When we hear the word “remodel” or “renovation”, we might automatically think about overhauling a kitchen, a bathroom or, perhaps, the backyard or patio space. The reason why is a simple matter of necessity: you use every other room in your house just about each day, so the idea of building a home bar is very much like a game room, a reading room, or a swimming pool: a pipe dream.
Your local bar can be as comfortable as your living room when you think about it. Besides the booze, the friendly bartenders, the oh-so-friendly faces around you and the neon-lit walls, there’s also the warm glow of a TV set (or six) offering you various forms of sportsball to take in. Don’t like sports? Maybe you want to take in a game of pool or throw some darts with the people you drink with. Who wouldn’t want that same atmosphere in their home? With pandemic restrictions easing and summer in full swing, there’s never been a better time to build your very own bar at home.
But what separates a good bar from a great one?
Here are some things to consider before building your very own home bar.
Off the bat, one of the most important things to consider is how many people you’d like to entertain. Is this bar for yourself and your family or are you looking to use the space to entertain friends? Figuring this question out will not only determine the overall size of your bar (a straight bar as opposed to an “L-shaped” surface), but will also determine where in your home you might place the bar. Also, taking your time is extremely important. Make sure you get your measurements right.
Unless you want your bar lower to the ground like a kitchen table, a good bar is usually 3 to 3 1/2 feet off the ground with a bartop surface of about 1 1/2 feet and a good molding to prevent spills from ending up all over you or your guests. Is foot railing important to you? How about cabinet space for mini refrigerators or a temperature-controlled wine cellar? If you’re planning on using kegs for draft beer in lieu of bottles from a fridge, where are you planning on storing those kegs?
Do you need a lower inner bar for handling food or garnishes while crafting cocktails? Are you going to have a TV against the wall for your bar guests to watch? With so many options for materials, is oak/wood the best way to go or do you add some granite or steel? It’s all in the design. There’s nothing worse than cutting materials and having to go back to the drawing board.
Location, Location, Location!
Now that you have the design, where are you going to put it? Sure, it could be near the kitchen — but is it wise to combine your kitchen space with your entertaining space? Sure, you could feed your guests at the same time you’re serving them drinks, but the overall ambiance might not be quite complete. Perhaps the living room — though you already have a TV there with a nice comfy couch, so why would you sit in a smaller chair or stool for a couple hours?
Perhaps you want a bar in your backyard so that you could entertain (and grill) during the summer — but, then you’d be at the mercy of the weather during certain months. What if you had empty space, such as a spare room or basement, and put your home bar there with some neon signs and a TV, away from the rest of the family? Should your home bar be close to a bathroom just in case of “accidents”?
Every single space in your home has its pros and cons. Weighing them all carefully is key. You never want a single doubt to be in your mind before you choose your location.
Since your guests are going to be sitting for extended periods of time, unless you’re a complete sadist, you’re going to want them to be comfortable. Nobody wants to sit on a seat with little to no padding, so the best course of action is buy chairs or stools that feel like your guests are sitting on clouds. Be cognizant of the size of the chair/stool, however. If you have a bar that’s high off the ground (40 to 42 inches), you’re going to want stools which are 2 1/2 feet (30 inches) off the ground. If it’s lower to the ground, simple chairs will work.
Once again, it’s all about measurements. If or when you purchase your seats, bring a tape measure so that you can measure before you choose. That way, you don’t end up with seats you’ll regret buying.
When you have your measurements down, it’s all about style from here on out. Be sure to choose seating which matches the overall aesthetic and vibe of the bar you wish to create.
Beyond the Home Bar: Bells & Whistles
We frequent our local bars for many reasons. Most of the time, it’s because we like being away from home, hanging out with others, with the TV running the ballgame in our peripheral view. A good bar feels alive. That’s what you should strive for when it comes to creating yours. So why not put your personal stamp on it with some of these options?
- Bar backing – This is a blank canvas for you to give your bar a little personality. Here, you can put in shelving and lighting to display your bottles of booze so that your guests can see what they’re drinking or give them an idea of what to drink next. Lighting isn’t necessary but adds some nice ambiance to the space. If you don’t like a bunch of bottles sitting out in the open (or don’t have many to display), you can always mount a television for your guests so they can take in a film, TV show, or a game. Artwork also works great here and you can find several art prints all over the Internet you can frame and mount as well.
- Lower bar – Are you a mixologist at heart? Are you creating craft cocktails for your guests? Then you might want to consider building a lower bar which is behind the main bar. This allows you space to do all sorts of things like mix your drinks before presenting them at bar level, keep garnishes away from dirty hands, and store napkins and coasters, which leads into…
- Wet bar – If you aren’t near your kitchen or don’t feel like going back and forth between your home bar and kitchen for washing glassware, then this feature might be of use to you, as it means you’ll have a sink right there where you stand. The downside? Most people do simply use their kitchen for clean-up as putting in a sink also means installing proper plumbing. But, if you do take the plunge with your plumbing then you might also consider…
- Cold beer v. draft beer – Besides wine and hard alcohol, you’re going to be serving beer. The easiest option here is to put in a small mini fridge which will help you chill your beer bottles — but if you want to go that extra mile, putting in a draft beer system running out to a keg would be as cool as it is impressive. The downside? Maintenance. You’d need to clean and flush your systems every month to two months. Plus beer in a keg only lasts a couple months before you have to toss it.
- Signage/decor – Perhaps you have a collection of sports memorabilia, neon signs, or other artwork you’d like to display.
- Games – What would a bar be without a game or two to play? From trivia to pool to darts to arcade and pinball games, adding one or two of these could help entertain your guests further just in case they don’t want to talk or watch a ballgame. They’re not part of your actual bar, per se, but they give your guests the experience of being at a real, commercial establishment.
Should I Hire a Contractor to Build My Home Bar?
Like everything else in this article, this is another big decision. Building a home bar is no easy task. The space, as small as it seems, has so many measurements and complexities, it might overwhelm a novice. Sure, you could simply skip the hassle and buy a pre-made, pre-cut bar from a retailer and then build around it to make it presentable…but even that may prove to be a chore.
If you decide to get complex with plumbing, electrical and installation of various other elements, hiring a contractor will take all that weight off your shoulders. They will deal with any inspection, demolition, code updates, electrical, plumbing, installation, and clean-up. Additionally, having experience means getting the job done in a fraction of the time it might have taken you to do it yourself.
If you plan on going on this adventure by yourself, consider these tips:
- Get everything you need – And I mean EVERYTHING. You need every tool, every material, every screw and nail, and every piece of safety equipment so that you can do this job quickly, efficiently, and safely.
- Don’t get overwhelmed or apathetic – During every stage of building, there’s bound to be a bit of doubt, which becomes apathy, which means your project might not see completion. Don’t get overwhelmed! You have a budget and put away the money to do this and, if you still don’t think you can do it, help is always a phone call away, which leads to…
- Asking friends for help – If you still haven’t decided to hire a contractor, but doubt you can do this on your own, you can always call some friends over to help. You don’t have to pay them — but do think about compensating them with pizza or some other grub so they don’t feel like they’re being put out. Just make sure that you keep an eye on things and keep them motivated so that actual work gets done instead of turning it into a party!
If you do go the contractor route, here are some tips:
- Don’t go to a contractor without a plan – This goes without saying. Describe, on paper, exactly how you see everything in your head. The last thing you want to do is outline your wants and needs off the top of your head. You are guaranteed to forget something if you do.
- Get estimates – There are so many choices out there so getting one that is close to your budget is very important. Furthermore, make sure that your estimates are in writing and broken down to the very last detail. You want pricing for everything from materials to shelving to plumbing and wiring.
- Check the contractor’s past history – Once you’ve settled on a few candidates, you need to sit down and vet them. There’s nothing worse than hiring a contractor and finding out later that they have a less-than-stellar history online. Make sure the person you’re hiring is a good worker! This also means…
- Checking to see if they’re properly insured/bonded – I cannot stress this enough: DO NOT HIRE A CONTRACTOR WHO IS NOT PROPERLY LICENSED, BONDED, OR INSURED. Always make sure the person you have hired has proper coverage. You can easily verify this when they give you credentials.
- Have a good agreement IN WRITING – Make sure that you have all terms written down so that there isn’t any disagreement later. It’s also vitally important that you set a specific start and end date to the project. You also need to make sure that a penalty clause is included for not finishing on-time. This ensures that your contractor isn’t flaking or leaving for another job or two, and then returning a week later.
- Make sure your contractor has everything they need! Just like keeping your friends in the loop, you will want to make sure that your contractor has everything they need (materials, appliances, etc.) to start and finish the job properly. The last thing you need is to realize you forgot some shelving and have to run to Home Depot to get what you need at the last second or, worse: ordering it and waiting months for something to come in.
Last, but not least…
Enjoy your home bar!
Once the project is finished, it’s time to hang out. Invite friends over to watch a game or have a family night with some games or a movie! Enjoyment of what you built is what your projects are all about!