Interior Design

What Makes a Perfect Bar Stool?

March  7, 2016

There's something about sitting at the bar, side-by-side with a companion or perhaps entirely en seul and proud of it, that inclines me to enjoy a meal even more than if I'm sitting at a typical table at a restaurant (yes, even more than a corner booth). Maybe it's that sense of triumph that comes from ducking past the line outside when an open stool is spotted, or the appeal of an area that's a little more accepting of elbows on the eating surface (sorry, mom), or simply that at the bar you're that much more likely to get a drink that goes well with your dinner.

The one hitch? A bad bar stool.

An inviting, if limited, bar seating situation at Polperro Winery. Photo by Hecker Guthrie (via Yellowtrace)

I'm convinced that there's a conspiracy amongst certain restauranteurs to opt for bar stools that aren't inviting, that encourage bar flies to get their beverages and begone. Though I can't be sure why—since where there's a bar, there is sure to be lingering. Especially if the restaurant offers food at said bar!

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A plea to all restauranteurs planning their bars: Please choose stools not just for aesthetics, but because they are great to sit in. A good starting place would be to pull one up to the bar and enjoy a drink in it before going in on a whole set. A truly excellent bar stool has at least one—and hopefully more—of the following features.

If you can't lean back, why linger? A good cushion helps, at The Musket Room. Photo by Cereal

1. A back.

Consider your favorite dive bar. The reason you want to hang around there—besides that they know you and your friends and have the dodgy beer you like on tap—is because the bar stools are really more like tall chairs than stools at all: They have backs. The only kind of bar stool you can really relax into is one that has a back, while backless stools, by comparison, are basically a row of middle fingers to customers looking to unburden themselves.

Ample cushioning on these fruffy pink bar seats in Miami. Photo by Cecconi's

2. Cushioning of some sort.

No matter how naturally cushioned your bum, very few would actually consider a wooden slab to be a place you'd want to hang out on for long (and contouring on a rustic wooden stool top doesn't quite count). As with any furniture, the comfort level of said cushioning is only determined by sitting in it; just because a seat looks comfortable doesn't mean it will be!

3. A place for feet.

Being a mere 5'3", this is my personal pain point when it comes to bar stools. If there's no bar for my feet to rest upon, it's almost more comfortable to slide off the stool and put a foot on solid ground while hanging out, a sole cheek remaining upon the seat. Dangling feet are weirdly heavy after a while.

Square and backless, but with a foot rest baked into the bar design, at Trick Dog in San Francisco. Photo by My Domaine

4. Scootability.

You don't just want to be comfortable sitting in a bar stool—you want to be comfortable shimmying it up to the bar, closer to your lover, or back slightly to include a third person in the conversation. A good bar stool, therefore, shall not be planted in the ground but instead mobile. The ability to pivot—or swivel without a spring that flings you back around—is likewise appreciated.

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Top Comment:
“Perfect. I wish I can have a bar like this some day and I will make it more attractive by using these kind of bar stools. ”
— Alister N.

Height also matters, and specifically in relation to the height of the bar. In the world of bar stools, nothing exacerbates more than one that's too tall for the bar—thereby preventing you from scooching up to it at all without crushing your thighs. And if it's too low, a bar that comes up to your armpits will make you feel twelve rather than twenty-one.

Chairs that are too low for the bar result in weird required reaching for your drink. Photo by Hinoki and the Bird

5. Stability.

In a room designed for drinking, an unstable bar stool is like a ticking time bomb. Not only should a bar stool be sturdy, but it should have a certain heft that tells your body it's okay to relax.

6. Style.

A friend of mine recently voiced a frustration with the over-abundance of these standard aluminum bar stools, which actually do feature backs and foot rests. It's not even the lack of cushioning that gets me about them—it's that you see them everywhere and at more than $100 a piece, nobody can call them cheap. The best, most comfortable bar stools get bonus points for not being featured in every restaurant in Brooklyn.

Cushioned cane stools and mod sea-colored leather seats are wholly unexpected and therefore that much more appealing. Photo by Gal Meets Glam, Gareth Gardener (via Yellowtrace)

What bars and restaurants feature your favorite bar seating? Share your go-to's in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Alister Nickson
    Alister Nickson
  • Lmkltk
  • Olivia Bloom
    Olivia Bloom
  • Amanda Sims
    Amanda Sims
  • hillpagan
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Alister N. April 11, 2016
Perfect. I wish I can have a bar like this some day and I will make it more attractive by using these kind of bar stools.
Lmkltk March 8, 2016
May not have cushioning, but insanely comfortable.
Olivia B. March 7, 2016

Also adding that a hook in front of said perfect stool is a MUST.
Amanda S. March 7, 2016
Oh, could not agree more! I am especially fond of the drunk octopus double hooks.
hillpagan March 7, 2016
Yes, came here to say this: 7) Purse/coat hooks under bar
Amanda S. March 7, 2016
Preferably in plain sight—so you don't have to go searching under the bar where the gum lives with previously clean fingers!