SETTING THESAURUS

BAR



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HELPFUL TIP:

Settings should always be chosen with care. Consider the emotion you want your viewpoint character to feel and how setting choices, weather elements, and symbolism might build a specific mood in the scene, create tension and conflict, or even raise the stakes.
SIGHTS:
Wooden stools lined up along a counter
Brass foot rails
Crowded tables and booths
Patrons sampling the wares (laughing with friends, hitting on strangers, watching TV, staring into their drinks)
A bar lined with drinks placed on square napkins or cardboard coasters 
Bowls of pretzels and nuts
A bartender with rolled-up sleeves moving from one end of the counter to the other
Stacks of highball glasses in green-gray dishwasher racks
A sink with a sprayer
Bags of ice in a tray or sink
Draining trays
Beer kegs
Straws and stirrers
Blenders whirring with colorful icy concoctions
Multi-button soda dispensers
A wall of alcohol bottles
Stem glasses hanging upside down in racks above the bartender's head
Plastic tubs of lime and lemon wedges
Under-the-counter fridges (containing juices, milk, and cream)
An automatic coffee maker
A small computer station for processing payments
Draft beer dispensers 
A mirrored wall behind the bar reflecting red or blue neon signs
Groups hanging out after work
Servers weaving through patrons with trays held high to avoid collisions
Green or brown beer bottles damp with condensation
Dim lighting
Condensation rings on tabletops
Gambling machines 
Empty tables with upside-down shot glasses and crumpled napkins
Half-empty cocktail or wine glasses
A wall phone for calling a cab
Ads and advertisements for special events
A narrow hallway leading to bathrooms at one end of the bar
Bathrooms (with overflowing garbage cans, paper towels on the floor, dented stall doors, condom and tampon dispensers, urine-spotted seats, graffiti, customers throwing up)

SOUNDS:
Voices (people talking, arguing over sports, complaining about work or spouses)
Laughter
The clink of ice in a highball drink as it's stirred
The murmur of low voices from people who don't want to be overheard
Barstools being dragged or moved
A game or fight on the TV
Music from a radio or a live band
The glug of beer in a bottle
Dollar bills rustling
The thump of a bottle or glass on the bar
Glasses breaking
The squeak of door hinges opening and closing
Rattling air in the tubes when a keg goes dry
The whir of a blender
Inebriated patrons swearing or yelling
Tables and chairs being knocked down in a bar fight
A roar of excitement or dismay at the sporting event on the TV

SMELLS:
Beer
Cloying perfume
Stale cigarette smoke
Salt
Sweat
Citrus
Bar food (nachos, hot wings, etc.)

TASTES:
The burn of straight alcohol or shots (tequila, whiskey, Jäger, etc.)
Yeasty or bitter beer
Fruity drink mixes
Bubbly soda water or pop
The zing of sour lime or lemon wedges
Salt or sugar from a rimmed glass
Spicy tomato Caesars
The burst of sweetness from biting into a maraschino cherry
The sour taste that accompanies drinking too much and then throwing up
Salty pretzels and nuts
Bar food

TEXTURES AND SENSATIONS:
Slippery beer labels covered in condensation
Hard bar stools
The sturdy brass rail under one's feet
Slowly spinning a highball glass while lost in thought
Awkwardly trying to open stall doors or flush a toilet without touching handles
The press of the counter against one's elbows as one leans in to talk
Knees touching another person at the bar as one shows interest
The squish of a lime being squeezed into a drink
Damp napkins
Spinning or playing with a cardboard coaster
The burn of hard liquor in the throat
Salt on the fingers
The cold splash of spilled beer or alcohol
Slamming a shot glass down on the counter
The hard wooden floor underfoot
A plastic stirrer or toothpick clamped between one's teeth

POSSIBLE SOURCES OF CONFLICT:
A bar fight or brawl
A drunken patron getting too friendly or aggressive with servers
Breakups
Not having enough money to pay the bill
Someone passing out
Getting carded as a minor
A drunken customer refusing to call a cab

PEOPLE COMMONLY FOUND IN THIS SETTING:
The bar owner, bouncers, wait staff, bartenders, patrons, police, cab drivers

SETTING NOTES AND TIPS:
Bars can be dingy dives, sports hangouts, or upscale hot spots, any of which may leave your character feeling like he’s in his element or just the opposite. Some may have dance floors and bring in live bands on certain nights. Look at your character’s personality and experiences and think carefully about your goal for this scene. Which type of bar will set the mood and offer the best opportunity to create conflict and tension or to encourage your character to let loose?

RELATED SETTINGS THAT MAY TIE IN WITH THIS ONE:

SETTING DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE:

The businessman hunched at the end of the bar grunted for a refill. Russell obliged, staring at him like he was a tricky jigsaw puzzle. He’d tried already to pull the man into conversation and was met with silence, and while this place attracted its fair share of solo drinkers, his tailored suit and carefully knotted silk tie said he didn’t belong here. Throughout the night, the guy was indifferent to the people cramming in next to him to order, and he didn’t seem to notice the makeup-caked cougars who kept trying to hit on him. His mission seemed to be one that Russell had seen many times before: to dull the pain as quickly as possible. And that left one question that no barman worth his bourbon could turn away from: why? 


TECHNIQUES AND DEVICES USED:
MULTISENSORY DESCRIPTIONS, SIMILE

DESCRIPTIVE EFFECTS:
CHARACTERIZATION, FORESHADOWING