How to Open a Bar in California |

Are you wondering how to open a bar in California? It’s not as simple as buying a piece of property and hiring the first applicants who come along. There are several things to keep in mind, from conceptualizing your business to funding and certifying your business with all the necessary licensing. If you aren’t licensed to operate, you won’t stay in business very long.

What Kind of Bar Are you?

Before looking up how to open a bar in California, take a moment to decide what kind of bar you want. Are you opening a small pub down the street or a traditional sports bar with several televisions and a happy hour during off-season games? There are many spins, tweaks, and variations of bars out there, but the three most popular venues are:

Sports Bar

A sports bar is a place to unwind with friends, watch a game, and grab a meal. California is the home state of several significant professional and amateur teams, making a sports bar extremely popular in heavily urbanized areas. They are also prone to rowdiness, so you must invest in security–especially during high-profile matchups or events.

A sports bar usually serves food (appetizers, finger foods, snacks) and beer to its patrons. It is one of the more expensive bar options available and can be very profitable, but in order to be successful, you certainly need to research and get your RBS certification before opening a sports bar.


Pubs can be very relaxed and casual places to grab a drink, a quick bite, and hang out. This type of establishment usually comes off as “rustic” or “cozy” and places a focus on the atmosphere rather than the spectacle. Like a sports bar, a pub might have a television or some other form of entertainment. However, it’s nowhere near as grandiose or hyper-focused on one particular thing as a sports bar.

Pubs also require an RBS certification for all employees, including the owner, to serve alcohol in California.

Live Music Venue

Live music is the perfect complement to a bar, and a live music venue is sure to attract the casual crowd who want to enjoy the atmosphere with some friends. Out of the three, a live music venue is the most tricky to get right in California. Not only do you need to sign every employee up for an RBS training program so they can serve alcohol, but you also need to find live music on a regular basis. Sometimes this is easier in some places than others, so research and find out if you want to open a live music venue.

Funding Your Bar

Once you decide how to open a bar in California, you will need to have three things ready to secure funding for your enterprise: a business plan, entity, and funding.

Business Plan

When you open a bar, you are opening a business. Here are some things to keep in mind to make it as successful as possible:

  • Your concept: What kind of bar are you? What makes you unique from your competitors?
  • Target market: Who are your patrons? Are you targeting a specific demographic?
  • Start-Up and operation costs: How much does it cost to operate your business?
  • Potential revenue: How much could you make? What is your valuation?

These are essential questions to answer if you are wondering how to open a bar in California. This is the foundation upon which your enterprise is built–it has to be able to support your vision and share it with others.

Business Entity

Next, you want to decide on what type of business entity you are. There are several options, each with its protections, liabilities, and requirements:

  • Corporation
  • LLC
  • Partnership
  • Sole Proprietorship

Each different business entity comes with its requirements, perks, and downsides. Make sure to research which one suits your intended purposes before you start asking how to open a bar in California. Having a general plan first, even before you start on the details, is the best idea.

Securing Funding

You can secure funding for your bar through personal assets, bank loans, lines of credit, and other forms of financing. Keep in mind that you are opening a business enterprise and will need to plan accordingly for the first few months. There is no guarantee you will make a profit early on, so prepare for a “relief fund” if the business does not pick up initially.

Your Bar is Conceptualized, Funded, and… Licensed?

Next, you will need your alcohol license through the ABC (California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control) to serve alcohol in your establishment. 

To get started, you must register with the alcohol and tax bureau. This takes about two to three months to finalize, so you’ll want to start right away. After that, you need to secure your license through the ABC. You can go through the ABC itself, which takes about three months–then 30 more days for the community to object. You can also buy a license from someone else who already has it. It is up to you.

Other Licenses You Will Need

Some of the other licenses you should look into include:

  • Business license: This proves you can operate the business in your area.
  • Tax ID:  Business owners must register their federal employer identification number.
  • Health Permit: If you sell edible goods (including alcohol), you must have a health permit proving your establishment follows safety guidelines.
  • Food Safety Certification and Food Handler Permit: California law requires a food safety certificate and a food handler’s permit for all employees if you serve food.
  • Worker’s Compensation Insurance: California law requires you to have worker’s compensation insurance for your employees.

California is a large state, and many counties and cities require different things. While other special licenses, permits, and insurances are required to run a business in California, they will need personalized research. Due diligence is vital at this stage of how to open a bar in California.

The Last Step

Before the doors open and you have your first customer, you will need staff. Alongside a food handler permit for each staff member (if you serve food), they will need an RBS certification from an RBS training program.

California law requires all alcohol servers, managers, and owners to undergo the RBS certification process and incur hefty penalties if the certification still needs to be completed. If you are looking for answers about how to open a bar in California, this is the most crucial step.

Click here for more information on getting an RBS certification and finding a California-compliant RBS training program.

Once everything above is done, dusted, and ready, you can open the doors and start your business immediately!