The hottest new bar in town may just be your neighbor’s garage.
Instead of hitting the bar scene, many Americans are bringing hospitality home with them with full-service, sophisticated in-home bars.
And it’s not just bar carts and a few bottles: These full-scale drinking dens come with shiny wood counters and all the booze-making bells and whistles.
In Miami, Florida, Gio Gutierrez created a speakeasy tropical oasis in his backyard, complete with a fully stocked bar, koi pond and seasonal cocktails.
“I love to cook and I love to drink. And I love to do both,” said Gutierrez, lifting the lid on a roasting pan and admiring his work. “It’s just a fun way for me to experiment and get people buzzing and be social and hang out and mingle.”
Gutierrez even creates a seasonal menu for his cocktails and posts it online. Though visitors to “Gio’s Pond” must be invited, Gutierrez is open to the idea of meeting new people in this unique at-home setting. In fact, guests at a recent “Taco Tuesday” included “random people I met at a bar last week,” said Gutierrez.
Across the country in Los Angeles, Joe Brooke offers his guests a more traditional garage experience, complete with sawdust and power tools.
“Every dude’s gotta have a place to, you know, have drinks and such. No better place to do it than a garage,” said Brooke of his "Barage" as he vacuumed up dust and cleared wood scraps to make way for cocktail imbibing.
As more people come together in backyards and garages, the traditional watering hole is actually on the decline. According to the U.S. Census, over a 15-year period up to 2013, the number of drinking establishments in the United States fell by more than 11,000.
Compounding the interest in at-home bars, industry research from Mintel shows that alcohol drinkers consume nearly twice the amount of drinks at home as they do in restaurants or bars in a month.
Brooke likes to host a few dozen people in The Barage at a time, all friends or friends of friends looking for a relaxing place to drink a well-crafted cocktail, eat home-cooked food (his wife Jennifer helps with that), and play a game of darts.
“The last thing we want is to go anywhere pretentious,” said Brooke. In The Barage, high-end liquor sits alongside a bung hammer and axe.
Sawdust aside, Brooke’s Barage boasts fresh oranges, lemons and mint garnishes from his nearby garden. And he can mix a piña colada like the best of them (apparently the secret ingredient is the right type of sweetened coconut cream), thanks to years of working in bars.
“I just wanted something that was just a fit of all the hodgepodge of all the heteronormative things that I like to do. You know, like tend bar and build things out of wood,” said Brooke, with his signature snark.
In a small studio apartment in Hollywood, California, Rachel Mae Furman ditched a dining table to install a bar instead. “The three things I do here are I sleep, I work, and I have friends over. So I don’t really need a dining room. So why not have a bar?”
More and more people are asking this same question and getting in on the craze. Sunset magazine editor-in-chief Irene Edwards said it’s a trend that spans from living rooms to home goods manufacturers, citing an increase in bar cart sales. “What could be more exclusive, what could be more VIP than having your friends over in the comfort of your own home? Have this gorgeously decorated space, be able to pour them a craft cocktail,” said Edwards. “It’s the most amazing, memorable night out that you can imagine. Or in,” she laughed.
Spritzing an Old Fashioned with hickory smoked salt, Furman calls at-home bars “the wave of the future.” She has named her small but posh bar “Smoke and Honey,” and says her guests love the departure from the typical nightclub. “We don’t have to worry about being in an atmosphere where it’s crowded, where you have to pay for every drink, where the music is blaring. We can kind of make it exactly what we want,’ said Furman.
Most of these at-home entertainers don’t collect any money from their guests, but otherwise run their bars with the seriousness of a hospitality expert. Furman has even turned it into a full time gig, consulting people on how to build their own home bars.
She thinks bringing people together in the home is reviving a tradition of a bygone era. “I feel like this is something that people did in the ‘60s,” said Furman. “And I feel like we’ve lost that a little bit.”
And she’s more than willing to help bring it back. “[I’m] trying to change the world, one cocktail at a time,” said Furman, half joking. “So if that has to happen in my living room right now, then so be it."