The inner-ring suburban tradition of the downstairs bar seems to be fading. Newer high-end homes might have wet bars for entertaining; new renovations might include a man-cave; but the tiny bar—I mean an actual bar, which one could stand behind to mix drinks for one’s friends—seems to be increasingly uncommon.
This might be a good thing. Bars are a nice place to meet people and they’re an important part of the fabric of the community, which is being knit back together after most people have been stuck inside for a year. And actually getting behind a tiny little bar to mix drinks for your friends, well, it’s a bit gimmicky. And yet… they create some cool spaces, typically from a particular era and frozen in time. Here are five.
This late-Midcentury Modern ranch, built in 1971, has the Prairie-style stone to match (and of-its-era orange). It’s also, clearly, quite a beer time capsule as well. The rest of the house — four beds, four baths, 2,750 square feet—is exactly what you’d hope from the basement bar, preserving some wonderful period details: spectacularly mod wooden light fixtures in the bedrooms, an adorable little hot tub on the three-season porch, and lots and lots and lots of wood paneling.
Built in 1971—sensing a theme?—this ranch hides its five beds, four baths, and 3,880 square feet under a thick mansard roof. But inside it’s nice and bright, with very ’70s stained glass and lots of cream wallpaper and carpet. The sunny raised study, with its own fireplace, is a nice place to chill. Outside features a lush green garden for quiet, but if you really want to get away, it’s got a good-sized tiki-ish basement bar.
Dating to 1978, this classic far Northwest side late bungalow has a more modest basement bar that befits the house’s lower price and smaller size — although it does get three beds and three bathrooms into its 1,300 square feet. It lacks the fine finishes of the ones above, but the semicircle is hard to beat. The rest of the home has been mostly updated with contemporary details, save for some good choices like the patterned bathroom tiles and sliding closet doors, but the basement tells some tales.
A modest mansion in the small village of Summit just outside the city, its 3,130 square feet encompasses four beds, six bathrooms and two bars—but the really impressive space is the not-quite-bar on the top floor under a high mid-century modern ceiling. The rest of the house… doesn’t quite reflect the same style, or its 1914 date of construction. There’s some late ’80s, some early ’90s, some questionable decisions. But it’s a lot of grand space for not a lot of money.
Here’s another big (five beds, three baths, 3,605 square feet), old (1888) house that’s been updated with a very 1970s top-floor bar, this one in the architecturally dignified suburb of Riverside. The entrance is contextually appropriate: an elegant porch, a beautifully preserved main stair, lots of old woodwork with tasteful updates. There’s a generous sunroom, and on the second floor, vintage floors and a handsome fireplace. Upstairs? That’s right: knotty wood paneling, skylights, teal leather, and a parquet floor.