What is a Brunswick Bar?

A Brunswick bar is not a single style or a particular bar but a collection of models. Brunswick was an Iowa-based company that built bars for two decades starting from the late 1880s as saloons were growing in popularity. They also built billiard tables but never barstools (real men drank standing up back then!).

The Brunswick story

John Moses Brunswick who was born in 1819 moved from his birthplace in Switzerland to USA at the age of 14. After several jobs, he started making carriages for local firms in Cincinnati in 1841. In 1845, his woodworking shop was also making tables and chairs. As the story goes, he was invited to a dinner party where he saw an imported billiard table and that’s when he saw an opportunity in recreational products. His business grew with sales offices in several states. By the end of the 1860s, the US market of billiard tables was dominated by three companies: Brunswick, Julius Balke and Pheland & Collender. The three companies would merge in 1884 to create Brunswick-Balke-Collender. The company’s management after John Brunswick’s 1886 death expanded their product lines. Since most billiard tables were being sold to taverns, it was only natural that they start offering back bars and front bars which they manufactured in Iowa. It did not take long before their bars could be found all over USA and Canada. Though their business captured 95 per cent of the market, it came to an end in 1912 due to the anti-drinking temperance movement which preceded the Prohibition.

“The Empire” Bar: a page from the iconic Brunswick-Balke-Collender bar catalog

What in fact is the Brunswick style?

The iconic Brunswick bars are known today as the Great Original American bars. The “Brunswick bar” is known for its extravagant back bar with its common, hard-to-miss feature of thick Corinthian columns between large arches. Brunswick bars do not constitute one particular model. What actually binds them together goes beyond arches and “chunky” columns; it’s the neoclassical look.

Note one of the best known features of Brunswick bars: Corinthian columns between wide arches

Neoclassical means the “classical revived”, and classical here is a reference to the Greek and Roman art. The neoclassical look is a serious one. Americans at the time were not fans of golden ornamentation, fancy flowing lines and S-shaped chair legs. Such styles were best left in Europe while the Neoclassical was the perfect fit for the harsh 19th-century American life. Since the Brunswick bars were at heart neoclassical constructions, one feels like standing before the entrance of a Greek or a Roman temple with their impressive columns. Some of the Brunswick items in their catalog reflected that sentiment of building a nation to compete with great empires of the past, hence you’ll find names like The Empire and The Imperial.

Did you notice any similarity between their architecture and the “Empire” bar featured in their catalog above?

What was in the iconic Brunswick bar catalog?

Below are the 25 models featured in the Brunswick-Balke-Collender bar catalog published in the late 1880s.
You can skip the catalog below to go straight to the most important Brunswick styles today.

Nowadays we often consider the front bar to be the primary piece in a bar set. We consider it the focal point, the one around which our dear guests congregate hence we tend to spend more money on it and if space is tight, we might even give up on having a back bar. That was not always the case. The contrary was true in local taverns of the 19th century. Perhaps the front bar was seen as the furniture item that will get mistreated by intoxicated working class patrons in soiled clothes. The back bar on the other hand was the primary item and clearly more expensive. Keep that thought as you go through the Brunswick catalog below.

The Most Popular Brunswick Bar Styles

The Del Monte Brunswick Bar / Saloon Style Bar

This style could be referred to as the “Original American Bar.”
One giveaway characteristic of this bar style is its dual height at the back.
It displays one higher arch between two half arches.

Customized Del Monte Bar

The Empire Brunswick Bar
Triple-arch or Multi-arch Bar

The Empire Bar

This style displays three arches or more. The Triple Arch style in particular is popular.

The Metropolitan Style or Chicago Style Brunswick Bar
Single Arch Style Bar

The Metropolitan Bar

Chicago style bars are known for a single arch that extends all across the upper back.