Can Lights for Your Bar or Nightclub

Can lights are a good way of creating a mood for your bar or nightclub. They can drop an intimate dimness onto booths or create roving beams onto the dance floor. If you have live music, mounted light can arrays are perfect for placing your spots and if you have a disco, they are a must.

A Note about the Meaning of “Can Lights”

Can lights can refer to two different kinds of lighting in the bar and nightclub context. On the one hand, can lights, which are also called pot lights and recessed lights, are basically just lights that are installed directly into cavities in the ceilings or walls. This is what architects and designers mean when they refer to “can lights.”

In the stage and nightclub context, however, can lights refer to what you may know as spot lights or par lights. These are lights contained in metal can-like (thus the name) casings and mounted (usually to ceiling tracks) so that they point down strategically to create particular stage or dance floor effects.

Recessed Lighting

In this post I will mainly discuss the second type of can light. However, the first kind is definitely an option in nightclub and bar lighting—especially for lighting booths and other intimate spaces or for lighting up hallways. The good thing about recessed lights is that they do not take up extra space sticking out from ceilings and walls. Thus they are the perfect option for low hanging hallways or rooms.

Recessed lights are also a good safety option since nightclubs by their very nature tend to be dark spaces. Placing recessed lighting below steps on stairwells is definitely a good idea if you want to help avoid law suits. Such lights can make it easier for customers to orient themselves—especially if they are inebriated and disoriented by the loud music.

Recessed lights are also a good option for underneath bars (on the customer side) and for making sure features are defined throughout your nightclub or bar. (For more on Bar Lighting see Your Bar Lighting Primer.)

Can Lights and Track Lighting for Bar and Nightclub Stages

The most common use of can lights, however, is for lighting dance floors and stages. There are various kinds of can lights that you can use to create effects. In other articles I have talked quite a bit about dance floor lighting so here I will mainly talk about stage lighting.

Can Lights on Stage at Hi Ho Lounge

Photo Courtesy of Ann Larie Valantine

There are certain considerations you will need to take into account when setting up your stage or improvised performance area in your bar or nightclub.


You have to have the juice to produce any kind of lighting. Your average socket might be able to deliver up to 3000 watts of power, but given that your top notch can light will pull about 800 watts on average just by itself, you want to make sure that your electrical system can actually handle the load you are asking it to pull. If you have an older establishment or if you just want too much from the system, you might end up shorting out the power for your whole establishment or creating fire hazards.

For this reason, you might want to consider redoing your electrical system in the stage area, to make sure that you get the juice that you need. This is especially the case if you are going to have a permanent performance stage in your bar or nightclub, rather than just designating a little corner for open mic nights.

If you simply can’t afford the power involved in top flight lighting can systems, you might try 300 watt par can lights, which should be adequate for a smaller space. But you really should not go much lower than this. You should also consider LED lighting where possible, since they will pull less energy generally.

Tracks and Mounting for Can Light Systems

Whenever possible you want to mount your lights. This is, first of all, a safety precaution. Hot can lights on flimsy T-bars are law suits waiting to happen. The more that you can get the lights out of the way, the better off you will be.

When it comes to rigging, you want to make sure that you anticipate exactly what you will need beforehand. Once the lights are up, it is a pain to take them down and re-mount them. As a minimum you want to have lights coming in from two sides of your stage. (Unless of course it is simply too small for that.) Your can lights should hang from ceiling mounted tracks if possible. If you use T-bars, you need to make sure that they are well away from high traffic areas or customers are likely to knock them over. (For more on Stage Lighting see Stage Lighting Basics for your Bar or Nightclub.)

Some types of lights or lighting effects you should consider getting:

Spot Lights

Spot lights can create various kinds of dance floor effects, from the roving search light that roams the dance floor to the alternating set of spots that drop beams on individual dancers, disappear, and then return in syncopated rhythm with alternate—perhaps multi-colored spots.

Laser Lights

Multi-colored laser lights are also great for setting moods and creating a sort of futuristic atmosphere for dance clubs.

Gobo Can Lights

There are also various versions of effect lights that can cast patterns on the dance floor. These kinds of effects, like swarms of dots or patterns moving in patterned motions can create easy dance floor effects.

Hopefully you have found this article helpful. If you are looking for a more comprehensive guide, take a look at our article on ceiling lighting which is soon to be posted.

Or you can check our guide to overall nightclub lighting, which is also soon to be posted.

Filed Under: Bar / Nightclub DesignBar / Nightclub Lighting


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