In the 60s and 70s, a well-appointed bar was the domestic accessory du jour. As nightlife-seekers increasingly ventured outdoors, however, the home bar began to fall out of favor and became a relic of some long-gone, nostalgic era. Nevertheless, despite the never-ending list of wonderful bars, gastropubs and cocktail lounges the city has to offer today, these three Austinites are dusting off their countertops and bringing the home bar into the 21st century.
When Dr. John Hogg and partner David Garza christened the bar in their Westlake home, their treasure trove of glittering bottles took the spotlight. Though their friends were bemused to find the tequila next to the vodka, Dr. Hogg had developed the bar to be a visual centerpiece as much as a functional component of the home, arranging bottles by color and height rather than by type of liquor. “I have always been fascinated by the beauty of bottles,” he says. “It’s like jewelry.” Though he doesn’t think of himself as a mixologist, Dr. Hogg enjoys experimenting with liquors and unique flavors for his guests. Whether he’s mixing a cocktail inspired by a friend’s personality or picking up tips from his favorite restaurants—taking cues from Z’Tejas, he often adds a bit of jalapeno crushed with sugar to his drinks—Dr. Hogg loves the freedom to create that a home bar offers.
Above all, he notes, a home bar should be a space where guests feel comfortable to unwind and stay a while. To that effect, his builds upon the home’s timeless aesthetic, fusing antique and modern components for a sleek, yet comfortable atmosphere. Much of the home boasts a rich, walnut wood paneling, a theme that the bar continues for an intimate feel. 1930s Parisian Lucite chairs line the deep granite counter, while the bar’s mirrored walls reflect a gorgeous view of the city skyline and Lady Bird Lake. Unlike commercial bars, Dr. Hogg says, home bars allow guests to drink in a more relaxed setting, where they can take a tasting tour of the world. Rather than keeping them tucked out of sight in a cabinet, Dr. Hogg thus displays his jewel-box of bottles proudly, each one carefully crafted and together, a work of art that guests are free to explore: “A home bar,” he says, “lends itself to adventure.”
The Lil' House
Tucked in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of Lady Bird Lake is an early twentieth century home that Robert and Maia Reeves have transformed into a hidden oasis with their eighteen-month-old son, Rex. Though his wife took on the project of redesigning much of the house, as a loyal patron of East Side Show Room and Haddingtons, Robert Reeves decided to create a cocktail bar of his own. Today, adjoining their home is the cozy annex he affectionately refers to as the “Lil’ House,” an intimate space that functions as a bar but feels like home.
“I come from a big family, so entertaining has always been about having friends and family over,” Reeves says. When they do host gatherings, the bar inevitably becomes the focal point, where guests can relax with a drink. “This isn’t a commercial bar. It feels more like a kitchen,” he observes. But it’s also a kitchen you’ve never seen before, taking cues from influences as diverse as the Prohibition Era and Mad Men. Overhead, along the sloping ceiling are punk rock posters, while turntables in the back of the room are ready to play a selection from Reeves’ extensive vinyl collection.
The bar itself is flush against a wall, with light trickling onto a slate countertop inspired by a century-old absinthe bar in New Orleans. Above, shelves of liquors from around the world—including a jenever from Amsterdam that Reeves picked up on his travels—glimmer invitingly. Though you’ll often find Reeves experimenting with cocktails he’s discovered around the city, his favorite to whip up is a classic Manhattan, a recipe he keeps in mind while stocking his shelves. When it comes to designing a home bar, says Reeves, “figure out what you like and play to that. And it will be right, because that’s what’s right for you.”
The Time Machine
Framed by an antique arched window and glass shutters, the bar at the heart of Kendra Scott’s home is a step back in time. A Mediterranean-style villa built in 1929, the house is steeped in a delightful, oldworld charm, one that continues into the bar, together with its nostalgic, yet elegant atmosphere. “It has character,” Scott says. “It’s a quaint, simple design—but very beautiful.”
The shutters themselves were once a part of the original construction of the home, and when shut, they offer a glimmering centerpiece for the dining room—“It’s only a bar when you want it to be,” Scott laughs—but when open, they unveil a carefully curated selection of bottles and glassware, ready for a lively evening or an intimate gathering. Though the cozy space adjoining the kitchen was not initially intended to be a bar, it quickly became a “central hub” for guests anywhere in the house, Scott observes, and it was a natural addition to her home. “We love to have friends over,” she remarks, “and having a bar is just part of that entertaining spirit.” Despite its antique elements, however, the bar is designed to be familiar and relaxed, an inviting space to mingle and enjoy a drink. “I wanted it be a place where people could congregate and be comfortable and playful,” she says.
That same playfulness is infused in the gatherings that Scott hosts for friends and family. She enjoys experimenting and recreating cocktails she’s discovered on her travels—her favorite is a vodka gimlet from The Ivy in Los Angeles—or even bringing in a bartender to whip up drinks for a themed party, whether a Halloween “Spooktacular” or an African- inspired soirée. “Having people in your home is the most special way to celebrate,” Scott says. “And having that bar element brings the party home.”
Dr. John Hogg:
1. Glassware. There are the basic three: you’ll want a have-all tumbler for any occasion, a champagne flute and a good wine glass.
2. Accessories. Cloth napkins and attractive stirrers are always a nice touch.
3. Citrus. You always need a lemon and lime—and a cutting board!
4. Garnishes. I love mint. We grow it at home and pick it fresh. It’s good in just about everything, from diet coke to margaritas— it adds a mojito-like twist.
5. Liquors. You can’t go wrong with the essentials: gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, scotch and tequila. These are great for party trays as well.
Signature Drink: Margarita
3 parts 100% agave tequila
2 parts triple sec orange liqueur
1 part lime juice
Stir together and strain into a glass. It's a killer mixture!
1. Bitters. I love the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters and Bob’s Bitters Grapefruit Bitters. The guy gets some experimental stuff and always has a good deal on something else you need.
2. Ice. Lots of it.
3. Vermouth. I prefer Spanish, which has a bit of spiciness to it. Be sure to chill it or be prepared to throw it out.
4. Strong Whiskey. I use Willett Rye Whiskey.
5. Good Glassware. Which finishes off the list of everything you need for a Manhattan— so there you go!
Signature Drink: Manhattan
2 parts rye whiskey
1 part vermouth
3 drops mole bitters
3 drops grapefruit bitters
Stir all ingredients 33 times—in honor of 1933, the end of Prohibition—and strain into a chilled glass. With a channel knife, peel a twist of orange for garnish.
1. Glassware. I love interesting glassware— and they don’t all have to match. From beautiful goblets to hand-carved, jewel-toned glasses, be creative and don’t be afraid to experiment with unique pieces.
2. Fresh Ingredients. We like to use wonderful, fresh ingredients like crushed raspberries, fresh mint and limes.
3. Vodka. We’re so blessed that we live in such a cool city that creates incredible vodkas. As a local Austin woman, I like to support our local Austin businesses, whether it’s Tito’s or Deep Eddy or Savvy.
4. Atmosphere. Make sure it’s in a great central location, but have a quaint, comfortable atmosphere.
5. Accessories. I love having parties with a theme, so make sure all the elements—the glasses, the stirrers, the napkins—work with it. Recently, we had a Candy Gems party, for example, and used rock quartz as the stirrers. It’s fun to create around a theme that’s unique and special.
Signature Drink: The Ivy Gimlet
2 oz vodka
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz maple syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
fresh mint sprigs
Shake all combined ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail or martini glass. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.