Fern Bars Are Making A Comeback

Once a hotspot to meet other singles, fern bars are making a comeback, in part, thanks to hipsters.

Fern bars. 

If you're a Millennial, you probably have never heard of this kind of bar before. In fact, the idea of a fern bar probably has you thinking of some kind of weird vaporwave-themed venue that would make most older folks feel mildly uncomfortable. 

However, if you were born in the 50s or 60s, you might remember what fern bars are. Back in the 70s and 80s, these preppy bars were considered to be the place to meet single women in town. 

After all, they were designed to be "woman friendly" and nonthreatening in a time when most bars were only frequented by men. How they did it was actually rather simple - and perhaps that's why many people are saying that fern bars are due for a major comeback. 

What is a fern bar?

Photo by Wu Yi

Fern bars were restaurants and venues that were designed to make women feel at home using sugary drinks, food specials, and homey decorations. They were, in a sense, the first kind of bars to be deemed fit for women. 

That being said, they're most commonly recognized by the decor.

Things like Tiffany lamps, wooden tables, knick-knacks lining the walls, and yes, ferns, were used to create a look that felt more like an aunt's living room than an actual bar. These decorations were used because most coed drinking took place at home beforehand. By making it homier, it subtly encouraged single women to drop by. 

When you'd combine that kind of homey decor with Long Island Iced Teas, it's easy to see why they would appeal to women who were frequently told that bar hopping while single wasn't "ladylike." 

If this sounds very similar to a chain restaurant you may have gone to as a kid, that's because it should. According to a piece done by the New Yorker, the first fern bar to ever open up was the first T.G.I Friday's on 1965. 

Yes, fern bars are generally seen as awful today.

Though Long Island Iced Teas and similar tiki-style drinks definitely have their fan base, the fact is that fern bars just don't really seem to make much sense these days. After all, who would want to go binge drinking at Great Aunt Gertie's place? 

As The New Yorker so aptly put it, "It is widely agreed that they marked an all-time low in bar décor, and in beverage quality." If you've ever seen photos of those 80s yuppie bars, then chances are high that you'll agree on that. 

In terms of beverage quality, it's important to realize that it had only been a couple of decades after Prohibition. This meant that mixology was often rough at best, and this also meant that many of the drinks were pretty awful. 

Of all the most notorious drinks out there, the Harvey Wallbanger had to be one of the foulest. This was basically a Screwdriver with a shot of Galliano on top - and people downed them like lemonade. Even though it tasted like death warmed over, it was clear that people in the past loved Wallbangers. 

Despite all the awful decor and overly sugary drinks, it's hard to deny that the concept behind them worked for the time. 

Despite it all, they are slowly making a comeback - and yes, you can thank hipsters for it.

According to PUNCH, there has been a new spike in fern bars throughout New York City - primarily because the young and trendy crowds are curious to see what bar hopping in the 70s was like. 

"It started with ’70s-themed bars like Golden Cadillac in New York, Punch House in Chicago and, more recently, Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in Los Angeles, coasting on a wave of nostalgia and millennial looky-loo-ism without using the F-word." - Reagan Hoffman, PUNCH

Though they technically never left thanks to chains like Ruby Tuesday's, the truth is that there's definitely a newly revived interest in bringing fern bars back to the forefront of dining. 

Nowadays, fern bars are basically turning into a strangely charming, ever-so-subtly updated venue that's supposed to be a little retro, a little vaporwave, and still as female-friendly as ever. 

What does it take to bring back the fern bar scene?

Obviously, keeping all the retro aspects of a fern bar isn't going to lead to a successful restaurant. After all, no one wants to go into a place that doesn't really mesh with the current climate of bars. But, there are ways to meet modern clients' interests halfway. 

The owners of Oleanders in Brooklyn definitely modernized things with a lighter background, more open spaces, and of course, a menu that didn't include older fern bar offerings like liver and onions. Even so, many of the things - including the ferns - were kept as part of the bar's ambiance. 

When it came to the menu upgrades, much of the work put into creating a more modern take on fern bar menus comes in the form of research. To create authentic 70s menus that don't taste horrible or scare away customers, you have to go back in time and find old school dishes that would still attract people - such as Lobster Thermidor or Chicken A La King. 

Oleanders's mixologist, Dale DeGroff, also noted that he had to do a lot of updating to older fern bar classics like Pink Squirrels and Salty Dogs. The most common update? Adding premium ingredients that are fresh, rather than the long shelf life mainstays traditionally used to make them. 

A brief trend, or something more?

It's hard to tell if fern bars like Oleanders will stay open past 2020, primarily because it's hard to imagine a revamp of one of America's worst bar trends staying popular for so long. But, on the other hand, it's clear that Friday's still does well for itself despite the "fern bar" genre its held throughout the years. 

So, perhaps the only thing we can do is to give fern bars a try and see how it plays out. Who knows? People might legitimately like the more modern fern bar atmospheres and menus. After all, history does tend to repeat itself. 

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Fern Bars Are Making A Comeback
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