Bottoms up: Dayton couple builds custom bars to quench basement bar craze

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2014 - 1:24 PM

By quirk and circumstance, Bob and Kelly Rodenberg have gotten into a brisk business.

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Kelly and Bob Rodenberg of Dayton, who fill orders for custom wooden bars when they aren’t working at their full-time jobs, have sold 28 since July.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON , Star Tribune

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It was an emergency of the highest order. Bob and Kelly Rodenberg were hosting a murder-mystery dinner party and needed a bar fast.

They found one on Craigslist and got by, but Bob Rodenberg thought he could do better. He meticulously built a long bar out of tongue-and-groove pine. And then he sold it.

The Dayton couple realized they’d stumbled onto a growing niche: helping others dress out their party spaces and man caves.

Decades after suburbanites ripped out those dated basement bars and new homeowners having shunned them altogether, many are now installing downstairs watering holes.

The Rodenbergs have sold 28 since they started building custom bars in July in their garage. They’ve also outfitted several man caves. They both have full-time jobs, so they work in the wood shop early mornings, evenings and weekends. They can barely keep up with orders coming into their business, Builder Bob, they said.

The couple say they’re stunned by the demand and the gush of gratitude when they deliver finished bars, often custom built to fit awkward basement spaces.

They’ve built bars for end-of-harvest parties and upcoming Super Bowl bashes. Most of their customers find them through word of mouth, social media and the Internet at http://www.builderbob.biz/. Customers come from as far away as Wisconsin and South Dakota.

Theories on the surge

What’s fueling the basement bar resurgence? Perhaps it’s the popularity of the “Mad Men”-era decorating and design aesthetic. Maybe it’s pegged to the home-brewing and wine-making movement. Or maybe it parallels the craft cocktail craze.

The Rodenbergs have their own theories.

“People just like to be with people. It’s a conversation piece. It’s a reason to get together,” said Kelly Rodenberg, 47.

A basement bar is as much about mingling as it is about the drinks, the couple said. (Their own beverage of choice at most parties: Diet Coke on the rocks.)

Kelly Rodenberg also theorizes that, post-economic downturn, people are settling into their homes and turning lemons into lemonade.

Finally, they say, drinking at home is comfortable and safer and having a bona fide bar makes it more fun.

“People are concerned about the drinking laws and like to party at home,” said Bob Rodenberg, 53.

The couple’s prices start at $350 and go up, depending on size, wood choice and other specifications. They also venture beyond the bar business. In an interesting twist, they’ve also built a church altar for the good Samaritan Society-Ambassador chapel in New Hope and they’ve constructed a few crosses for churches in the state.

Closer together

The Rodenbergs say their side business has brought them closer together.

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