Beverage Centers and Wet Bars

- Thursday, May 03, 2012

Growing up as a kid in the 1970’s, I remember often gathering at the homes of relatives and friends. Whether it was a backyard barbeque after a ball game or the celebration of a cousin’s birthday, we would eat, play, socialize and have a good time.

In particular, I liked to visit my Uncle Charles' house. He had a large recreation room on the lower level of his 1950's era split-level home. I just thought it was the coolest space ever. Everyone would congregate down there and hang out. In one corner he had a built-in bar. I remember it had black Formica "slate" countertops and a black "pleather" padded armrest around the top edge. The front was finished in some sort of faux bamboo material and the barstools were covered in matching black pleather with tall, spindly iron legs. It was a favorite gathering spot in the house and I just knew that when I grew up I wanted to have one in my own house one day.

 Even at that young age I think I knew the entire set-up had a certain kitschy appeal to it. I know that for some people, the mere mention of the term wet bar can conjure up these images of a cheesy man cave, decked-out with sports memorabilia and blinking neon signs, and perhaps a collection of shot glasses featuring various images of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe.

 However, it needn't be that way. Beverage centers and wet bars can be designed in myriad styles and finishes to be integrated into your home and they can provide more than just a spot to mix margaritas or shake martinis. They can provide a space for extra prep when entertaining or function as a wine or coffee bar as well. A refreshment center can be as simple or elaborate as you desire and your budget allows.

 A simple table top bar set-up can be made on the surface of a butler's table or sideboard. A more integrated arrangement can be built inside an armoire, sometimes even plumbed with a sink and a wine cooler. A full-scale, built-in wet bar with cabinetry and a countertop can be discretely installed in a corner or niche of a room or take center-stage and become the focal point.

Consider the type of refreshments you want to provide. Will you be serving coffee or wine or cocktails? Maybe all of these? Be sure to provide space for the appropriate drink-ware storage and ingredients.

 Will you need any specialty appliances or equipment like a beverage cooler, an ice maker, a mixer, or a dishwasher? Do you want a sink? Will this be a sit-down space with room for barstools? What type of countertop do you want to use? What type of lighting will you need? Think about providing ambient lighting as well as task lighting.

So, now that I am a grown-up, did I get my bar? Well, not quite the kitschy one Uncle Charles had in his home. However, when I remodeled the kitchen a few years back, I did carefully plan a space near the door to the dining room to serve as one. An under-counter wine cooler keeps the whites cool while there is space for the reds in the open lattice-style upper cabinets above it. An adjacent wide base cabinet has roll-out drawers on the bottom for bottles, sodas, and mixers. The shallow top drawer holds bottle openers and corkscrews, stoppers, wine glass tags, cocktail napkins, etc. Above this bank of drawers are glass door cabinets that store the crystal wine, martini, and cocktail glasses.

The set-up is ideal as it is an extension of the main work area of my kitchen but it allows drinks to be made without getting in the way of food prep during dinner parties. My favorite part? A collection of kitschy 1950's cocktail napkins depicting cartoon dogs enjoying their bespoke cocktails that  I had individually framed and hung in a row along the backsplash space. They are fun and festive and perfectly set the tone for entertaining and enjoying my guests.

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