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Bringing cocktail culture into a home bar

The bar at this Roslyn Harbor home is

The bar at this Roslyn Harbor home is ready for entertaining. (Nov. 22, 2013) Credit: Jeremy Bales

As party season moves into full swing, hosts and hostesses may find that the cleverest conversations, the juiciest bits of gossip and the best jokes often are told around a well-stocked bar.

"I honestly think that there's something very grown-up and fun about the cocktail coming back," says Robin Liberatore of Robinteriors in Babylon. "Back in the 1950s, it was appropriate to have a bar cart, which you would push from room to room. It was a traveling party."

These days, full wet bars -- that is, bars with sinks incorporated, and bars with wine refrigerators, are not uncommon. And, as with many vintage trends, classic bar carts are making a comeback.

"When I started my company back in 2011, I saw the bar cart trend starting to come back," says Roxy Owens, owner of Society Social, a cocktail culture lifestyle brand. "They've become popular, because 'smaller spaces' is a home and housing trend. Also, entertaining at home is becoming even more important with how the economy has been."

The best part about entertaining at home is getting to design a space that suits your needs and the needs of your guests, regardless of size limitations or budgetary constraints. One of your most important considerations should be how the space functions.

"Think about your space plan," says builder Chuck Stroehlein of Colonial Concepts Corp. in Valley Stream. "Where do you put the sink? Where do you put the shelves to hold water, juice, mixers? Where is the fridge? And how do you use the back of the bar? You want to be able to say, 'Here's where the Scotch goes. Here's where the tequila goes. Here's where my special glass goes.' Take all that into account."

Think, too, about what you'll actually use. If you're a wine drinker, then having the right oenophile accoutrements will be satisfying. Decanters, glasses and wine storage options should all be considered. If you're a martini fan, make sure there's a place for shakers and olives. But don't feel the need to accommodate every whim. "You can get a wonderful tray to isolate a specific space or area you want to use for your bar, but not everything has to be on display," says Ellen Baron-Goldstein of Baron-Goldstein Design in Manhasset. "If you like bourbon, you can have a few beautiful bottles on display. Or, if you like cocktails, you can have martini glasses and a shaker, and that can be your bar."

Add a few cocktail napkins, a small dish or two for garnishes, and your setup is complete. "Sometimes, people put too much liquor out," says Baron-Goldstein. "Unless you have the space, you don't need to put all your liquor on display. Only put out what's pretty. Isolate a few decanters, beautiful glasses, even candy. Something that draws you to that space."

Above all, remember to make the space about fun. "When you entertain at home, it's fun and festive to have a signature, whether it's custom coasters, or a custom cocktail you make," says Owens. "I have a bell that I always ring at cocktail time. I like to think about the guests coming over, but I don't like to fuss so much over details."


A trend toward smaller homes, the popularity of "Mad Men" and a seemingly endless yearning for all things vintage means bar carts are back in a big way. This one, designed for the recent Design Showhouse at Hempstead House at Sands Point Preserve, is by Robin Liberatore of Robinteriors.

The Babylon designer added the cart to her masculine space to bring some festivity to the room without taking up a lot of square footage. "Bar carts are a perfect option for people who want to save room," says Liberatore. "They add a lot of fun to a space, and they're trending as one of the hottest things right now." This cart's mood began with the ice bucket, which she bought from One Kings Lane, an online source. "I like the ice bucket's modern edge, and I didn't want too much crystal," she says. "This bucket is a little masculine without being over-the-top." The vintage bar cart, which was a find from her best friend's mother's basement, is kept relatively clutter-free with only a few important items on display. "You want your bar cart to be a one-stop shop," she says. "Cluster the alcohol, put the mixers on the bottom. Put out a few glasses, a few cute straws, a shaker and your garnishes. That's all you need. The most important items -- ice, alcohol -- are on top. You want your cart to be visually pleasing."


Part of the charm of a home bar is being able to entertain without a lot of fuss. With this full-featured home bar in Roslyn Harbor, designer Ellen Baron-Goldstein of Baron-Goldstein Design in Manhasset incorporated simple, practical materials, such as an easy-to-clean soapstone countertop and wet-bathing-suit-proof faux leather upholstery to make this poolside lounge area a breeze to sidle up to. "This bar has a casual feel to it, from the round shape of the bar, which helps keep the conversation going, to the warm, woven twine on the walls," she says. Deciding what type of alcohol would be served at the bar also helped to inform the design. "The homeowner wanted wine at the bar and Champagne, so we needed two wine refrigerators, which we placed side by side." Baron-Goldstein says she wanted to make sure glasses and decanters were easy to access. But not everything needed to be on display.

"It's nice to have access to your glasses, but it's also important to have the right setup," she says. "Your finest selection liquors -- your premium bottles -- should be on display. Maybe some great martini shakers. But you don't want your blender on display." Lighting was the final touch, adding an element of warmth. "We dropped the ceiling to give the bar a more intimate feel and to separate the space," she says. "And we used low-voltage lights on a dimmer to give the area a cozy appeal."


For a family that loves sports, setting up a place where everyone can watch games and socialize just felt right at this East Rockaway home, especially in the wake of superstorm Sandy. "After Sandy, there was water all over the basement, and they had to treat for mold," says Chuck Stroehlein of Colonial Concepts Corp., the Valley Stream company that built the bar.

"So they pumped out the basement, and then it was a clean canvas and we had to do everything over." The family said they didn't want to just see a revised product of what was once here, but rather see something that made them happy after what Sandy did. So Stroehlein got to work, turning the lower level into a gathering place. "This corner has a lot of natural light, and there were also a lot of natural nooks and crannies in the structure of the home that created natural shelves," he says. "We used those as part of our space plan behind the bar. The trough behind the bar is made out of Brazilian rosewood left over from a piece of flooring from a Lower Manhattan Gap store that I did years ago."

Other important elements in the bar design include two flat-screen television sets, a lighted onyx column that works as both a night light and an accent light, and plenty of low-voltage and task lighting.

"We used low-voltage lighting above where the alcohol is," says Stroehlein. "We also added hockey-puck lighting from Home Depot. It lights up all the alcohol colors."

Finally, Stroehlein and the family filled the bar with personal memorabilia to add friendly, conversational elements. "Having a signed baseball or something like that around will always give you something to talk about, even if there's four feet of snow outside and there's nothing on TV," he says. And conversation is the main point of a bar like this one. Says Stroehlein: "You don't have to drink alcohol to be at the bar."

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