Man caves are going back to their prehistoric roots -- outdoors -- with a little help from modern technology.
They're moving up from the basement and out onto the patio, morphing into media rooms al fresco where the man of the house can grill some meat, pop a brew and watch a game with the guys.
The trend began a couple of years ago, fueled by the introduction of weatherproofed TVs and entertainment systems, according to Thomas Ondov, president of the Domus Vita Group of Appollo Systems in Maple Grove.
Outdoor screens first became popular in California, but with some TVs now operable down to 10-below, it's possible to move the party outside, even in Minnesota.
"I wouldn't encourage anybody to be outside watching TV in 10-below weather," Ondov said. "But it works well in fall during football season."
The outdoor man cave is really the "ultimate back yard," said Casey Loyd, product developer for California-based Cal Spas.
It's not just a deck or patio but an outdoor entertainment center, equipped with facilities for cooking, tending bar and watching a movie or sports event or playing video games.
With fewer people buying and selling homes, thanks to the economy and weak housing market, people are spending more time in the homes they have and doing what they can to make those homes more fun, Loyd said. Wireless technology also has made outdoor media rooms more practical.
"You used to have to run cables and wires," he said, "but now you can use beacons to pick up from the [inside electronics]. Kids can be out playing video games or Wii while Dad's cooking."
Dads aren't the only ones driving the trend.
"It's not just a guy thing," Ondov said. "It's an entertainment thing, a way to have access to all media. Usually, it's the husband and the wife who want it."
"Wives like the idea that the husband is outside and has his own area," he said. "And some days, the man cave becomes the woman cave. It has to be friendly to the whole family -- and cool on poker night."
Those with the urge -- and the wallet -- to impress their poker buddies are turning their back yards into "outdoor sports bars," with multiple screens, a sound system with stealth speakers camouflaged as rocks, a pizza oven and, of course, a man-sized grill.
"The man cave is all about cooking and grilling, and outdoor cavemen like big stainless-steel stuff," Loyd said. "Guys like lighting inside the grill, so they can open up the grill and see everything. No more flashlights."
An outdoor sports bar does not come cheap. A Cal Flame barbecue island with a grill, bar, 60-inch TV, plus additional screens, can run $30,000. Weatherproof TVs cost about three times more than comparably sized indoor TVs, Ondov said.
But even cavemen of modest means have options for bringing the party outside. Man Cave, a direct-sales company in northeast Minneapolis, offers a line of products pitched to man's primal instincts, including meat, rubs, barbecue accessories and beer mugs.
"There's always an urge for men to be men, to chill out and drink beer," spokesman Brandon Miller said. "What do guys do? We drink; we eat; we drink while we eat. We're simple creatures."
Weather-permitting, most men prefer doing those things outside, Miller said.
Launched last year, Man Cave now has 900 advisers in 47 states, selling its products at home-based parties, or "meat-ings," Miller said. Not all of its advisers are men. And some "meat-ings" are coed affairs, although the guests tend to segregate into traditional gender-based groupings.
"There are lots of parties where the wife is a Mary Kay or Pampered Chef rep and the husband is a Man Cave adviser," Miller said. "They have parties together. The women are inside, and the guys are outside, drinking and grilling."
What's the future for outdoor man caves? Technology will continue to offer more bells and whistles, said Loyd. The next generation will feature maintenance-free grills that steam-clean themselves. What could be more guy-friendly than that?
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784