Cocktail culture comes home

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2011 - 3:57 PM

Entertaining at home is more popular than ever with high-style bars designed to create a mood or draw in the whole family.

You don't have to leave home to get the art deco vibe of the Living Room in the W hotel or tiki kitsch of Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge. With the right ingredients, you can create an atmosphere as inviting as W. A. Frost and cocktails as smooth as the ones mixed up at Bradstreet Craftshouse.

"There's a revival of the residential lounge," said Minneapolis designer Billy Beson. "The economy is part of it. But with people's hectic schedules, they want a more intimate type of entertaining than being in a loud bar with a bunch of people you don't know."

The comeback of the cocktail culture and the growing numbers of wine collectors and beer geeks is also driving the trend toward comfortable, well-appointed home bars.

Rather than go out on weekends, Jake Rudh, an event DJ and founder of the Facebook group Twin Cities Midcentury Modern, has friends over to his basement bar room, which he describes as "straight out of a scene from 'Oceans 11.'"

Even in a down economy, new home buyers aren't eliminating bars, many of which continue to be carved out of lower levels. Instead, they're enhancing them with sophisticated finishes and materials, said Andy Porter, owner of Refined, a local home builder. "Our clients want themed bars like an Irish pub to create that atmosphere of going out."

Raising the bar

Designer Greg Walsh, owner of Walsh Design Group, agrees.

"The lower-level bar is not an afterthought anymore," he said. "It's the core initial design of a home to utilize the lower entertainment space.''

In some homes, the bar has become the hub of the basement. The newer shapes -- graceful curves or kitchen-style islands -- are designed to encourage conversation. And the bars are often surrounded by amenities -- billiards tables, golf simulators, flat-screened TVs -- that spur interaction.

And not just for adults.

"What's nice about these home bars, you can add a malt machine or smoothie machine and have a great place for the kids to hang out, too," Beson said.

That was the template for the "cottage chic" bar Betsy Conroy put in the lower-level walkout of her new Edina home. With its cheery decor and kitchen-style island topped with marble, the bar is a place for the whole family to gather.

Many newer bars, such as the Conroys', act almost as second kitchens, with built-in refrigerators, ice makers, wine chillers and microwaves. And when the party's over, dishwashers make it easier to clean up the mess.

But Lars and Amy Jenkins didn't add a bar in the basement of their 1950s rambler because they wanted the amenities. The couple recreated a Polynesian-style, tiki-themed watering hole because they're passionate about midcentury modern design.

They serve everything from mai-tais to martinis at the vintage rattan-and-green-bamboo bar they bought.

"Don the Beachcomber restaurant started it all in California," explained Lars. "Tiki bars were originally about escapism - transporting you to another place."

When they have friends over for themed parties, Lars plays exotica and German schlager music from his vast record collection to complete the retro experience.

"It's all about good company, friends and beverages," he said. "You can create your own world in your basement."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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