When exactly was it that home bars became too outré for modest modern tastes? Googling the phrase might give you some idea: the top hits are SexyBarsUK and GentsandPlayers, which seems to confirm a widely held snobbery about setting up a bar in your home – that it's a tacky venture best left to wannabe Peter Stringfellows.
This creates a bit of a problem if you are looking for a more finessed way to serve drinks at a party than retreating to the kitchen to pull a bottle of gin out of the fridge and attack a block of ice with a meat mallet. What's more, the austerity trend towards entertaining at home has left us with a renewed desire to keep doing just that, so the idea of installing a bar in your property is gaining popularity. Be it a fixed feature, freestanding colossus or a small cabinet or silver tray with crystal decanters and glasses, bars are ideal for special celebrations or a pre-sortie cocktail party. And, as dinner parties become more competitive thanks to the success of Come Dine With Me, the pressure to impress, from the aperitif right through to the digestif, is on. Simply reaching for a bottle opener might not suffice. Another reason for installing a bar is if you have a large property and don't want to schlep between wherever you are entertaining and the kitchen each time someone needs a refill. Or maybe you're past schlepping to bars altogether and prefer the comfort of your own home, whether you've company or not.
As the scales tip back in favour of the home bar, the options for having your own are developing too. Retro 1920s, 60s and 70s bars are popular and there are a number of cutting-edge modern classics. High-street stores such as John Lewis and Habitat have good-value cabinets which double up to store other items, or you can go down the route of getting one fitted into a dedicated room or space in your home, or even buy a home for its existing bar.
For a contemporary feel that doesn't make too loud a statement, John Lewis's Ellis Drinks Cabinet (£299), a glass-fronted cabinet with a shelf and two drawers underneath, comes in oak or a dark-oak veneer. More traditional is the Maharani Drinks Cabinet (£499), an Indian-style wooden cabinet with space for 16 wine bottles, shelves and racks to hang glasses from.
Habitat's Mews (£479.20) and Seattle (£439.20) sideboards are roomy enough to store bottles, glasses and other cocktail paraphernalia and the right height to set things down on when you're mixing or administering refills.
More upmarket is the Konstantin Grcic Pandora bar cabinet (Aram, £2,395), a black or white cabinet on steel legs with a glass compartment, bottle rack and drop-down door. The S56 Drinks Cabinet by Maximilian Setiz for Tecta (Aram, £1,415) is the best choice if you're short of space: a slim stainless-steel unit with shelves for bottles and glass storage. The Tonelli Psiche A Wall-Mounted Sideboard (Nest, from £2,136) is a sparkling mirror design also available in a gold finish.
Del Boy's bar in his Peckham flat, a padded leather structure that belonged in the 1960s and early 70s pop era, shoulders a fair part of the blame for bars falling out of favour. Surprisingly, it is just this sort of retro design that is proving a hit today. There are several versions on eBay, including one claiming to be the original with four matching bar stools for £350.
For a retro aesthetic with a little less of the kitsch factor, Pierre Cardin designed a number of beautiful "wet bars" in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The top of the large free-standing cabinets, which are on castors, flips open to reveal lots of storage and space for an ice bucket. Talisman in London has recently sold a silver nickel model for £2,750 and one in burr veneer for £4,500. "The Pierre Cardin is very easy to live with as it translates both as a bar and a sideboard," says Talisman's Flora Soames. "They are very sought after and don't stay on the shop floor for long."
The art deco heydays of the 1920s served anyone who liked a good drink well, and Talisman has sold a Maitland Smith-designed kidney-shaped bar, covered in ostrich skin, for £16,500. They currently have a French art deco cabinet made in the 1940s for export to Argentina for £4,500.
For something more permanent, seek out a property with an existing bar or a suitable space for installing one. The Dovecote House in Westborough, Newark, on the market with Chesterton Humberts at £665,000, is a listed country mansion with almost five acres of land and a built in bar and sitting area off the main lounge. The Wincel, a six-bedroom Edwardian property in East Sussex, has a bar linking the large drawing room and sitting room (Chesterton Humberts, £890,000). In Maresfield Gardens, a three-bed Hampstead flat in London, a corner in the living space has been converted into a bar-cum-aquarium (Chesterton Humberts, £2,750,000).
The key to picking the right bar for you, according to Soames, is to plump for individuality above uniformity. "People are certainly looking for a novel approach when it comes to choosing a bar," she says. Which suggests even Del Boy might not have been too far off the mark.
Bar essentials: shake, don't stir
Adam Freeth, managing director of the bartending school Shaker, recently created a range of cocktails to showcase Patron, a premium tequila. He says that to make a good quality cocktail at home you will need some guidance: buy a book, watch some videos online or book yourself on a course.
Then you need to stock your bar with at least the basics. First, a good quality shaker, which could be a three-piece Boston shaker or a two-piece tin and mixing glass. Then three types of glass – a short "rocks" glass, a longer Collins and a Martini glass.
Ingredients-wise, according to Freeth, fresh lemons and limes and sugar syrup (easily made by dissolving sugar in water) are the salt and pepper of the drinks world.
Ice must be good quality – apparently any old frozen water won't do. It should be fresh and dense. Then you need soda and spirits: tequila, vodka, rum, gin and whisky, and you're set to make a few dozen cocktails in the comfort of your own home.
Pineapple and black pepper margarita
Ingredients Glass: 10 oz Coupette
37.5ml Patron Silver
12.5ml Patron Citronge
25ml fresh pineapple juice or (Funkin Pineapple purée)
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
1 barspoon of Agave Syrup
Plenty of ground black pepper
1/8 pineapple slice and a black pepper rim, to garnish
Put all the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill with ice. Cap with a Boston shaker and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass that has been half-rimmed with black pepper. Garnish with a pineapple slice and a small grind of pepper.
My Mexican Honey
Created to showcase the flavours of Reposado tequila, the use of fresh honeydew melon and honey adds a velvet smooth finish to the drink; although not strictly a Margarita this is a modern twist.
Ingredients Glass: 5 oz Martini
37.5ml Patron Reposado Tequila
25ml fresh honeydew melon
10ml lime juice
1 barspoon of honey syrup (adjust to taste)
1 barspoon of vanilla syrup (adjust to taste)
Honeydew melon fan or slice, to garnish
Put all the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill with ice. Cap with a Boston shaker and shake for a few seconds. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a melon.