The appearance and general milieu of the traditional Irish pub reflect its roots in the Victorian era. Unlike Britain, where public houses are generally owned by breweries, Irish public houses are privately owned, often over several generations by the same family. In most cases the pub will have either the owner's or the founder's name above it. This is far more common than the pub being given a name of its own, as in England, although there are exceptions where a pub's name may refer to some local feature or event. Newer pubs occasionally took their names from odd sources like popular movies, so it is still possible to find oneself drinking in "The Graduate" or "The Godfather".

No two pub facades are exactly the same and they are often amongst the most decorated buildings in town, adding greatly to the quality of street frontages. Usually the pub will have its owner's name written on a board across the top of the windows, or in some smaller country pubs simply above the door. In early pubs the owner's name was sign painted by hand above its window, but from the 1950's onwards it has been customary to use individual block letters, often gilded to give a more striking appearance. Many of the architectural features used in traditional fronts are classical in origin, and it is common to see columns, cornices and fascia decorating the exteriors of older pubs. These are usually constructed of wood or plaster, often of exceptionally high quality workmanship, but in more opulent urban premises granite or even marble columns and facings are regularly found.

Irish pub exteriors are often works of art in themselves, rich in brass, glass and gold lettering and often executed in bold colour schemes. Utterly different, but equally fascinating in their own way, are the striking colours seen on the outside of some country pubs, or the primitive murals which occasionally enhance a whitewashed wall or gable end.

A particularly fetching aspect of both city and country pubs are the objects found in their windows, which often give them an almost shop like appearance. Whiskey and beer bottles, placed to entice the passer by, are common features in these displays. Some publicans create artistic displays from bric-a-brac, curiosities, farm equipment, musical instruments, unusual antiques, old signs, eye-catching Irish photos and prints, figurines, old pieces of pottery, whiskey and of course Guinness advertising.