“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare famously wrote.
When opening a new bar or restaurant, the name you choose for it is often one of the earliest branding decisions you make. Your restaurant’s name has downstream effects on the decisions you make for your menu selection, decor, and promotional strategy; it’s important to get it right.
So how do owners choose the names for their bars and restaurants? Here are four ways to pick out a name for your bar or restaurant.
1. Location, Location, Location
Bars are often named for their locations.
The New York City cultural landmark Studio 54—once frequented by creative luminaries like Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, and Debbie Harry—is straightforwardly named for its 54th Street location in Manhattan.
Here in Providence, we have the Wickenden Pub on Wickenden Street, The Dorrance on Dorrance Street, and The Eddy on nearby (you guessed it) Eddy Street. We have The Slow Rhode, which is a play on Rhode Island. Trinity Brewhouse is right across the street from Trinity Repertory Company’s theater downtown.
Some names reference the origins of their restaurant concept or menu offerings. For example, you might’ve heard of the Brazilian-decorated Copacabana nightclub in New York, which was named for the famous Rio de Janeiro beach and immortalized by Barry Manilow’s crooning.
One recent newcomer to Providence is The East End, which many assume is so named because it’s on the East Side–and they’re partly right. One bartender shared with me, however, that the name and darkly elegant-yet-eclectic décor are also a nod to the East End of London, where in olden times, “the gentry/higher class would dress down to eat among the normal people. Everyone is welcome here, and we want everyone to have a good time.”
2. Say My Name
When all else fails, using your name—or choosing someone else’s that has a nice ring to it—is common.
You often see this with Irish pubs. In Rhode Island, we have McBride’s, Aidan’s Pub, Blake’s Tavern, and Doherty’s Irish Pub—just to name a few.
Norey’s in Newport is named after its founder; Ellen Slattery opened Gracie’s in downcity Providence, but then she later opened up her namesake Ellie’s Bakery. Whether the name is genuinely rooted in ownership or something that just sounded good, proper names are a popular choice.
3. So…What Do You Do?
Sometimes, what works best is simplicity and transparency about what you do.
Even if you’re hearing of it for the first time, it won’t be a surprising to learn that The Boom Box is a karaoke bar. Similarly, you won’t be shocked to learn that The Lobster Bar in Newport was built inside of an old lobster catch, and Flo’s Clam Shack in Middletown is exactly what it sounds like.
Alternately, a subtle play on words or a foreign language can be a winner. Legendary Providence restaurant Al Forno means “baked” in Italian, and they are known for their unique baked pasta assortment.
4. Wild Cards
Some names have stories that really don’t fit into a neat box or category.
When I interviewed Fortnight Wine Bar, the owners told me that the name came to them spontaneously during dinner—it was controversial at first but after many years, it stuck. The word “fortnight” embodied the cycles of the moon and the cyclical natures of seasons and harvests, a rustic feel, and also seemed appropriate given how often their menus change.
I was curious about two of Providence’s most popular spots who are owned by the same owners, both known for their creativity but which couldn’t be more different themes. The Duck & Bunny on Wickenden Street is a self-labeled “snuggery” serving up crepes and cupcakes with a British vibe like its neighbor The East End, but much lighter and more cheerful decor.
Co-owner Jessica Becker says, “I can tell you that my partner [Dan] had almost opened a bar in NY, and he was looking at spaces that went out of business and they were all called things like Filthy McNasties and unappealing things like that. He wanted to do a silly, tongue-in-cheek nod to the English pub names, like the Lion & Unicorn and use something innocuous—something for the Everyman—that would sound cute and appealing. And that’s why we used the name he had come up with.”
The couple’s more recent venture, Ogie’s Trailer Park, has been a West Side hot spot since it opened at the end of 2014. The “Trailer Park” part of the name denotes the fun, kitschy, 60’s LA-inspired decorations (which involve some actual trailers), but who is Ogie?
“Ogie is named after our cat—he’s the CEO,” says Jessica. “We just work there.”
What’s your story?
Does your establishment’s name have a fun or unique story behind it? Share it in the comments section below!