Bar Star: Belly Up To The World Of Home Bars


    On Friday nights, Matt Stemo doesn’t wait in the cold for a taxi, stuffed in a parka, wait in line, and stand in a crowded group of strangers, sipping an overpriced beer until it’s time to fight for a cab on the way home.

    He walks downstairs.

    “I got tired of the same thing over and over again,” the Aurora man said. “I’d rather have a bar in my home where I can entertain my friends on a weekend night than go to the same bar all the time.”

    The home bar isn’t an oxymoron. It’s a viable solution to an entertaining space that most people don’t consider when they’re looking for a home. More often than not, a bar is an optional extra or a DIY, last resort to do something with an unfinished basement.

    But when properly constructed, a bar can transform a space into a popular meeting spot — not unlike a kitchen — where friends, family and guests can gather and be entertained. And it’ll probably be way more useful than any dining room.

    The pros offer tips:

    Cold is gold

    Beer is better cold. Same goes for ice.

    Your home bar should have some sort of refrigeration built in, otherwise you’ll be walking up the stairs every time someone asks for a drink, and that just defeats the purpose of building your own bar.

    Stemo has his own “keg-erator,” which is to say an old refrigerator that’s been plugged with a tap up front to keep beer cold. He admits that it’s not the most energy-efficient unit, and defrosting a fridge and plugging it back in days ahead of time isn’t fun. He said he’ll consider something different when he can, but for now, the old fridge will do just fine.

    But if you’re not looking to steal an appliance from somewhere else, there are other more- and less-expensive solutions.

    Small wine refrigerators may be a countertop option if you’re not looking to serve beer at your bar. Wine coolers can be had from $300 for an 18-bottle model to $1,100 for a 45 bottle cooler made by N’Finity.

    If beer is more your speed, a full-size keg holder with a tap can be found for less than $500. Those models won’t necessarily fit into a bar, and are better suited for behind the bar — provided you have enough space. Other models can be built into a countertop, under the bar, and full-size commercial taps with three dispensers can run more than $3,000 if you can stomach the cost.

    Like any 7-Eleven clerk will say: Don’t forget the ice. A small portable icemaker can run around $250 and be crucial for cocktail parties.

    Material matters

    Don’t skimp on the bar materials. A proper bar top, molding and rail is the difference between a home bar and a glorified shelf.

    Expensive kits can be found from $3,000 to $5,000, provided your space is accommodating for the pre-sized bars. Otherwise, you’re on your own to build your bar, but don’t fret — there are plenty of instructions and experts available to help you understand how to frame, face and finish a home bar.

    The old axiom here holds: Measure twice and cut once. A nice solid oak bar will set you back several hundred dollars, so you don’t want to waste good wood on bad cuts.

    It’s also important to budget and plan for a good molding around your bar. Molding helps spilled drinks from running down to the floor, and  it provides a good resting place for arms and elbows after folks have bellied up.

    Also, the answer to your likely first question is this: 42 inches. With molding, a good place to start for your bar is 42 inches off the floor.

    Let there be light

    Unless you’re building a dive bar in your basement — and why would you do that? — your bar is going to need some dedicated lighting. Neon signs, while super cool and super expensive, don’t necessarily provide the best lighting for home bars. Track lighting above the bar can be installed for cheap — less than $200 if you’re lucky — and can provide enough light for most bars.

    From there, it’s really gravy for your guests. Strips of LED lights can be attached to your bar with less effort than you’re thinking — they come with their own self-adhesive strips.

    LED lighting is also very efficient and long-lasting — most lights will last several years — and can be customized to be whatever color you’d prefer.

    Always a good touch: Cheap wiring kits can turn any good bottle of scotch or wine into a lamp with a drill and some hot glue.