Building Your Home Bar
You have been thinking about it. You have been dreaming about it. Now, you're finally going to do it. You are ready to build your own home bar!
Did you just buy a house or landed a sweet new pad with the perfect space that is just screaming "BAR!!!"? Or maybe, you have been thinking about building one for years. Either way it is time! Your home bar will be a source of enjoyment for you, your family and friends for years to come. A home bar is an investment -- one of the best ones you will ever make, but an investment nonetheless. So make sure you do it right! We are home bar owners and urge you to learn from what we have done right and what we have royally messed up. Let our experience help you build the best bar possible! To get started, ask yourself the following questions before you build.
The Basics | Look and Feel | Exploring Your Options | Draft Beer and Wine Refrigeration | Wine Refrigerators | Beer Refrigerators and Draft Beer Systems
Bar Arm Rests and Bar Foot Rails | Bar Stools and Seating | Layout and Design | Building Yourself vs. Hiring | Stocking Your Bar
- Do you want your bar to be moveable or permanent?
- Who is going to build your home bar? You? Enlisting a few drinking buddies to help? Or, are you hanging up your hammer and hiring a contractor or carpenter?
Is there a theme to your home bar? Just think of the possibilities:
- Irish/English Pub
- Game Room
- Sports Bar
- Tiki Cantina
- Or are just trying to relive your good old college days?
You have got tons of choices and the decisions are all yours; so make sure you spend a few minutes and decide what you want. Having trouble deciding? Ask yourself:
- How much time are you going to spend in your bar room?
- Is your bar in a room by itself? Do you use the room for things other than entertaining?
- Do you want the bar to be the focal point of the room?
There are tons of options when building a home bar. Here are the most common:
- Will you be putting in a full back bar or simply wall shelving behind the bar?
- Will this be a wet bar (sink) or dry bar (no sink)? If you want a wet bar you'll obviously need to run water lines and a drain system. These lines may already exist in your basement. For this type of work you may want to enlist the help of a plumber or a buddy who has experience building his own bar.
- Do you want beer on tap? If so, you will need to install a draft beer system. When planning this system, think about how many faucets you want to install; most home bars have one or two. Keep in mind that running beer lines long distances is very expensive. Commercial bars spend thousands of dollars to run beer lines from their basements to their main serving floors. We highly recommend that you keep your refrigeration and serving areas close to each other, to avoid these costs.
- Will you need an exhaust system? If you've got smokers in the crowd then this is a must!
- What type of refrigeration will you need? You may want a refrigerator for soda, mixers and bottled beers or possibly a separate wine refrigerator.
- Will you be putting in an ice machine?
- How much storage do you want? Glassware, liquor bottles, cocktail recipe books, bar tools and blenders all take up space.
- Bathroom, we highly recommend it! You know the deal! So, if you have the space, consider adding a half bath nearby. When you have the guys over for the big game or office gathering, a nearby restroom cuts down on extra house traffic.
Refrigeration is one of the most important components of your home bar. There are many types of bar refrigeration: Wine Refrigerators, Draft Beer Refrigerators, Kegerators, Beverage Centers, and Ice Makers. The type of refrigeration you decide to incorporate into your bar will be based on how much room you have, the amount of money you plan to spend and what you like to drink. As a simple solution you may use a single piece of refrigeration like a back bar refrigerator to store beer, wine, and soda. More complex bars include building your refrigeration units into the counter or under the bar. If you choose to go this route you need to make sure the compressor vents are in the front of your unit, or that the unit is labeled as being able to be built-in. If you do not do this the hot air given off by the compressor has nowhere to vent to and ends up burning out the compressor motor. One major piece of advice: get all the refrigeration, sinks and larger items that need to be installed BEFORE you begin building the bar!
There are many different styles and sizes of wine refrigerators or wine chillers. The size you need can be determined by how many bottles of wine you are looking to chill as well as what types of wines you drink most often. Smaller wine chillers hold around 16 bottles; larger wine refrigerators can hold over 100 bottles! Many of the models available are small enough to fit on your back bar or counter top. Love the reds? Only drink the whites? Use this wine temperature chart to help you with your decision.
Installing your own draft beer system or kegerator is not as hard as you think! Remember, it is much easier to add a draft beer system up front rather than try to add one after you have built your home bar. There are several ways you can pour draft beer at your home bar without breaking the bank. First, note that draft (keg) beer must be kept cold at all times. If it is not kept cold, the beer gets foamy and then you have to waste precious beer pouring off the foam. For this reason, you want to keep your beer and beer lines close to your source of refrigeration. Not only will this help reduce wasted beer, it will also save money in set-up costs. A very popular option is a single keg fridge that is designed to be built into a bar or cabinet system. These typically have the beer tower (faucets) sitting on your bar top with the fridge located directly underneath. Under the counter keg refrigerators are easy to install and can also be used as stand alone units if the need arises. Most people build these units into their back bars, but they can be placed on the front bar as well. Another option is use a stand-alone draft beer refrigerator and set it to the side of the bar. Unless you are looking to use a commercial grade unit, you can usually save a few hundred dollars by using a stand-alone keg refrigerator. Want to use an old refrigerator you already have? This is also an option. Taking an old refrigerator, like the kind you have in your kitchen, and converting it into a kegerator is simple. You can position the fridge so it is out of the way or decorate it and make it the focal point of the bar. Whichever way you choose to display it, you will want to make sure you have a drip tray to catch the excess foam so it doesn't spill onto your floor.
If you are planning on serving canned or bottled beer, wine, malt beverages, soda and/or juice you will probably want to consider a Beverage Center. Beverage Centers come in various sizes and can generally be built into the cabinet system of your back bar. Most of these units come with a glass door so you can display what you have available for your guests.
This is one item that most people never really think about. Running up the stairs constantly to fill the ice bucket is no fun. They now make small, portable, under-the-counter ice makers. Some don't even require a drain line. If you buy a lot of bagged ice, one of these machines will easily pay for itself.
The final touches for your basement or recreation room bar will be Arm Rests and Foot Rails. Your bar might look okay without foot rails, but handrails or arm rests are a must if you care about the comfort of your guests and how your bar looks! There are two different styles of arm rests: metal arm rests and wood arm rests.
Wood Arm Rests
You can use sculpted arm rests to easily add comfort to your bar. They are available in many types of wood and are usually sold unstained. First, stain or paint the arm rests to match your bar. Allow time to dry completely. Next comes installation a fairly simple process. It is most common to glue the lip of the arm rest to the front corner of the bar and use finishing nails to secure it. Then, you can brace the underside of the arm rest with a 1" x 4" (or appropriate sized) piece of wood, depending on how far the top of the bar overhangs the front. We suggest that you use your best judgment when assembling your arm rests. Other methods of installation might work better depending on the exact specs of your bar. .
Metal Arm Rests
Some people prefer metal arm rests which are available in several finishes because they better capture the "feel" of their bar. There are 3 components to the metal arm rest system: the rail, the bracket, and the end caps. First, the rail extends the length of the bar and gives people something to lean on. The brackets are used to connect the rails to the bar and hold the rail up. The brackets should be installed at least ever 4 ft. to make sure the rails do not bed. To make sure your bar looks polished, the end caps go on both ends of the rail to complete the picture of you as swanky bar owner. Once you have decided on your arm rests you should definitely consider foot rails. We highly recommend them both for looks and comfort. Most bars and pubs have them because they "get it". Standing with one foot resting on something while leaning against a bar or having a place for your guests to rest their feet while sitting is always a plus it is just more comfortable! Both arm rests and foot rests are difficult to make on your own. So, we suggest that you buy the bar foot rails and arm rests then install them yourself. Installing these on your own is very simple and can usually be done by yourself or with just one of your buddies..
Metal Foot Rails
Foot rails are an amazing add-on to your bar. They add a touch of class that will truly set your bar apart from other home bars. Foot rails, or bar rails as some call them, are available in many different styles and finishes. The most popular are brass foot rails, but for outdoor use we recommend stainless steel foot rails for added durability. Just like the metal arm rests, there are three components of the foot rail system: the railing, the bracket and the end caps. Depending on the size and layout of your bar, you may want to use one of the 90 or 135 degree bends. These bends are used to wrap the rails around the corners of your bar. We recommend that you space the Foot Rail Brackets 4' apart, and six inches from any bends for proper support. Feel free to call our Customer Support Team if you need help planning and/or purchasing your Bar Rails.
Once you have your home bar constructed, you will need a place for people to sit. There are many varieties and sizes of Bar Stools, and they range in cost from very reasonable to quite expensive. You will first need to determine if you want Wood Bar Stools or Metal Bar stools. If your bar is the standard 42" you will most likely want 30" Bar Stools.
Wood Bar Stools
Wood Bar Stools will give you a traditional pub feel. They are generally a little more expensive, but they are durable and you can customize them by choosing your wood, stain and even the pattern for the cushion. If you decide to customize them to match the bar, expect anywhere between a 4-8 week lead-time as they will be built to your exact specifications.
Designer Metal Bar Stools
If your home bar has more of a contemporary feel, you may want to use Metal Bar Stools that have a slicker look to complement your bar. As with the wood bar stools, there are many different styles and sizes available. Generally, these designer metal stools are made to order. They also have a lead-time of 4 - 8 weeks, possibly even a bit longer.
Standard Metal Pub Stools
These are the Bar Stools that you have seen everywhere, and for good reason. They are reasonably priced and extremely durable. Metal bar stools offer a lot of variety: backless, stools with half backs, stools with full backs, etc. and a variety of colors. Probably the most common style is the black bar stool with no back that you have seen hundreds of times. With these types of stools, it is usually easy to find what you are looking for and to get the stools quickly.
Laying out the design of your home bar is where it all starts to come together. Going through this planning process will help you know what size bar your space can accommodate, what type of bar furniture and beer refrigeration you will need, as well as how long this project may take. We suggest that you visit your favorite taverns and/or restaurants and take a close (sober) note of what you like in a bar. Think about what elements and styles you like: Do you like a big glass mirror behind the bar? What types of stools and bar rails are your style? Take special note of the bar is structure - how was it made, what's it made out of? Bring along a digital camera pictures always help!
Before you sketch consider these important factors:
When you are ready to lay out your home bar the first thing you must consider is space. With this in mind, think about the following:
- Will the bar be just one straight side? L-shaped? Horseshoe? Rectangular?
- If you're working off of a concrete floor, outline your layout in chalk. If the floor is already finished, use coins, paper or string to outline where things will go.
- Once you have your initial layout complete, transfer it to paper. Be sure to use precise measurements.
- Remember, your bar is going to be three dimensional. So, the outlines on the floor will not visually take up as much space as your finished bar, because you are going to add a height component.
- The average home bar is 42" high and 24" deep. You can adjust these measurements to fit your own needs. Just remember that most bar stools are 30" tall so your bar should not be much lower than 42" high.
- What are you going to keep behind the bar? Are you going to have a sink and where will it go? If so you will need to have plumbing and drainage.
- Sinks are usually placed under the front bar,but putting them in the back bar is not unheard of. They come in all shapes and sizes from a simple, shallow one-bowl hand sink to a standard bar sink (with legs and up to three bowls and a drain board). These are usually made of stainless steel and can be built-in.
- Take into account where your existing plumbing is located. This can help determine where to build your home bar.
- Ask yourself: What restrictions and obstacles are there? Low ceiling height? Sump pump? Where are the electricity and cable TV outlets?
- Are you going to have refrigeration for beer and cocktail mixers? You will need to figure out where they will go and make sure you have an electrical outlet near by.
- Glassware is another thing to consider, will you be putting in an overhead stemware rack, stacking it on back bar shelving or putting it in drawers?
- Will you be adding a big screen TV or entertainment center? Positioning these correctly is key.
- Also think about outlets for a TV, additional lighting, popcorn maker, blender, etc.
When putting in a home bar, you have three options: purchase and install a Ready-To-Assemble (RTA) home bar, build a custom bar yourself, or hire a contractor to do the custom job for you. There are many factors that come into play in this decision making process. The route you take will depend on the amount of free time you have, the amount money you have to spend, how handy you are, your time frame, etc. Below are some things to consider when you weigh your options.
Hiring a Contractor:
For big projects we suggest hiring a general contractor. A home bar has many facets and will require several different trades. A contractor will handle all the plumbing, electrical, carpentry, permits (if needed) and cleanup. The contractor will work with you on design and can alert you to any potential problems and/or concerns. These guys are worth their weight in gold! Most likely they will get the job done quickly, with few headaches on your end. It is a much safer bet than relying your buddy is uncle who used to do some electrical work "back in the day". Before you start:
- Get a few estimates. They are typically free and you will have greater bargaining power on price in the end if you do.
- Have your wish list ready in writing, so that neither you, nor the contractor overlooks anything. Take the advice from above, sketch out your ideas and plans, and have this ready as well.
Once you receive your estimates read them over carefully! A good estimate will include a contract, price breakout, total cost, and payment terms. Make sure EVERY element you want is included in the estimate before you select your contractor. Once you select a contractor, make sure you discuss a time line for completion (and hold them to this date!). Have the contractor include this date in the contract, along with a penalty clause if they don't meet it. Most reputable contractors will do this. Beware of the guy who has six jobs going at once! You want your contractor to show up everyday and get the job done. Before your contractor starts the job, we highly recommend that you get all the refrigeration, sinks and larger items that you need for your bar BEFORE the contractor starts! Do not let the contractor guess on sizing, have all items at your house. This will eliminate any nasty surprises like things not fitting, doors not having enough room to open and other ugly spacing issues.
Building the Bar Yourself:
Hey, if you are up for the challenge, we say do it! If you are fairly handy, or have some fairly handy friends that will work for beer, it can be a good time and a great hobby. Building your own home bar can be fun and give you a sense of pride in your creation!
Before you start:
- Get everything you need before you start! This helps you plan, measure and build.
- Don't buy the cheapest stuff you can find. Staying within your budget is important, but quality is important too! You don't want to be constantly replacing things it is a pain!
- Get extra materials! Unless, you or one of your friends is a carpenter you will most likely make a few mistakes and having extra pieces and parts saves headaches!
- If you are having friends help, have them over and let them check out your drawings. Hang them up! Let everyone see what you envision! Get everyone on the same page.
- Usually 1 or 2 helpers are plenty at a given time. The more people you have helping you at once, the faster it turns into a Joe telling Jeff about his hot new secretary there will be plenty of time for that AFTER the bar is built!.
- If you have a workstation outside of your bar area, keep in mind that you need to be able get every piece of the bar from your shop to the bar room.
- Don't crack a beer until after you are done working for the day, especially if you are using power tools.
- Arm Rests and Bar Foot Rails give that finished look to any bar! Professional looking Arm Rests and Foot Rails are hard to recreate. We suggest buying these and installing them yourself.
When your Home Bar is finally finished you will need to stock it so you can pour drinks and entertain! Getting your Bar Supplies and Bar Accessories is often the most fun part of building your bar. You can get anything you have ever dreamed of or have seen at a bar. Everything you need breaks down into three basic groups: alcohol, mixers and bar accessories. What you finally decide to have behind the bar will depend on what drinks you serve the most of, but below are basics:
The brand names and types of alcohol that you use to stock your bar depend on your favorite brand and what type of drinks you like. To get started, here is a list of the basics that any bar will need:
- Triple Sec
Depending on your personal preference there are many other types of liquor that you may choose to have. So be creative!
Everyone loves a good mixed drink! Below are some of the basics you will need to keep everyone happy:
- Orange juice
- 7-Up or Sprite
- Tonic water
- Soda Water
- Iced Tea
- Cranberry juice
- Pineapple juice
These are some of the basics you will need to mix and serve your drinks. You will probably find other tools that you like, and some of the ones on the list you won't use. That is what makes having your own bar fun; it reflects you and your personal tastes. Here is what we suggest to start:
- Shot Glasses
- Cocktail Shaker
- Bar Caddy
- Bottle Openers
- Bar Mats
- Bottle Pourers
- Straws and Stirrers
- Margarita Glass Rimmer
- Glassware: Beer Mugs, Wine Glasses, Rocks Glasses
- Ultimate Home Bar Set this gives you everything you need to start!
We hope this guide you has given you a better understanding of what goes into building your home bar, shown you some short cuts and aided to the overall design and look of your home bar. Have fun with it! And feel free to give us a call with questions! We are here to help!