Previous research indicates that bar workers report high levels of alcohol consumption, but the bar work experience itself has been little studied as a means to understand health threats associated with this job role. The subjective experience and meaning of bar work was explored in this study by interviewing current and ex-bar workers from a district in an Irish city that had a high density of bars and busy tourism industry. A total of 12 participants took part in focus groups (FGs) and seven in individual interviews. Four themes were identified in a thematic analysis. The central depiction of bar work was of an initial immersion in an intensive lifestyle characterised by heavy drinking, with subsequent distancing from the extremes of the lifestyle. The participants affiliated strongly with the bar work occupational identity, which included alcohol use in group scenarios for drinking during work, after work and on time off. The bar work lifestyle was most intense in the 'superpub' environment, characterised by permissive staff drinking norms and reported stress. Although an important identity, bar work was ultimately a transient role. The findings are considered in relation to research on occupation-specific stress and alcohol use, social identity and developmental needs in young adulthood.