Opinion piece of the home bar phenomenon and what's involved in building your own libation station including how much it costs and tips for getting the right bar for your drinking needs.
There we go again, those darn Millennials. Constantly killing things like golf, diamonds, and fabric softener while mysteriously being castigated for spending money on anything remotely enjoyable. What are we being accused of shoving on a slab in the morgue too prematurely this time? Going to the bar.
Home bars are on the rise. First they were predominantly relegated to fancy estates of yore that had actual names like Bromley Fields or Colonizer Manor, then they started appearing in bachelor pads of the 1970s as little islands adjacent to beds that came out of the wall with a kilo of cocaine stuffed in the mattress.
And now home bars are seeing a HUGE resurgence, particularly among the older Millennials who have actually been able to buy a home. But even without building a fancy home bar, 28% of the under-31 set prefer drinking at home to going out whether it’s chalked up to perceived laziness, frugality, or both.
Well, unlike what most media outlets think, we’re not in our twenties anymore. Going to a noisy and crowded space where you can pay $14 for a mixed drink starts to lose its appeal after a while. Why pay $6 for a single beer after tipping the bartender when you can keep a whole six-pack in the fridge for so much less? Hell, you can even get booze delivered nowadays! (My link gets you $10 off your first order, you’re welcome!)
Even if you’re in an area where everyday things don’t run for airport prices the way they do in New York–I was astounded to find that you can get a beer in Philly for $3?!–home bars start to become appealing if you want to avoid the risk of drunk drivers or landing a DUI yourself. While the advent of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft decreased drunk driving fatalities by about 30% in my city, women have the ever-present threat of sexual harassment in bars and creeps trying to follow us home. Sometimes that creep is a rideshare driver, so…I can definitely see the appeal of just having a private bar where it’s a safe place for you and your guests to intimately gather.
But what are you going to be in for if you decide to build a home bar?
How Much Does Building a Home Bar Cost?
This ultimately depends on what you have in mind for making a home bar. What’s the scope? Are you thinking of that bachelor pad style where you could get some recessed shelves or an external shelving unit plus a wine rack, or a larger and more comprehensive home bar setup that’s going to require a significant investment? You can take the DIY route or get a professional to help design and build your setup no matter how much space it takes up.
If you want to knock a few pieces of furniture together and/or carve out some recesses in the wall, it could cost just $200-1,500 while more elaborate home bar plans can run in the upwards of $10,000 if you want to do a gut renovation.
There are also several pre-fabricated pieces out there if you’d like to make it more of a redecorating thing opposed to a huge renovation project, but these prefab options can cost significantly less than having this whole bespoke interior specially cut and designed for your home, and arrive in less time.
Of course, if you work with a contractor to have everything done all pretty and bespoke, you can get a really cool-looking setup that fits your aesthetic or matches the rest of your house which can hold more appeal than buying the same liquor cabinet thousands of other people have bought.
Still, upon looking at these numbers, gauge how much you tend to drink at home versus how much you go out to bars and think about if it’d be worth the investment. Is it just more furniture that may or may not come with you if you move, or do you think that putting a significant amount of cash into this type of renovation would do anything for the property value or even deter some buyers? Would you be better off spending this money on going out more, or taking the kind of vacation where you can get mind-blowing cocktails then have a tipsy walk to the pool?
It’s all relative to your lifestyle right now and what you reasonably expect it to look like in a few years, and the demographic makeup of where you live if you think you’ll sell your home down the line.
Outfitting Your Home Bar: Glassware Galore
Building a home bar certainly has tons of appeal if you entertain often and wanting to leave a lasting impression on your guests. Or even if you don’t entertain much but just want a little corner of your domestic refuge where you can have a drink without having to worry about bar tabs, DUIs, and loud, grabby strangers putting roofies in your drink.
On the other hand, going a step beyond keeping a couple liquor bottles in the cabinet and beer or wine in the fridge can get cumbersome. If you’re ready to upgrade from the bastion of college parties that is red Solo cups, buying glassware can feel like buying a car. You’re either going to get a lot of bang for your buck that lasts a long time, or you’re going to be full of regret that you dropped several bucks on glasses that just wind up gathering dust or need constant maintenance.
Except that while a car is a necessity in most parts of America, taking care of tons of glassware and figuring out the “right” kind to buy feel like more work than just going out on the town.
Speaking of work, you’re also going to need the right kind of rubber or silicone mats for the area where you’re preparing drinks. It need not be as tough as the kind seen in actual bars, but if you don’t want to risk staining the material then it’s prudent to just get a Sil-pat or something at the very least.
And here’s a little pro tip from when I went to bartending school an eon ago: whether you’re doing this with a home bar or working at an actual bar, never scoop ice out of the bucket or cooler with the actual glass. Using a scoop or spoon to get what you need because you can end up digging a lot harder than you think and this can cause the glass to break, and you won’t be able to see those tiny shards in the ice. Last thing you want is you or someone you care about being sent to the hospital!
Ultimately though, how much glassware do you really need?
Do you want to keep it totally restricted to your home bar area and use it for non-alcoholic drinks as well, or would you be happy with a couple dollar store highball and wine glasses? This chart is making my eyes glaze over.
So much glass and my knees are going weak thinking about packing and unpacking all of it. Think about how much you’re willing and able to spend on glassware, if you have any glassware you can already re-purpose, and what types you realistically see yourself using even if they’re not the “right” type. I mean, give me enough wine out of a tumbler glass like I’ve seen in some restaurants or a coffee mug if I didn’t bother to run the dishwasher, and it’s going to get me pretty shitfaced either way. You’re at home! Let the entropy commence! There’s something comforting about making screwdrivers in secondhand coffee mugs while in your pajamas, except you don’t need to ask that older friend to buy the booze for you this time.
On that note…
Outfitting Your Home Bar: Take Your Credit Card to the Liquor Store
(Okay, it was hard to resist an old Guns ‘N Roses reference.)
Thinking back to my aforementioned bartending school days, the certificate never landed me a single bartender job but it did teach me about 18,000 kinds of glassware I have no intention of owning. It also taught me how to make different kinds of drinks, time pouring, and my roommates at the time were quite eager to help me with my homework. One of the things they taught us was how managers kept stock of each bottle, and how you had to keep a well-stocked bar because you never knew what kind of requests you’d get.
But since this is your home bar, what kind of drinks do you like to make? What do you reasonably expect would go fast enough and just how well-stocked do you want to keep the place? Once you’ve built your home bar, it could be the perfect spot to show off that fancy scotch you got as a gift or your personal collection of esoteric vodka flavors.
But let’s get real: some of these liquors and liqueurs can end up just becoming decorations that celebrate multiple birthdays. Generally, you don’t have to worry about booze spoiling the way that you would with food expiring. But if you end up with tons of bottles that you’re not using, it’s not quite like how a bartender in a nightclub somewhere off the New Jersey Turnpike will suddenly get a request for a Thug Passion.
So, you definitely want to think about whether you’ll be fine with smaller bottles of some liquors and mixers or if you should take the Costco approach.
In addition to buying the actual liquor or other beverages, you should also ponder if you’re going to get a separate fridge for these items. Depending on how your home is set up, it could end up causing more hassle to constantly transport juice, soda, ice, fruit, and other things to the bar area so you’ll just want to keep an extra fridge around.
A mini or compact fridge could also be prudent if you have small children and you don’t want them getting into this area, potentially taking beer cans out of the fridge. Like with any other major appliance purchase, you’ll want to consider how getting one could add to your electric bill and whether the additional cost is worth it. While keeping the orange juice for screwdrivers separate from the orange juice you give your family at breakfast could make your life easier, it can also take up more headspace keeping track of all the things in that extra fridge that do have an expiration date (unlike the booze).
As an increasing number of Millennials aren’t having kids but are still showing signs of settling down no less, it’ll be curious to see how the home bar phenomenon further develops in the 2020s.
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.