Steel’s uses within the pub industry are manifold: it is regularly used to create stainless steel bar tops, splashbacks and sinks, to name but a few. Bar developers have been utilising steel in such a manner for years now, though its uses are not comprehensive, it must be said. There are still some places where stainless steel dare not go – namely, back in time. Everything reaches the end of its life cycle eventually and has to be replaced; furniture; carpets; pets; humans. That’s just how it goes. To replace the worn-out wooden bar of a traditional British pub and replace it with steel would be wrong, not on moral grounds, but certainly on aesthetic ones. You wouldn’t wear a prom dress to your community service any more than you’d rock up to the graduation ball clad in trackie Bs: make no mistake, stainless steel is an excellent material of choice in contemporary bars, but it’s not a universal solution.
When it comes to designing modern pubs however, steel can always be found at the bar bespoke splashback . Why does every bar that appears in every city in the UK insist on decking itself out in stainless steel, from the bar top itself to the cocktail shaker, chillers, dishwasher, sink, inset and splashback? Why are designers specifying steel as their preferred bar-top in the same way that oak was once the de facto material for building 18th century alehouses
The looking good bit is easy to understand: whatever way you look at it, steel is an attractive medium. Sure, it’d look pretty crap and clinical in a Shakespearean tavern, but in most modern premises, steel is a sexy beast. The possibilities this malleable material promises are endless. You can form it into any shape you like; curve it; bend it; hammer it. Given steel’s myriad facets then, why do so many modern bars look virtually identical?
The fault, in this instance, lies not in the material itself, but in those who commission its very being. Whether it be through budget constraints or a complete paucity of inspiration, steel rarely gets a chance to truly shine. When working with as customisable a material as steel, the only limits lie in the imagination of the designer. There’s no need for a stainless steel bar-top to resemble a mortuary slab – unless that’s the theme they’re deliberately going for of course. Otherwise, steel should be curved and sculpted; it should be drilled and riveted; it should be used to its full potential, to create bars that are as unique and iconic as the traditional taverns of the past.
It’s not just our drinking habits that have changed over the years – British architecture has also evolved, aided by innovative designers intent on using materials such as glass and steel in unorthodox ways that challenge the zeitgeist. London plays host to an array of bespoke bars that use stainless steel in exciting new ways. As you stray from the capital however, each new pub seems to resemble the last, just as each town resembles the one you bypassed on the motorway 100 miles earlier. Large swathes of Britain have been overrun by bland chain pubs and wine bars, each one as insipid as the last. It’s not the materials that are responsible for their shortcomings; it wouldn’t matter whether you built the bar out of stainless steel, old English oak or Liquorice Allsorts: when the design is devoid of inspiration, the whole establishment is rendered soulless. In such sterile surrounds, all you can do is drain as many shots in as short a time as possible and then get the hell out of there. This proliferation of identikit chain bars has occurred insidiously over the past decade; most drinkers have been too preoccupied with lighting sambucas and demolishing Donkey Drops to take a moment to examine their sterile surroundings.