Houses with swanky built-in bars quench pandemic thirst for going out
When Beth Starr purchased her Westchester County house in 2003, she loved the wooden beams, stone walls and manicured grounds. But now that she has listed her English manor-style property in Pelham, NY, for nearly $1.6 million, she’s found buyers find another detail appealing: the built-in bar.
What was once a bonus amenity has become a coveted asset as COVID-19 renders carefree nights out at crowded watering holes severely frowned upon — or, in some states like New York, still banned.
And as the weather cools and outdoor spaces close up, real-estate experts say more Americans will use their own homes as small-scale social hubs. Formal bars allow hosts to convene an intimate, trusted crew.
“With going out less of an option these days, people are looking for homes where they entertain themselves and perhaps a small group of close friends,” says Holly Mellstrom, the listing agent for Starr’s spread at 50 Mount Tom Road. “An at-home bar is a fun place for a family happy hour, whether it’s to just have smoothies with the kids or to enjoy beer right from a built-in tap.”
Adding to the fun, the 1925-built bar in Starr’s six-bedroom abode has two entrances: down a set of stairs from the main floor, or via a back door — a subtle way to access the speakeasy-style setup during Prohibition from 1920 to 1933.
“You walk through these English gardens, and there are steps down to a hidden back entrance,” says Starr, 55, who works in finance. “Head down, and you will come across this beautiful, oversized wooden door that enters into a basement room with an original stone fireplace and a bar tucked into the corner.”
She adds, “It’s been a great place to host poker nights.”
Lucky for prospective purchasers, Starr’s perch joins other tristate-area properties on the market that come complete with a formal watering hole.
Take a palatial mansion in Colts Neck, New Jersey, on the market for $7.77 million, which has a finished lower level kitted out with a billiards room, arcade and a pub with a full commercial-grade bar.
“The bar has gotten a lot more use over the past few months,” says Peter Lalima, who is selling 152 Bucks Mill Road with wife Teri. “My son Colton has people over almost every day. It’s a nice space to go out — without going out.”
There’s also a semi-hidden cigar and scotch room for intimate late-night gatherings in the basement of the 20,000-square-foot, 7-bedroom property.
Colton, a 23-year-old who works in horticultural services with his dad, has been playing bartender for his pals since bar-hopping isn’t an option.
“I’ll invite a couple of friends over and make my special 007 drink — vodka, orange juice and Sprite,” he says, noting that his Pomeranian Bentley is always at his side. “It’s been a way to feel a sense of normalcy in these crazy times.”
About 80 miles north in Greenwich, Connecticut, a Colonial-style five-bedroom home at 1 Winding Lane asking $5.49 million is similarly outfitted with a custom wooden bar.
This one, though, is lined with diner-style stools affixed to black-and-white checkered flooring. A red neon sign that reads “Linger Longer Bar” hangs above the bar. And it just so happens to overlook an indoor basketball court.
“Both the bar and basketball court are key selling features with this home,” says Sotheby’s agent Leslie McElwreath of 1 Winding Lane.
With plenty of warm days still ahead, having a private outdoor spot to throw a few back could entice those looking to get out of the house.
A six-bedroom Victorian home in Montclair, New Jersey, listed for $1.24 million oozes old-world charm. But, head out back to the patio and peek underneath to find a tucked-away tiki bar festooned with paper lanterns and colorful bar stools.
“The bar area used to be where coal bins were brought into the home long ago,” says Sue Lovit, the Compass listing agent who is representing 77 South Mountain Ave. “It’s been dubbed the ‘Faherty Bar’ after the current owner Richard Faherty created it to be a space where family and friends would gather.”
Near Atlantic City, the owner of 141 Lawrence Drive in Manahawkin, New Jersey — listed for $1.35 million — envisioned a bar area overlooking the pool, lagoon and koi pond as a neighborhood hangout. And it worked.
“The owner had an open-door policy for his bar,” says Coldwell Banker broker Rosalinda DiDonato. “When the bars would close for the evening, everyone would come to his house. Now that the bars are closed for the foreseeable future, it’s become a safe haven for close neighbors and friends to hang out and get their minds off the pandemic.”
Not in the market for a new house? Just convert an underused part of your current spread into a bar. That’s what Maplewood, NJ, resident John Garbarino did with his 400-square-foot garage.
After a $6,000 renovation, completed while Garbarino was between jobs in 2011, the dull unfinished space became the GarBar, equipped with a 14-foot oak counter, seven wooden chairs, a beer tap, a wine fridge, two TVs and an antique mirror.
The coronavirus pandemic has sparked renewed interest in his DIY project.
“I’ve been getting a ton of emails from people saying that I’ve been an inspiration to them during COVID,” says the 48-year-old married father of two. “And having our own GarBar provided us the opportunity to see some select people safely.”
The wood-paneled basement bar in a stone Tudor home for sale in the NYC suburb of Scarsdale might have the best backstory.
Listed for $1.69 million with Houlihan Lawrence, 46 Bretton Road is rumored to be built by infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel in 1920, just as Prohibition kicked off.
“The house and its speakeasy are local legends,” says owner Steven Gallen Edersheim, a 67-year-old banker who bought it with his wife Elizabeth in 2005. “We’ve even been told the chunk of wood knocked out above the fireplace next to the bar is a bullet hole.”
The four-seater area, which can be secretly accessed from the outside, is tucked discreetly under a set of stairs.
And that narrow staircase, the width of only one person, leads from the basement up to the living area — which the Edersheims think was built to prevent ambushes from outsiders descending at once.
There was also a lever in the bedroom that, when pulled, blocked the passage to keep people in the basement.
“It certainly grabbed our attention when we purchased the home,” adds Edersheim. “It’s the ultimate hidden bar.”
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