It was recently when we had dinner at Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka’s townhouse uptown, that we swooned over the full speakeasy bar that is the back room downstairs. That’s right, it’s not in the back room, it is the back room; all that was missing were our martinis and a tuxedo-clad bartender.
While we won’t fool ourselves in thinking we can open a fully operating bar in our New York one-bedroom apartments quite yet, it did inspire us to get down to the basics of building an at-home bar for ourselves that we can walk over to post-work in that sultry way that a Bond girl would, and “fix” our significant others and ourselves a drink. Tempted yet? We turned to Jeffrey Beers – the architect and founder of Jeffrey Beers International, icon in the field of hospitality design – for how to build the perfect home bar in any space, whether you’re working with an entire room (lucky you) or a simple bar cart in the corner of your apartment. See his guide below, and start making old-fashioned’s for you and your dog (or you and your significant other) like a boss…
How to Choose a Stand Alone Bar
Bar carts were very popular in the 1950’s to 1960’s when mid-century design was prevalent and cocktail culture spread from the office to the home. The recent reemergence of specialty cocktails has encouraged a new interest in bar carts and the design options today are endless. I personally prefer a stainless steel finish – not only does sealed waxed steel last forever, it can also look modern and cool as well as give a traditional yacht club feel. Melrose Bar Cart by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams is a great example.
Brass is the iconic metal for bars and I love it. However it demands a lot of upkeep and polishing as it easily discolors; it gets a rather funky if you let it go and it oxidizes.
How to Turn Shelves into a Bar
If you don’t have space for a bar cart, you can turn existing shelves and book cases into a standard bar. For a forward and unique look, I would personally organize a grid of cubbies onto the wall, and when lit from the inside, they look particularly cool and fresh.
If you want to buy a cart with a stone finish, or add a stone finish to your shelves, granite is the most common and safest because it is very dense and it is resistant to stains like spilled red wine. Yet, personally, I find it boring and prefer to work with quartzite that looks more like marble. While I love marble, I shy away from using it for bars as it easily stains and demands a fair amount of upkeep. Marble and zinc are beautiful, and they give a very traditional, European aesthetic.
How to Organize Your Bar
I am a firm believer that the alcohol needs to be displayed together; either grouped together in a corner of the cart, or neatly aligned against the wall in shelves or cubbies. Limiting the space of the alcohol allows for room to display glasses, accessories, and even coffee-table books. Leaving the top of your cart empty makes a useful serving spot, yet the top of the bar can also act as a display ledge.
How to Light Your Bar
Avoid bright spotlights and go for more intimate and dimmed lighting. I personally favor lamps as they give off a nice glow, and create and warm, inviting atmosphere.
I suggest adding a couple of backless bar stools. They are a key component in a social gathering as they let you to sit either with your side or back to the bar, and allow for groups to be together and mingle comfortably in a circle formation.
Mirrors are fantastic, and they are a key component to the design of a bar and create a more social atmosphere. A framed or highly-designed mirror is normally placed above the bar cart. If you are working with shelves, mirrors are normally placed first and the shelves rest over them.
Inspiration for Bar Design
The classic u-shaped bar at the former iconic restaurant, The Four Seasons, had a beautiful center presentation with storage underneath and a chandelier above it. Overall the look was classic, elegant and quite nice.
Need some cocktail recipes to go along with your new bar cart? Here are the best bourbon cocktail recipes. Looking for more entertaining advice? Click here for some tips from our favorite tastemakers!