Starting a Cowboy Bar

Do you watch Urban Cowboy just to get more ideas for starting a cowboy bar? Do you sit around thinking up cool country western bar names or making playlists filled with the perfect sets of country bar music. If you have always had a thing for cowboy bars and have been think of opening one, well I reckon it may be high time to get off yer keyster, and get started mister. With property prices at their current lows, it might actually be a very good time for starting a cowboy bar.

So let’s think about what it takes to open a cowboy bar:

Location

You might think that the obvious place for a cowboy would be out in the country where you are more likely to find cowboys. Actually however, the most successful cowboy bars are in or at the edges of urban areas. The reason is obvious: population. If not many people live around the area then you are going to have difficulty attracting them to your establishment. In addition, rural areas tend to be so spread out that it is difficult getting people in great numbers to your bar unless you are in a city and they are coming anyway.

Another myth is that starting a country bar requires you to be in a traditional cowboy friendly place like Texas. Actually, however, you are in many ways better off starting your country western bar in an urban area where there isn’t any, because that will also mean you have no competition.

A good sign, generally that an area has a craving for cowboy bars is if they have a local country station that plays music but no country bar to serve that population. In some cases, of course, you may have to alter your conception of the traditional country bar to be really successful. For example, if you open a country bar in the hipster heavy Silver Lake neighborhood of LA, you will likely have to make things a bit exaggerated and kitschy if you are going to make it work. Similarly, if you open a country bar in the gay neighborhood of the Castro in San Francisco, your cowboys will be of a different variety altogether than in Houston.

Décor and Ambience

The décor for a cowboy bar is pretty classic saloon décor for the most part. A big bar with brass foot rests is usually the way it goes with maybe some mirrors and lots of hardwoods. Many country bars these days clear out the tables and leave ample room for live music and dancing. Some stick with mechanic bulls and pool tables. Many mix both elements.

Many non-cowboy bars will just go country for a night and then go back to being what kind of bar they regularly are, but if you can be the Real McCoy as they say, you should be able to stand out in your area. (Real McCoy’s by the way, is one of the classic country western bar names.)

Tip from the Pros: Speaking of classic country western bar names, it is usually best to keep it simple since most country bars have fairly straightforward names like the SF Saloon or the Rodeo. If you get too playful with names (like “Bucks and Broncos”), cowboy types might not be sure if you are trying for a hipster vibe and be turned off.

As to music, the more authentic you can make your music selection the better off you are. Bars that don’t do country full time tend to have their hackneyed country bar music playlist to try to get their clientele two-stepping in their barely scuffed cowboy boots.

One of the best things to have for a cowboy bar is live country bar music to really pack people in. Live country bar music really makes your bar feel down home for displaced Texans and will get people in the right mood.

Cowgirls Too

As with many kinds of bars, the key to success is drawing in the cowgirls as well as the boys. Having a Cowgirls night is therefore a good idea if you want to keep your place packed.

Another big draw for the gals is dancing. Without dancing, cowboy bars can feel a little like “The Accused” for gals, which is definitely not a draw. Put a dance floor in and some two stepping line dancing and cowgirls are sure to get into it more and this, in turn will draw more cowboys.

Combining Bar Types

As we mentioned earlier, combining bar vibes can sometimes really work for some cowboy bars. So, for example, having a cowboy sports bar where all the bartenders are cute cowgirls can really work to bring in the young males who like nothing better than sports and girls in costumes.

Similarly, a hipster cowboy bar where every cowboy bar detail is overdone almost to the point of ridiculousness can also work well if you are in a hipster sort of area. If you are in the middle of Dallas—maybe not so much.

It’s all about appealing to your audience. So round ‘em up and head ‘em out! Yeehaw!

Filed Under: Bar / Nightclub DesignStarting a Bar

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  1. i was really impressed with your insite about what it takes to open a country bar or i should say a “successful” country bar. My partner and I made application back in 1995 to open a country & western cabaret in a small town called ‘Pitt Meadows, bc. After a farely long process of applying for and aquiring a liquor licience as well as building the niteclub with the help of a bar designer/consultant we opened in 1996. Our club premises is about 7600 sq ft with a 2000 sq ft dance floor (witch includes a raised line dance floor), large open island bar, back bar,large stage to accomadate our live music (country bands),large licienced outside ‘smoking’patio and of course a “Mechanical Bull” which we have been running every weds for the past 17 years. (also known as ‘topless bullriding’
    Everything you said pretty much descibes “Roosters”..so i had to comment…:)

    thanks,
    Kevin Clarkson
    Roosters country cabaret

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