As the cocktail scene evolved from the early days of speakeasies—the trend that began in the early 2000s, not the hidden, illicit bars that popped up during Prohibition—bars started to align more with restaurant kitchens, sharing ingredients and techniques. "Bar chef" has replaced "mixologist" on bartender business cards and book jackets, and aprons have replaced vests as must-have bar attire.
For many, the job now involves batching house ingredients and using kitchen tools. Thus, an apron makes the most sense because it effectively protects clothes. However, with the growing popularity and prevalence of bartender aprons, especially custom-made options, it can be overwhelming trying to find the right one.
Fortunately, we had industry experts eager to share their favorites. Because of its no-fuss, streamlined design, the Under NY Sky No-Tie Apron is our top pick for looking sharp and stylish behind the bar.
Here, some of the best bartender aprons around.
Best Overall: Under NY Sky No-Tie Apron
Under NY Sky is an online-based store that has created an apron for just about every job that needs one, from chefs and bartenders to potters and handymen. Its utility tool apron even comes with a magnetic patch to hold nails and metal bits.
Its no-tie apron line—leather straps, coated, denim and twill—is perfect for those who hate having to fuss with ties or bows. You simply wrap the straps around your waist and fasten them together at the front. It looks stylish and you don't have to worry about the straps coming undone or tangled. This apron also features a split leg for comfort and a better range of movement.
The aprons are designed in New York but handcrafted by skilled artisans in Brazil.
Good to know: Broke your clasp or strap? Just email the company and customer service will help you with any little fix.
Best Budget: Hudson Durable Goods Professional-Grade Apron
Even though you can find an apron for as low as $7, a good apron isn't something you should skimp on, especially when durability is a priority in your line of work. But for something both affordable and resilient, check out this pro-grade apron from Hudson Durable Goods. It's available in a variety of colors, such as black, gray, Hunter Green and navy. Plus, it's constructed from 10-ounce cotton twill, so it's machine-washable and comfortable enough to wear all day.
The straps for the back and waist are adjustable to accommodate anyone from 5 feet, 3 inches to 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and anyone with up to a 50-inch waistline. There's no shortage of places to store tools, either: The apron has two large pockets in the front, a small cellphone-sized chest pocket, a "kangaroo style" hand pocket, and a towel loop on the right hip. The apron also comes with a one-year warranty.
Best Design: Manahan+Co Snap Apron
While many apron brands offer a variety of material options, such as linen, denim and leather, Manahan+Co sticks to water-resistant canvas, which makes the most sense for a bartender accessory. These handmade aprons, designed by owner and bartender Darwin Manahan, can be customized; you can choose the type of support system, the outer canvas color, the leather trim color and the pattern for the cotton liner.
A key feature is the new snap support system, inspired by chefs' problems washing their custom leather aprons. This system allows the wearer to detach the leather straps and wash the apron separately. "Locally made, with leather detailing, thoughtfully arranged pockets, and the crisp, water-resistant material makes investing in one of the standard aprons a no-brainer," says Aly Iwamoto, bartender of Thunderbolt in Los Angeles.
Best Custom: Search and Rescue Denim Custom Apron
Customizing an apron on the Search and Rescue Denim Co. site is as easy as virtually building a car on a car manufacturer's site. You can even "flip" the apron around to see its other side. Choose the style, material (you can choose from vinyl, denim, leather, canvas and more), leather or cotton straps, and several pocket options—all with the click of a button. There's also the option to brand it with your name and/or logo.
"[Search and Rescue] are super easy to work with and definitely listen to your needs and wants when customizing an apron," says bartender and influencer Saeed "Hawk" House (of Cocktails by Hawk fame). Search and Rescue has worked with Instagram-famous bartenders to sell their custom designs, such as Bad Birdy, Cocktail Chemistry and House. "I have designed a couple of new custom aprons and plan to have a signature apron that people can buy off the Search and Rescue website. I'm currently still designing it but will announce the drop soon," he says.
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Best Workhorse: Sur la Table Sommelier Signature Apron
For those who want an apron that they won't be afraid to spill on, there's Sur la Table's Sommelier Signature Apron. Designed by cooks to survive working in a restaurant kitchen, the 9.5-ounce chambray denim apron, which measures 34 x 31 inches, can be tossed into the wash after every shift, no problem. Just use cold water on the gentle cycle and then tumble dry low.
This apron has been a longtime favorite of the award-winning bartender and author Jeffrey Morgenthaler. "I like the Sur la Table ones because they're thick, absorbent and durable. That's kind of all you really need in an apron."
The apron features adjustable straps and just two front pockets. If you're not happy with the apron, you have the option to return it within 60 days.
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Best Denim: BlueCut Hatfield Waxed Denim Apron
In 2014, designers Chachi Prasad and Karam Kim transitioned from the denim industry—their premium denim line is called Bishop—to making aprons for the restaurant industry. Early supporters of their aprons consisted of top chefs such as Chef Roy Choi and Chef David Chang.
Christiaan Rollich, formerly of the Lucques Group in Los Angeles and author of "Bar Chef: Handcrafted Cocktails" (view at Amazon), continues to outfit his staff at Sanctuary Resort's Jade Bar in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the aprons. "It's kind of like your favorite pair of jeans," he says. "They come in thick, jean-like material, and they just last."
BlueCut offers a variety of denim, from 10-ounce Cone Mills' selvedge denim to 11-ounce American indigo denim to Kevlar-woven denim. The Hatfield Waxed Denim is 100% cotton Indigo denim with a wax coating, so spills can be easily wiped or rinsed off. It measures 33 inches long and 33 inches wide, with a 10-inch adjustable neck strap and a 40-inch-long waist strap.
Best Crossback: Hedley & Bennett The All-Day Crossback
Hedley & Bennett, which was created by former line cook Ellen Bennett, has become the go-to apron manufacturer for home chefs, pro chefs and TV personalities, such as Martha Stewart. Since the standard neck strap tends to pull down, straining the neck and shoulders, those who work long days appreciate the crossback-style apron with its all-day support.
But the Hedley & Bennett Crossback Apron can also accommodate any body type, regardless of height or weight. Constructed out of 100% cotton canvas fabric, it's sturdy enough for regular machine-washing and tumble-dry low. The Crossback is available in two types of canvas: Heavy Duty or the lighter All Day, which comes in eight different colors, such as red burgundy and moss.
Good to know: Not all the Hedley & Bennett aprons are pre-shrunk, so they may shrink up to 1.5 inches after the first few washes.
Best Splurge: Lucio Tailoring Co. Custom Leather Full-Size Apron
Lucio Tailoring Co., a leather goods company based out of San Antonio, Texas, has been producing beautifully handcrafted leather aprons since 2015. Owner Maria Galvan and her company have garnered a following among liquor brands such as Monkey Shoulder scotch and Bombay Sapphire gin, as well as high-end cocktail bars such as Paramour Bar in San Antonio, due to her high-quality leather bar wear.
The most ordered style is the classic leather apron. All leather aprons are made out of 2-ounce studio leather, a luxurious soft-touch and light leather grain. Build an apron on the site; you can choose the style, tropical inner liner pattern, pockets, strap styles and more. At the end of the process, there's the option to upload your logo, as well as cite special requests, such as specific materials or your design idea.
After submitting your order, Lucio will send a render and then go over the design with you to make sure you're happy.
Related: The Best Gifts for Bartenders
The Under NY Sky No-Tie Apron (view at Amazon) and Sur la Table Sommelier Signature Apron (view at Sur la Table) are both excellent options when you want something affordable, comfortable, and not too precious to spill on or stain. Plus, the Under NY Sky model is not only stylish and different from your standard apron, but it also ensures your comfort with its split-leg feature and easy-to-fasten snaps.
What to Look for in a Bartender Apron
You'll want an apron that can withstand stains and spills on a nightly basis, as well as repeated washing. Look for an apron made out of a sturdy and water-resistant material, such as wax-covered canvas or leather.
Fit and comfort
Since an apron is something you'll have to wear during a full shift, how it fits and how comfortable it is should be priorities. A good fit can be ensured with a range of adjustability from neck, crossback and waist straps. Also consider the weight of the fabric and how many pockets are available. You won't want to weigh yourself down with both thick material and tool-laden pouches.
If your place of work allows you to choose your own apron, you'll want one that serves your needs and reflects your tastes. This can best be accomplished by having an apron custom-made with your choice of style, color, material and more.
How often do you clean an apron? And how do you properly clean it?
Best practice is to clean your apron whenever it's soiled. And if it's part of your uniform, that's probably after every shift. Your apron's cleaning method depends on what it's made out of. For linen, you'll handwash cold; denim, cotton and poly-viscose fabric, on the other hand, can be hand-washed or machine-washed in cold water. A leather apron should only be wiped with a damp cloth. Make sure to check your apron's cleaning instruction tag to be safe.
What material is the most durable?
Although heavy, leather is a durable material that can protect against heat, stains and sharp objects, plus it ages well. Just don't throw it into the wash. Instead, wipe it with a clean, dry cloth. If you want to take care of a stain, use a damp cloth with mild, non-detergent soap to clean the entire surface. Never spot-clean it.
Why get an apron?
An apron not only makes you look more polished behind the bar, but it also helps protect your clothes from spills, which is one of the hazards of being a person who works with plenty of liquids. Those with pockets also allow you to have your essentials, such as a bottle opener or pen and notepad, at the ready.
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Caroline Pardilla is a cocktail writer and serial Instagrammer who has been covering the spirits beat for about 15 years. Even though she knows it's not the apron that makes the bartender, she still appreciates all the flair.