Everyone should have a bar in their home, and if you don’t believe me, just ask someone who has one. Once he’s done lording over you, you’ll want a home bar just to make the smug bastard shut the hell up about it.
It’s not a common home furnishing, which is surprising when you consider how functional it is. For one thing, it’s like having a bar in your home. Think about that. A bar. In your home. How much more functional can a furnishing get?
It is, of course, much more than a place to store your liquor, and perhaps sit down while you drink said liquor. It is an entertainment center, a functional shrine to Bacchus, a wellspring of possibility and promise, and perhaps most importantly, a throne from which you can lord over your friends.
Every decade or so the media declares that home bars are making a comeback; that some cruel combination of lingering recession and government oppression is pushing the drinkers out of the bars and into their homes, where the drinks are cheap and smoking is legal. Which may or may not be true. I have noticed that more and more of my friends have liquor cabinets and bars in their homes, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that drinkers, as they age, tend to accrue drinking-related things, including liquor cabinets and bars.
My personal history with home bars is long and desultory. I owned my first when I was 13, when I was young and idealistic enough to confuse home with dirt fort and a bar with a warped drawerless dresser I’d rescued from a sinkhole local ranchers used as a dump. With great dignity, I would stand behind my bar and combine whatever meager slosh was left at the bottom of bottles also rousted from said sinkhole. I stirred up all sorts of wonderful cocktails: Gin & Bourbons, Scotch & Vodkas, Wine & Rums, I didn’t care what.
The important thing was I was mixing cocktails at my very own bar. The fact that these cocktails tasted like high-grade poison didn’t dent my enthusiasm in the least, and it would be many more years before I realized that not all booze goes together like dirt forts and childhood alienation.
It didn’t seem that difficult a task. I mean, what is a bar but a rectangular box with a top and maybe a front? And maybe some shelving. And a place to rest your feet. A handful of 2-by-4s and a little plywood and—boom!—you’re there, man.
I have built three different home bars in my lifetime, so I am supremely qualified to offer you advice. First, don’t waste your time with some silly blueprint from an old issue of Popular Mechanics, or even a sketch that involves actual measurements. It’s a goddamn box! All you have to do is nail some boards together in a suitably rectangular shape, then drape something over the front, then nail something flat on top. You’ll want it nice and sturdy, so you might consider using 4 X 4s. And make it big—who wants to belly up to something the size of a coffee table? You’ll want it so big and heavy that when you’re evicted for having loud parties you won’t feel obligated to take the wretched monstrosity with you.
Always try to have an insurmountable amount of booze behind the bar. This will prevent you from feeling challenged. You’re less likely to pick a fight with a snarling punk of a .750 if he’s got all his boys with him. Chuck those empties. It’s fine, even traditional, to line up those dead soldiers on window sills and refrigerators like trophies reminding you of better times or better booze. But keep them well away from your bar or liquor cabinet. These are active battlefields and you don’t want corpses lying around, stinking up the place. Bury them. Brook no mutiny. One of the greatest things about having your own home bar is you get to lord over your friends, which is excellent, especially if some of your friends are bartenders. If one of your friends dares step behind your bar (it will almost certainly be one of the bartenders), give him the kind of baleful and incredulous stare your dad would give your mom if she hinted she might like to join his weekly poker game. If you’re hoarding a particular bottle, put it out of sight. Hiding a “special” bottle under the bar is fine. Displaying it in plain view while telling your guests it’s off-limits (obviously because they’re not “special” enough) is cruel and will foster a brooding resentment amongst the crew. You don’t need 15 different types of glassware. Feel free to get fancy, if that’s the sort of man you are, but all you really need are three types: lowball, highball and shot. You cannot be 86’d from your own bar. Unless you very foolishly gave that monstrous amount of power to your spouse. Which, as recently noted, would be very foolish.
How Grown-Ups Do It
I didn’t own an authentic, made-in-a-factory-by-actual-craftsmen home bar until many evictions later, when I received a nine-footer as a birthday gift from a woman who has since excused herself from the tremendous pleasure of being my first wife. It was second-hand and battered under a fresh coat of black paint, but I have to tell you, as far as presents go, giving a drunk a bar is like giving an 8-year-old boy a puppy that coughs up candy bars and shoots lasers out of its eyes.
Let me tell you something else: possession of a home bar radically impacts your psyche. Something happens to your brain when the thing you rove the town seeking out suddenly, almost magically, is sitting in your living room. You are visited by what psychologists call the “nesting effect.” You immediately want to fill your nest with all sorts of pretty eggs. You want to stuff that fucker full of booze.
Which, of course, flies directly in the face of an old drunkard notion long held to be true: While every boozer dreams of having a fully-stocked home bar, deep down in his private heart he knows he can’t maintain it. That you’re as likely to find a long-term supply of booze in a serious drinker’s home as a kilo of smack under a junky’s bed.
But surely that is a mental aberration of errant youth. As we grow older, perhaps even wiser, we absorb grown-up concepts like “stocking up,” which means buying more liquor than you can drink in a single sitting.
So I rushed to the liquor superstore and spent over $600 on booze. Not just the staples—gin, vodka, rum and whiskey—but strange liquors and liqueurs and bitters and mixing agents that I’d never purchased outside of a bar. I wanted to be able to flip open a bartender’s bible, stab a finger, and make whatever lay beneath, no matter how archaic or exotic. I wanted my bar to be a time-and-space displacement machine that could transport me, via powerful cocktails, to far-off lands and distant eras.
Which, of course, is impossible. Fully-stocked commercial bars can’t make half the drinks in those books. Some of them can’t make an Old Fashioned, for chrissakes, never mind a Missionary’s Downfall.
But still, the nest was full. Bottles of every shape and color stood beneath and behind my bar like soldiers lined up for inspection. No longer would I be drinking cynically large pours from whatever lonesome bottle was making its short and solo engagement on my kitchen cabinet. That was all behind me, like some half-forgotten waterboarding incident in some alien land. Now, with my wealth of raw materials at hand, I could, mathematically speaking, conjure up literally thousands and thousands of different cocktails. You are, suddenly, a sort of wizard.
Which will serve to warp your brain in yet another way. Before the installation of my first home bar, I much preferred being the guest at parties. The charming invader, the irresponsible explorer, able to glean the entire inner psyches of my hosts by swaying, glass in hand, smirk on face, in front of their bookcases and medicine cabinets. You wander about like a precocious, spoiled, possibly insane child while the poor hosts are expected to behave as tolerant foster parents, nervous grin frozen in place, eyes bright with animal fear.
But that all changes when you get a home bar. You suddenly realize that your bar is a boat of sorts, and you, obviously, are its captain. Not necessarily the sort of captain passengers would trust with their lives, but a captain nevertheless.
With that title comes a varying amount of responsibility and privilege. It’s up to you to determine how much of either you’d like to have. You can be the charming and caring cruise-ship captain who only occasionally drives his ship into the shoals, or you can be, my personal preference, the pirate captain, which means you set the example by being the loudest, drunkest sailor on deck.
So, like any proud captain eager to show off his new boat, I started having a quick succession of “get-togethers.” I wanted to give my friends the chance to bask in my new greatness, to take a ride on my excellent new ship. I made them exotic Tiki drinks, classic cocktails, four-part shots; I explained to them in detail what fools they were for not having their own home bars. I lorded over them like they had never been lorded over before.
Where’d All the Booze Go?
Then, after about two weeks or so, I noticed with no small alarm that my Grand Army of bottles had been whittled down to a ragged platoon that looked ready to desert at the earliest opportunity. Picked off slowly by nightly sniping and massacred wholesale by large weekend offensives, the only relatively unscathed soldiers were the usual-suspect bottle of sweet vermouth and some odd-minded purchase of an apparently burning-tire inspired version of slivovitz.
This happened because the most common form of entertaining you’ll be doing at your bar are after-hours get-togethers that tend to go down after the liquor stores are closed. Which allows for few new enlistments, despite all your slurred entreaties of: “Hey, why don’ we have the cabbie swing by yer place first and we’ll grab all yer fuckin booze and bring it on over to my place!”
Stocking a home bar is one thing, restocking is quite another. The initial purchase feels like building a splendid new mansion; restocking feels like coughing up rent on a decrepit bungalow with half its windows kicked out.
At this point you should remind yourself that you are, in fact, an adult who fully understands the grown-up concept of restocking. Or you can try to get your friends to restock it for you.
The cheapest and best way to restock your bar, and I know this seems counter-intuitive, is to throw a party. The secret is to make the party seem formal enough that your guests will feel obligated to bring a bottle of something. If you frame it as “My New Home Bar Christening Party” they will most certainly have to bring something appropriately strong, as opposed to those usual silly bottles of wine.
Throw three or four of these and soon you will have all sorts of odd orphans populating your nest. There will be a few mostly-empty bottles of value, but it’s usually those weird liquors and liqueurs that end up sticking around because no one wants to drink them very badly. But still, you’ll have a lot of them.
The Kudzu of Home Furnishings
A home bar is a living thing, in the sense it’s like an alien spore that wants to take over the world.
Or as much as you will let it. If you place your bar in a living room dominated by large important furnishings such as a big-screen TV or a hideous plaid sectional, it will probably not grow beyond a few alcohol-related items on the nearest wall and perhaps a shelf of steins. This is especially true if your wife is territorial and an active “pruner” or “assassin” of objets d’art that don’t fit her particular theme for that room.
However, if you plant the bar in a room with weak furniture or, better, a pure vacuum of empty space, in a matter of months, or even weeks, it will take over that room. The walls will become cluttered with neon signs and old whiskey ads, shelves crowded with drinking paraphernalia acquired from eBay and thrift stores will sprout everywhere, furniture common only to dives and whorehouses will fill the room. The transformation will become complete when the room comes to bear a strange name, such as Barry’s ManCave, Heather’s Hula Hut, or Ian’s Welsh Whisky Wonderland.
One of my bars (if I may lord over you for a moment, I presently have three bars in my house. Three!) was allowed to absorb an entire room, which I now call Frank’s Atomic Tiki Lounge and my wife calls There, as in, “Are you going to drink in There all night?”
If you’re not careful, the bar, like a spoiled child whose heart you dare not break, will start demanding all sorts of expensive accessories including a mini-fridge, fancy ice buckets, a blender, revolving liquor dispensers, Japanese mixing tools, every type of glassware on Earth and so on, until you start thinking you might need a bigger room. Or a bigger house.
I’ve been in a basement bar so large, stocked and lovingly outfitted that the only thing separating it from a top-rate commercial bar was the lack of a cash register, which, of course, only served to magnify its charm.
Spreading the Joy
Eventually, having a home bar won’t seem like such a terribly huge deal. Unless, of course, you happen to attend a party that doesn’t feature one.
First off, you’ll gaze with astonishment and horror as your host tries to make you a drink in his kitchen, like some sort of caveman knocking rocks together in hopes of summoning the Neolithic version of a rain god. And then, once you have your “drink,” you’ll start pacing frantically around the house like a caged leopard because just where the hell are you supposed to drink the damned thing? Where’s the psychic center of the place? The fucking TV? Are you telling me the thing that spews out Sex and the City reruns is the center of the goddamn household? Why not just make it the toilet?
You shouldn’t, of course, shout out these entirely sensible sentiments—that would be cruel. Instead, you should slump against a wall (because there is no bar to lean against) and slowly, over the space of 15 minutes say, crumble to the floor.
This should leave a sizable psychic scar on the mind of your host, and rightfully so. Because, if you do this enough times, your friend will eventually acquire a home bar and you’ll have one more place to drink for free after hours. Unless, of course, his home bar ends up being better than yours (and who the hell wants to be lorded over by that kind of smug bastard?), in which case you should go home and drink by yourself.
Which is fine. I cannot tell you (my wife might be willing to take a stab at it) how many hours I’ve spent alone at my bar, listening to music, drinking, smoking, howling and marveling at the fact that I am sitting at my own bar. Mine! You can’t make me leave! You can’t make me go home because I already am home.
And if it’s true that your home is an escape from the outside world, then your home bar is your escape from your home, which is sometimes a very fine and necessary thing.