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Raising the Bar: Serving Spirits With Style

  • 4 min to read
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If the phrase “home bar” conjures up images of dingy basements and neon-bright St. Pauli Girl beer signs — well, times (and tastes) have changed.

Home bars aren’t just for the basement anymore. Nancy Ruddy, who serves as executive director of interior design at New York-based design firm CetraRuddy, says people are building bars in places like master bedroom suites, guest rooms, and outdoors on terraces and rooftops.

Dev Johnson, a principal bartender at the New York City speakeasy Employees Only, shares his must-haves for the home bar.

Home bars can be as elaborate as a custom-built island complete with bar stools, floor-to-ceiling cabinetry, a wine refrigerator and bar sink, to an understated closet-sized nook, to even just a simple bar cart stocked with the essentials.

Sure, it’s convenient to have all the tools, glasses and liquor to whip up your favorite cocktail in the comfort of your own home. But why go to such lengths for a simple nightcap?

“It’s one of those luxuries people are starting to think about, to give themselves because they work so hard,” Ruddy says.

And — if you have an eye toward the future — a thoughtfully built in-home bar can certainly boost your home’s resale value. We’ll drink to that!

High-end home bar inspiration

If you have the means — and the space — consider dedicating an entire floor of your home to socializing and entertaining. For some families, this may translate to a custom-built bar as part of a larger game room, creating a personal venue for amusement and leisure.

One project that designer Anik Pearson, of New York-based Anik Pearson Architect, worked on included a home bar of this scope. It was part of the family’s arcade room — both a fun room for the family, and a room for adults to gather, entertain, and have a good time of their own.

The custom-built bar and cabinetry included a bar sink and high-top chairs perfect for bellying right up for a homemade cocktail. Built-in, climate-controlled wine storage and custom mood lighting completed the space, and an air hockey table and three pinball machines pretty much cemented the home’s reputation as the place for parties and gatherings.

“You can do all the things here that you would do at a bar,” Pearson says. “Gather a group of people, play games, and be social.”

A home bar doesn’t have to be huge — or flanked by arcade games — to seem like an elaborate luxury. Pearson once designed a bar that had to be “surgically added” into a narrow space at the bottom of a winding staircase, so as not to disturb the room’s historic qualities, like the wood floors, stairs and walls.

“The room was all chestnut with wormholes. You can’t find that kind of wood now,” Pearson says.

So she and her team took oak, stained it to match the chestnut, and drilled wormholes to ensure the bar’s cabinetry was a good match for the room.

They added a tiny bar sink — the space was narrow and didn’t have a lot of depth — and the bar was complete. For Pearson, this project showed what a little inventiveness can do to overcome lack of space (and distressed chestnut).

“There are ways around limitations — you can do something creative,” she says.

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All you really need is a nook

If your home lacks space and historic library-esque rooms, there are still plenty of opportunities to build a home bar. According to Ruddy, all you really need is a nook that’s 3 feet wide, thanks to under-counter refrigerators and icemakers.

“Unused closets? People are turning them into bars. Any space in the home is fair game,” she says.

Ruddy noted that one interesting trend she’s seeing is the separation of bar and kitchen. The kitchen is known as the heart of the home, where people tend to gravitate during gatherings, and yet more and more people are choosing to build their home bars elsewhere.

As such, wherever a home bar lands, it becomes the focal point of the room — often with decorative materials, art or special lighting.

When the bar occupies a small space or a nook, it’s not necessary to add upper cabinets, Ruddy says. Instead, you can use those walls to do something fanciful and fun, like a mosaic or backsplash of stone or quartz.

Greenwich-based interior designer Carmina Roth did just that with a recent project involving a home bar. The space featured a butler’s pantry/bar area between the kitchen and dining room. The lower cabinetry was kept consistent with the materials used in the kitchen, “but rather than run the upper cabinetry along the wall, we transitioned to open shelving with an antique mirrored backsplash,” she says.

A hammered nickel Waterworks round sink — which also functions as a bar sink — a wine fridge, and an ice maker tucked into the cabinetry below rounded out the home bar.

Often, these small bars present the opportunity to add personality to the space and the room it occupies. One client that Pearson worked with wanted her bar to look like a jewelry box of sorts, with high-gloss paint for the cabinets, metallic wallpaper, and metal supports for the shelves. The bar became less about cabinetry, and more about the texture, color, and materials.

“It makes the bar a colorful, happy, sexy place,” Pearson says.

Bar carts: Take your cocktails on the go

If your home has no nooks to spare, not to worry — just put the bar on wheels. Understated bar carts work just fine. Stock the cart with the tools, glassware and alcohol needed for a particular party. When the night is over, store the cart in the closet, or keep it stocked and dressed up to display in the kitchen or living room.

“An attractive tray holding glasses, an ice bucket and a shaker, plus some bottles of drinks and cans of mixers is all you need to define the space and make it inviting,” Roth says.

Whether that space is a cart, a closet or an entire room devoted to entertaining, a home bar is a wonderful way to make staying in the most appealing plan on your weekend agenda.

Caitlin M. Bagley is a freelance writer for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Send us your feedback on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag, or email editor@connecticutmag.com.