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The concept was designed by Bass as a 'female friendly' bar at a time when many pubs and bars were considered intimidating places for single women to go and drink or eat, hence the huge glass frontage, the open plan space and the bright airy interiors. There were huge wooden tables. The design was formulated by Amanda Wilmott in February 1994. This followed the lead of existing female-friendly bar chains such as Pitcher & Piano and Slug and Lettuce. Wilmott, a former director of Slug & Lettuce, designed a similar chain for Yates Brothers Wine Lodges called Ha! Ha! Bar & Canteen, which first opened in February 1998 in Bristol; Mitchells & Butlers bought the brand's 22 pubs for £19m from Bay Restaurant Group in September 2010, converting some of them to All Bar One pubs. Bass Leisure Retail opened another chain, Edward's, in the late 1990s that was similar.
In October 1994, Wilmott found Mary-Jane Brook and Nelly Benstead to run the first outlet. The first bar was opened in December 1994 in Sutton, London, town centre by Bass Taverns, run by Sir Ian Prosser, who also owned Fork and Pitcher and Harvester. Bass bought Harvester in 1994. In its style, many pub chains have followed where All Bar One led.
Five outlets opened in 1995 (including Islington, Wimbledon and Richmond in London). By 1996, Bass had 15 All Bar One pubs, 69 O'Neill's pubs and 102 Harvesters. By 1999 there were 46 in the chain. Jeremy Spencer, a friend of gastropub-inventor Mike Belben, was responsible for creating the brand of pub. In 1999, Jeremy Spencer was replaced by Karen Forrester (who previously ran O'Neills, and who now runs T.G.I. Fridays UK) who stayed until May 2001.
In August 2001 it opened its first overseas establishment in Cologne. Bass Leisure Retail (BLR) became Six Continents in June 2002.
As of 2016, there were "close to 50" outlets in the UK, mostly based in Central London however they have expanded throughout the UK as far as Aberdeen, where they opened a bar in the new Marischal Square development in March 2018.
- Marischal Square, Aberdeen
- George Street, Edinburgh
- Exchange Plaza, Edinburgh
- Edinburgh Airport (Gate 5 and Gate 16)
- St. Vincent Street, Glasgow
East of England
- St Andrew's Street, Cambridge
- Norwich (Tombland)
- Birmingham Airport (airside and landside)
- Birmingham New Street station
- Birmingham (Brindleyplace and Newhall Street)
- Montpellier, Cheltenham
- Nottingham (Lace Market tram stop)
North West England
Yorkshire and the Humber
- Harrogate (Parliament Street, A61)
- Leeds (Millennium Square and Greek Street)
- Sheffield (Leopold Square)
- York (New Street)
South East England
- 2–3 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton
- Guildford (North Street)
- Milton Keynes (Midsummer Boulevard)
- High Street, Oxford
- Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth
- The Oracle, Reading
- Westquay, Southampton
- Windsor Royal railway station
- Appold Street (Broadgate)
- Northcote Road, Battersea
- Shad Thames, Butler's Wharf
- Byward Street
- Mackenzie Walk, Canary Wharf
- Cannon Street
- Chiswell Street
- Clapham Junction
- Euston Square
- Henrietta Street, Covent Garden
- Kingsway, London (Holborn)
- Ludgate Hill
- The O2 Arena, Greenwich
- New Oxford Street
- Picton Place
- Regent Street
- Sutton (original in 1994)
- Victoria, London
- Villiers Street
- Wimbledon (Wimbledon Hill Road)
- telegraph February 2002
- "Mitchells & Butlers - Our brands - All Bar One". Mbplc.com. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
- Times, 29 April 2000
- "New boost for Marischal Square As All Bar One agrees deal to open in Aberdeen for the first time". www.aberdeencity.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2017-01-24.
- "Aberdeen bar manager progressed in the blink of an eye at All Bar One". 7 February 2019.