh’s historical blue-collar workforce may desire its older dive bars, but its new population of young engineers and medical workers allow for hip and more expensive wine, whiskey, and champagne bars to flourish.
Bars are just one way in which a city can make itself more livable for its residents. Livability is important—it attracts residents, and therefore tax payers, and helps to retain younger, talented workers. Ed Glaeser, Harvard economist and author, has encouraged the city of Boston in its efforts to allow bars to stay open later. He sees it as a matter of making Boston “livelier.” A city’s liveliness, to which bars certainly contribute, may not be of the utmost importance to all residents—but it’s clear it’s important to some, and can be a strategic advantage to cities. (To read more about how city distinctiveness and its placemaking efforts can benefit cities, go here and here.)