From basement bars to man caves to backyard tiki huts, for nearly 75 years, the home bar has been a beloved, boozy playground for the American male.
Often made with cheap wood paneling following instructions from Popular Mechanics, the domestic bar became the crown jewel of home ownership in the 1950s. Referencing a well-worn copy of Mr. Boston’s Official Bartenders Guide, men mastered multiple cocktails — martinis, Grasshoppers, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and maybe an umbrella drink in the summer months — and hosted smoky, boozy affairs at home bars on Friday nights while unsupervised children watched episodes of Rawhide upstairs.
It was the American dream, epitomized — man’s aspirational refuge.
It’s no wonder, then, that Zillow predicted the home bar would be among the top home design trends of 2017.
I was curious, though: How and when did this trend begin? What constitutes a fully stocked a home bar? And what are some compulsory elements? So I scoured the internet, consulted home bar vendors and spoke with seven men on the DIY subreddit who created corners in their homes where everybody knows their name.
1.The heydey of home bars arose when the Greatest Generation returned home from World War II — a defining moment in American masculinity — and moved to cheap homes in the suburbs. As this predated suburban restaurants by many decades, rolling down to the local Applebee’s wasn’t an option. So people chose to build bars in their own homes instead, typically in the basement. “When they finally settled on their dream house,” explains Eli M. Getson at the Selvedge Yard, “a historical record of artistry, anarchy, alchemy & authenticity,” “they were truly proud of it, and wanted to show it off to friends and family alike.”
2. An evening hosted in a properly appointed basement bar was often a classy affair, Getson says, similar to a swanky supper club. Couples would get dressed up for the occasion.
3. What constitutes a “properly appointed’ home bar? If you ask Art of Manliness reader Jeff Trexler: London Dry gin; premium vodka, preferably Grey Goose; bourbon whiskey, preferably Jim Beam or Wild Turkey; Scotch whisky; gold tequila to mix drinks, silver tequila to serve straight up; dark rum for punches; light rum for cocktails; and assorted bottles of wine and craft beer.
4. As for mixers, Trexler suggests club soda, tonic water, Coke, Sprite or 7Up, ginger ale, orange juice, cranberry juice, tomato juice, pineapple juice and bitters.
5. And for garnish: cocktail olives, cocktail onions, horseradish, limes, lemons, Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper, sugar and ice.
6. Of course, these drinks also need to be poured into something. “Practically every type of alcoholic beverage, whether beer, spirits, wine, or cocktail, has a specific glass associated with it,” explains Caitlin Hartney, content manager of KegWorks, a leading retailer of home bar equipment and accessories. “When you match a beverage with its proper glass, you optimize aroma, flavor profile, mouthfeel, temperature, and the overall drinking experience.”
7. Here’s Frank Sinatra pouring a drink at his home bar in 1965:
8. “A sink is an absolute must-have,” explains Redditor Sagybagy, a 40-year-old commercial drone pilot in Arizona. Other essential components include: A speed rack for holding the common mixers and liquors; speed pour spouts with the flapper tops that keep fruit flies out of liquor bottles; a designated area for drink preparation; an inconspicuous trash can; an ice maker; and, if throwing a party, a cocktail menu. “A menu lets you pick drinks that share common ingredients, making shopping easier. It makes preparation easier and cleaner as well.”
9. “You gotta have a kegerator, sink and wine fridge,” says jshalikar, a 28-year-old IT executive in New Jersey. “And an arm rail. I’ve received a ton of positive feedback from guests regarding their comfort when leaning on the bar. Although it adds to the overall cost, it truly makes the structure seem legitimate.”
10. “Comfortable bar stools,” says Itsallnipply, a 25-year-old high school history teacher in Michigan. “They make your experience so much better.”
11. Don’t forget about the foot rail either, Hartney explains. “It’s an oft-overlooked element that adds considerable polish to your bar and also does worlds for the comfort of your guests, whose feet will otherwise dangle awkwardly from their bar stools.”
12. According to Terence Gunn from the nightlife website Seattletwist.com, “The style, size and material make-up of home bars in the mid-20th century were varied, but fairly simple, ranging from contemporary art deco to oceanic, mariner, tropical and rustic, bearing such materials as stained and varnished wood, Formica, bamboo, balsa, chrome, padded and/or tufted leather or vinyl, glass bricks and tile, and accessorised with two or more stools.”
13. Here’s Neil Patrick Harris’ fully stocked vintage bar, where the house cocktail is something he calls a “New Fashioned”:
14. The 1960s and 1970s marked the dawn of the cabinet bar, which was often hidden inside a television set or a world globe. Says Gunn, “In the 1970s, I recall times when friends and I would be at a friend’s house, sitting at his or her father’s bar, listening to music on vinyl or 8-track on the lounge stereo, drinking ginger beer or ale and munching cocktail peanuts, pretending we were adults.”
15. The 1980s brought with them more discos and nightclubs, and young adults and married couples went out instead of hosting cocktail parties at home. Home bars began gathering dust — or worse, they were taken to the dump.
16. Cocktail culture returned in the 1990s, and with it, the home bar. “It was an appreciation — nostalgic or otherwise — for one’s seemingly swingin’ parent’s and/or grandparent’s generation: their social lifestyles during un-politically correct times,” Gunn explains.
17. Here’s Jason Derulo’s home bathroom bar:
18. The NW Tiki Crawl is an annual tour of local home tiki bars in Portland, Oregon. A charter bus takes ticket holders to a variety of home bars decorated in all manner of Tiki with tropical libations served at each stop.
19. Why are home bars so special for American men? Per Sagybagy: “Bonding over drink has brought men together for ages. To be able to have that feature in the house is important because it creates the catalyst for socialization. As men, we want to gather and support each other. It’s in our blood.”
20. Adds Redditor ArmyBones: “We work hard, we play hard and we sacrifice much for our families. We literally conquer the world in our little sphere every single day. At the end of all that, a man has his shitter and his bar. These are the two places where a man can just sit and think — think about nothing, think about everything, celebrate his success or mourn his failures.”
21. Not to mention, says Redditor Jshalikar, “It’s the ultimate entertaining focal point. I feel like the king of my ‘castle’ when behind the bar. I’m entertaining, in control and facing the crowd. It’s a great feeling.”
22. There is, though, one much simpler truth they’re all ignoring according to Cherrycoke45: “The drinks are a lot cheaper.”