Management, Profiles

Essentials of Bar Design: Erica Diskin of Assembly Design Studio

By Reggie Woo


Reggie Woo

October 10, 2016

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

When designing or redesigning your bar, there are so many things to consider.

What kind of look are you going for when starting your bar design? How many tables should you have on the floor? What kind of material would be best for your bar top? What does your local market want in a bar?

Unless you already have a lot of experience in the fields of design and architecture, you might need to look for outside help to answer these questions. And Erica Diskin might be one of those people you end up reaching to. She and her husband Michael run Assembly Design Studio, a Boston-based firm behind the design of many popular bars and restaurants in the city, such as Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar and Capo Restaurant.

BevSpot recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Erica about her philosophy for bar design and her personal method for working with bar and restaurant owners to achieve their dream looks.


How would you describe your typical process of working with a client to develop the design of their bar?

Honestly, the most effective and fun way to get a feel for what a potential client likes is to go and sit at an actual bar with them. Develop a short list of interesting eventual competitors and old favs of theirs, and go on an adult field trip. Sometimes this requires travel to another city. But this approach gives you the chance to discuss specific things you think work—and don’t work—while getting a chance to see how the person hiring you likes to enjoy a bar.

What are the areas you believe are most important to consider when building a bar design?

Number one will always be functionality—from the standpoint of both a bartender and a customer. Your bar is almost always going to be the establishment’s most successful way to generate money. Anything that slows down the process needs to go. An oddly located speed rack or an overly wide bar top can add seconds and confusion to the drink-making process, which is annoying to clients and costly in the long run.

How would you describe your approach when brainstorming or working out a new bar design?

I like to do research. I’m a bit of a history geek, so when I’m awarded a new design project, I like to dig into the past so I can honor it in the present. Sometimes that history comes in the form of a building; sometimes it’s the town the restaurant is located in; or sometimes it’s a simple memory or experience that has become the chef’s inspiration. In any case, it’s a great place to start.


What do you feel is commonly overlooked in bar design?

The user experience. Too often people are overly focused on the creation of a beautiful bar to stop and think about how it will feel from the customer’s side. For example, cool, minimalist bar stools may look good to you, but they can be brutal to sit in—limiting the amount of time someone is willing to hang at the bar. While on the flip side, the easy addition of small things like hooks and power outlets to charge phones make your guests more comfortable.

What are some common missteps you see clients make when considering a design?

They leave too much space behind the bar. It’s a natural instinct, when building a bar, to want to give your bar staff plenty of room on a busy night to store and serve their wares. That makes you a good owner. But, the reality is, a tighter, perfectly-edited space works best. They only need what they need and nothing more. They’re like fighter pilots who shoot booze.

Do you see, or have any opinions on, any trends happening in modern bar design?

I’m kind of over the whole hipster speakeasy thing. But don’t get me wrong, I love a good dive bar. I just think a bar should be a place of relaxation and honesty, that trend lost its grip on both of those topics ages ago. I think we’re all heading toward designs that are less pretentious.

What advice would you give to new bar owners and/or people looking to redesign their bar?

Have fun and be original. Because, at the end of a long day, a “bar” can be almost anything, as long as it serves a good drink.

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