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The Geography of Bars and Restaurants

The Geography of Bars and Restaurants
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Some cities actually do have a bar on every corner, and real-estate website Trulia set out to find out where they are.

Jed Kolko, chief economist for the San Francisco-based firm, examined data from the top 100 U.S. metros to determine the concentration of drinking and eating out across the country, posted online today. Using the U.S. Census's County Business Patterns and 2010 demographic data, Kolko found that the coastal metros tend to have a greater concentration of restaurants, while New Orleans and Midwest metros have a greater concentrations of bars.

Map courtesy Trulia

The map above shows restaurant density by metro. The table below shows the top ten.

San Francisco tops the list by a considerable margin. The Bay Area has long been a foodie-capital, home to the influential chef Alice Waters and countless other great chefs, a wide diversity of ethnic cuisines and fusions, and numerous farmers' markets selling fresh produce from the nearby Central Valley. The Greater New York metro area claims the next three spots, with Fairfield County, Connecticut, second; Long Island, New York, third and New York City fourth (Manhattan and Brooklyn would likely rank much higher). The top ten are dominated by major cities and metros on the East and West Coasts. Seattle is fifth, San Jose (Silicon Valley) sixth, Orange County seventh, Providence eighth, Boston ninth, and Portland, Oregon tenth.

Kolko's analysis covers only sit-down restaurants ("establishments primarily engaged in providing food services to patrons who order and are served while seated (i.e., waiter/waitress service) and pay after eating"). In an email he told me that County Business Patterns also reports data for “limited-service restaurants” or fast-food restaurants where you order at counter and pay first before sitting down to eat as a separate category. "The distribution looks pretty similar to full-service restaurants," he wrote. "I wanted to compare only full-service restaurants to bars since both are places where people go to spend time as well as consume." 

Rank Metro Restaurants
per 10,000 households
1 San Francisco, CA 39.3
2 Fairfield County, CT 27.6
3 Long Island, NY 26.5
4 New York, NY-NJ 25.3
5 Seattle, WA 24.9
6 San Jose, CA 24.8
7 Orange County, CA 24.8
8 Providence, RI-MA 24.3
9 Boston, MA 24.2
10 Portland, OR-WA 24.0

Data via Trulia. Note: rankings among the 100 largest metros in the U.S.

The results for bars are quite a bit different, as the map below shows.
 

Map courtesy of Trulia

Now New Orleans with its vibrant nightlife scene comes in first (as the table below shows). But much of the top ten is dominated by older, industrial Midwest metros. Milwaukee (famous for its breweries) is second, Omaha third, my hometown of Pittsburgh fourth, Toledo fifth, Syracuse sixth, and Buffalo seventh. San Francisco is 8th, followed by the tourist hotspots of Las Vegas and Honolulu rounding out the top ten.

Rank Metro Bars
per 10,000 households
1 New Orleans, LA 8.6
2 Milwaukee, WI 8.5
3 Omaha, NE-IA 8.3
4 Pittsburgh, PA 7.9
5 Toledo, OH 7.2
6 Syracuse, NY 7.0
7 Buffalo, NY 6.8
8 San Francisco, CA 6.0
9 Las Vegas, NV 6.0
10 Honolulu, HI 5.9

Data via Trulia. Note: rankings among the 100 largest metros in the U.S.

Kolko makes it clear that this is purely a measurement of the number of bars and restaurants, so it does not convey which eating or drinking scenes might be more interesting, creative, or innovative. 

But the presence of amenities, like bars and restaurants, has been found to be important to a city's economy, as Harvard's Edward Glaeser has long argued. In his book, The City as an Entertainment Machine, University of Chicago sociologist Terry Clark and his collaborators note that for people "pondering where to live and work, restaurants are more than food on their plate. The presence of distinct restaurants redefines the local context, even for persons who do not eat in them. They are part of the local market baskets of amenities that vary from place to place."

Top image: Bikeworldtravel / Shutterstock.com

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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