Monday, September 10, 2007

Lounge Essentials: The Home Bar

Are you sick of the bar scene but enjoy having drinks socially? Does an intimate get-together with friends equate to shouting over blaring music at some terrible bottle service only venue? Are you afraid to entertain in your home because it lacks the social aspect of a bar or lounge? Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions, then have no fear - the Home Bar is here to make your pad a destination.

Years ago people used to entertain in their homes and the cocktail party was the Rolls Royce of a social call. In the bustling suburbs, bars were set up on patios and theme parties like Tiki night were commonplace. In the city, Home Bars were a dime a dozen and ranged from a hidden away liquor cabinet with service utensils to a full-on bar built into someone’s basement. Amazingly enough to this Lounger, the concept of the Home Bar fell out of fashion. These days it seems like the art of entertainment has been lost. People are more interested in social outdoor activities, such as extreme sports, than they are in sipping cocktails at home. Hopefully we can change that.

Key factors to consider before setting up your own bar
  • The space
  • The theme
  • The price
How much space you allocate for your bar/entertainment area is very important and will determine: a) whether the bar is right for you; and b) the type of bar you can construct. If you have limited space, then a bar that can be easily hidden or doubles as a piece of furniture may be preferable.

Think about your living space and figure out how much of a commitment you want to make. If you have a rumpus room or other room you do not use much, you can convert this space into a bar. If you live in a cramped urban dwelling like a lot of people then a smaller closet-style bar or mini-bar is your best bet.

A lot of consideration went into deciding what kind of commitment I was going to put into my bar. Space was the primary factor. I wanted to convert my living room into the bar area and, luckily, I had an apartment with a decent sized living area. The bar became the centerpiece of the room. The couch and other furniture flank it and are in fact sitting areas for guests to sip cocktails or eat. However, I had to sacrifice other furniture, like a coffee table or love seat, and even mounted my flat screen and DVR up on the wall for the full bar effect.

Key spatial considerations
  1. Do you have enough room for guests? It is important that guests have room to mingle and moved around. A small entertainment space limits the number of guests one can invite to a cocktail party.
  2. Will you be serving food? If so, does the bar setup impede access to the kitchen?
  3. Will the bar be the centerpiece of the room?
  4. Will the bar compliment your current furniture arrangement or will you have to get rid of some pieces?
Now that you made it past the first hurdle, it’s time to consider whether a theme for the bar is the right fit.  I like to think that the bar is an extension of your personality. If you’re more conventional, you may not want a theme and might instead prefer to stick to the classic and subdued wine bar/wet bar arrangement. While it’s not necessary to have a theme for your bar, it does enhance the home bar experience for you and your guests. Some popular themes are:
Vintage/Retro Martini Bar: Back in 1998, I turned my entire living room area into a ’50s style New York lounge bar. I painted the walls Millionaire Red, brought in a red vinyl couch and a couple of palm trees, and put up red Christmas lights, shelves and Italian Cinema and Campari ad posters. Bingo - the Red Room Lounge was born. I have moved several times since then but always reserved a room or a space in my living room for the Red Room (just scaled down these days)!

When creating with a vintage/retro martini bar theme, I suggest the following for maximum functionality, durability and swank factor:
  1. A vintage 1950s or retro bar with legs and panels
  2. Stools, 2-4 depending on bar size, room size, and expected guests
  3. Shelves (2-3) for the booze
  4. Wide bar mirror (makes the place seem bigger)
  5. Mini-fridge for ice and frozen drinks
Tiki Bar: Finding a vintage Tiki Bar is the ideal situation. However, they are few and far between, especially on the East Coast. In order to build one, you will need plenty of wood, bamboo, straw mats for the panels, and you must be willing to get your hands dirty with a bit of carpentry.

If you are no Bob Villa, why not go to a furniture store specializing in wood (finished and unfinished) such as Gothic Cabinet Craft. Buy a wood bar and add the straw trim, bamboo panels, and other Tiki paraphernalia. Don’t forget that you will need a couple of bar stools to complete the look. Try flea markets or second-hand stores for wood or bamboo stools.

Then you’ll have to decorate the living room, den, or whatever room you choose to have the Tiki bar in with a Polynesian motif for the full Tiki effect. If draping an entire room in bamboo is too much of a commitment, then I suggest decorating the area directly behind and around the bar with Tiki décor: paper lantern, leopard skin panels, straw, bamboo, shelves showing off your Tiki cup collection, maybe some flowers, and pictures of Hawaii.

Pre-made Tiki bars can be purchased on ebay but it’ll cost you.

In New York City, go to the Pearl River Market Store on Broadway and Grand near Chinatown for cheap Tiki accouterments. They sell straw mats, bamboo, and paper lanterns.

Modern-style Home Bar: Crate & Barrel sells deluxe wine bars for upwards of $500.00. The other popular home furnishing stores like Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware sell pricey wine and personal bars but I suggest hitting the flea markets, Salvation Army, and vintage stores for the real deal. Naturally, if you are constructing a Cellar Saloon then be prepared for high costs unless your cousin is a carpenter.

Personal Bar: Can be purchased at any high-end home-furnishing store. Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn offer mini-bars that can be stowed away when not entertaining. Bars made from wood and Formica are also available at some furniture stores but can be expensive. Bar stools can be purchased at any restaurant supply store.

The Wine bar: A subtle piece of furniture that comes alive when guests have a craving for vino and cheese, the wine bar is perfect. This piece can be very expensive if purchased new, so scour the flea markets for deals on pre-owned wine bars.

The Cellar Saloon: A conversion of a portion of your basement into a rumpus room! When I was growing up, I had a friend whose father converted the entire basement into a bar/saloon with pool table, darts, and professional-looking bar fully stocked with liquor, working sink, hanging rack for martini glasses, and stools for a half dozen people. I was amazed! This type of bar would require a major personal and financial commitment, but you’ll never need to leave the house again.

True Home Bar Story: Angie Pontani of the World Famous Pontani Sisters told me that her father still has a Cellar Saloon in his basement. At clan gatherings, he makes the best gin martinis in Trenton, NJ and the familia just loves it! So dear readers, despite being hidden from public view, the Cellar Saloon is alive and well.

How much will you spend? It can be cheaper than remodeling but still a luxury expense. Creating a home bar will not break your bank like remodeling a kitchen, but the cost does rise depending on how big your project will be.

Believe it or not, setting up the theme bar is less expensive than a modern-style home bar. My bar arrangement cost about $500-$600 over a period of several months. The bar and stools were $250 and the rest of the gizmos and do-dads (posters, lights, paint, shelves, plants, etc.) cost another $300. I already owned a mini-fridge so that saved a bit as well.

Enjoy creating your bar at home and hey - drink responsibly!

- Fredo

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