Summer is all about al fresco aperitifs, and having a bar in the back yard makes evening cocktails on the patio easier and more festive than trudging to the kitchen for a refill. But an outdoor bar is about more than having a convenient place to keep your liquor. It’s all about the atmosphere and the company. Whether you’re celebrating with friends or enjoying a quiet evening on the patio with your sweetheart, a backyard bar area should be inviting and relaxing. It should jive with your patio décor, and it should make you want to sit out under the string lights until the cows come home.
Here, then, is a basic guide to designing and stocking your outdoor bar.
Where Should You Build It?
Whether your outdoor space is huge or the size of a postage stamp, you’ll be able to find a little space to carve out for your bar. You’ll probably be using your bar later in the afternoon and in the evenings, so keep that in mind when deciding where to put it. Ideally, it’ll be in a shady spot, facing any direction besides west so that you’re not squinting into the sun while you’re concocting drinks. Think about the types of cocktails you’ll be making, and if there’s a blender or other electrical appliance involved, make sure you locate your bar near an outlet.
Decide on the Dimensions
A standard bar is 42 inches tall, and standard bar stools are 30 inches high. Your bar should be at least two feet deep so that there’s plenty of room to mix and serve drinks. The length of the bar depends on how much space you have and how many people you want to seat. Each barstool needs about three feet of space, so to seat four, your bar should be 12 feet long. You can make the bar straight, L-shaped, U-shaped, or even square. If your bar is going to have a roof, plan for it by making sure your space has ample clearance.
Consider All the Features
Depending on how you’ll use the bar and how much money you want to spend on it, you can either go super simple and just build the structure, or you can go all out and create a bar worthy of a cover fee. Either way, think about the features you want your bar to have. Endless accessories are available for an outdoor home bar, including ice makers, beer and wine refrigerators, and even taps. For a simpler bar, at least make space for a cooler, or find a vintage-style rolling beverage cart to keep your beer on ice.
If you’re going all out, you can have your bar wired up with light fixtures. Otherwise, consider decking out your bar in solar string lights. Solar lights charge during the day and come on automatically at night, and they don’t cost a thing to operate. Electrical string lighting is brighter than solar lights, but the bulbs burn out faster. If you go the electrical route, opt for round bistro bulbs, or go vintage with long Edison bulbs, which are extra hot in 2019.
You’ll probably want to pipe in music when you’re enjoying your bar, so invest in a pair of outdoor wireless speakers. You can hook the speakers up to your device via Bluetooth and create play lists for every type of party you can imagine.
If you’ll be using your bar in the colder months, invest in some patio heaters, or build an outdoor fireplace near the bar. Likewise, if it’s sweltering where you live, install shade umbrellas and a misting system to keep things cool.
Stock Up for the Summer
You probably don’t want to sink a fortune into stocking your bar with every possible ingredient, so to make it easy (and affordable,) think of two or three drinks you’d like to be able to make, and purchase the liquor, mixers, and garnishes for those. As your repertoire of drinks expands, you can gradually build up your ingredients–and your skills.
Invest in a set of bar tools that you’ll always have on hand when you’re trying new drinks. A shaker and strainer are musts, as are a jigger to measure shots and a bar spoon for thorough stirring. Invest in a quality set of measured liquor pourers, which fit over the mouth of the bottle and dispense liquor one to two ounces at a time. Keep several bottle openers on hand, including one that’s bolted down to the bar. Other must-haves include drink stirrers and beverage napkins.
Finally, stock your bar with appropriate glassware. If there’s a chance your guests are going to be barefoot, or if there are children around, opt for plastic. Eight- to 10-ounce cups are ideal for mixed drinks, and 16-ounce cups are the best size for tap beer.
You’ll need ample storage for your booze and accoutrements, so before you build your bar, decide how that’s going to look. You can install cupboards or shelves behind the bar, or keep all of your things on shelves underneath. If your bar is going to be exposed to the elements, make sure your storage is weather-proof. For bar-top storage, condiment caddies feature compartments for your lemons, limes, cherries, and other garnishes, while napkin caddies feature extra compartments for straws, stirrers, matches, or toothpicks.
Time to Decorate!
Your imagination is the limit when it comes to choosing and executing a theme for your bar. Pick the theme ahead of time so that you can choose the right materials and dream up special design features to make it truly one-of-a-kind.
For a rustic lodge look, use lots of reclaimed wood, and choose rough-hewn wooden bar stools. Hang electric or solar lanterns from the bar for an old-timey vibe.
If Tiki is more your speed, decorate with dried grass and bamboo, and install colorful string lights and plenty of Tiki heads around the bar. Don’t forget the drink umbrellas.
An elegant bar could include an outdoor chandelier and candles glimmering on a metal bar. Put down an outdoor rug, and create a comfy seating area with plenty of pillows.
For a beach theme, decorate the bar with shells, nets, life rings, and other ocean-minded artifacts. Install glass mosaic tiles in varying shades of blue on the bar top to mimic water.
Once you’re open for business, be sure to have a bar-warming shindig so you can take it for a spin. Happy building, and bottoms up!