How to Build an Epic Basement Bar

Basement bar with couch, chairs, and carpet in living area.

 

Aleksandra Zlatkovic / Getty Images

Creating a basement bar is a dream that is within your grasp. While this may sound like a huge undertaking, it's a project that's often easier than expected—with a payoff that's beyond fantastic.

A basement is an ideal location for a bar. Space here is usually more plentiful than in the upper living areas. Plus, since basements are located under existing kitchens and bathrooms, you'll find ready access to electrical wiring and plumbing.

What's more, your basement bar project is entirely flexible. If building a full-scale wet bar feels daunting, start with a dry bar with no plumbing connections. If you find that you love it, you can revisit it later and add a sink and other features of a wet bar.

Elements of a Basement Bar

Bar Unit

All activities revolve around the bar unit. People love to gravitate to any type of bar furniture, whether it is a full-sized permanent unit where several guests can sit at barstools or a smaller mobile bar cart that is still large enough for bottles and barware.

Barstools

Barstools invite guests to linger at the bar with refreshments. For a full-sized bar, be sure to pick barstools with a seat height in the 28- to 30-inch or higher range. Shorter stools, often called counter stools, are for lower units such as breakfast bars in kitchens.

Bar Fridge

Whether you have a dry or a wet bar, as long as you have a power outlet you can always have a bar fridge. Tiny, cube-sized compact fridges in the 1.6 to 1.7 cubic foot range are perfect for a couple of six-packs, mixers, and a few snacks.

Larger compact fridges in the 3.1 cubic foot category can hold wine bottles, large bottles of beer, along with plenty of soda and juices. Plus, the larger compact fridges usually have small freezers, so you will always have ice on hand.

Bar Sink

If you have a wet bar, you have a sink. With a sink, you can cycle ice trays into your compact fridge's freezer much easier than if you have to fill them in a kitchen or bathroom. You'll have a ready source of still water for drinks and you can rinse off glasses and plates.

While your bar sink can be any size, most bar owners keep them small. A 15-inch by 15-inch single bowl drop-in stainless steel sink serves most bar purposes.

Wine Rack

If you're a serious oenophile, you know the only way to store your wine is on its side. Wine racks range from small, two-tier bartop racks to floor-mounted racks that house 72 bottles or more.

Wine Cooler

To keep your wine at the right temperature, consider adding an electric wine cooler. Undercounter wine coolers hold between 24 and 45 bottles and maintain temperatures of 46 to 56 F for white wines and between 58 and 68 F for red wines.

Storage

Storage for barware, mixers, and small appliances can often get overlooked. If you purchase a pre-built bar unit, it should have a shelf or two for storing a few items. If you build a custom bar unit, you can create as much storage as you want, including drawers and other extra pull-outs.

Small Appliances

  • Blender: If you love mixed drinks, you'll want to have a blender. Or you may choose a stick, hand, or immersion blender.
  • Ice Maker: If you're big into frozen drinks and you don't have a bar fridge, you can add a portable ice maker to your bar. These 12-inch-wide models run off of household current and make about 25 pounds of ice per day.
  • Microwave: A small, 0.6 cubic foot microwave is great for warming up late-night snacks or popping popcorn.
  • Coffee Maker: If the festivities run into the morning, a coffee maker perks everyone up.

Lighting

Basements tend to be short on natural light. But that's your opportunity to design a lighting system that sets the right mood. Add recessed lighting on a dimmer switch around the bar or a couple of sconce lights. If the wet bar section has upper cabinets, install under-cabinet lighting to illuminate drink-making operations.

Trash and Recycling

When you're done with those bottles or cans, do you run them back upstairs? When you have dedicated trash and recycling bins, you don't have to. Attractive trash and recycling containers are a must so that you can prevent wine foil, caps, corks, and wrappers from piling up.

Basement Wet Bars vs. Dry Bars

One of the most important decisions you can make when designing your basement bar is whether it will be a dry bar or a wet bar. Your choice will change the overall cost of the project. It also affects what you can or cannot do with your bar.

Basement Wet Bar

A basement wet bar is fully plumbed with water supply pipes coming into the bar area and water drainage pipes leading away to the home's main drainage system.

A wet bar allows you to have a fully operational bar sink with hot and cold water for washing up glasses or plates. If your bar has a dishwasher or a fridge with an ice maker, a wet bar's water supply and drainage allow for these, too.

Tips For Building a Wet Bar

  • If possible, locate the wet bar sink under an upstairs kitchen or bathroom to take advantage of existing plumbing.
  • A wet bar's sink can be located separately but near the bar unit. This allows the bar unit to remain at 42 inches high—the right height for seating—and for the wet bar sink to be at the standard countertop height of 34 to 36 inches.
  • The wet bar countertop is usually a functional, durable type of counter such as quartz, solid surface, stone, or stainless steel.
What We Like
  • Eliminates running glasses and dishes to the kitchen

  • Ready source of fresh water for drinks

  • Easier to make ice

What We Don't Like
  • Plumbing significantly increases overall cost

  • Bar is permanently tied to one area

  • Permits are required

Basement Dry Bar

A basement dry bar has no plumbing, thus no sink or related services that rely on running water. Owners of dry bars often keep dirty glasses and plates in a bin or on a tray and take them back to the kitchen for cleaning. Because the kitchen is above the basement bar, this entails running these items up and down the stairs.

What We Like
  • Saves costs

  • Keeps your bar flexible; can be moved, if desired

  • No need for plumbing permits

What We Don't Like
  • Frequent moving of barware up and down from kitchen

  • More difficult to keep making ice

What's Your Style of Basement Bar?

Before you buy that bar unit, fridge, sink, wine rack, or those barstools, step back for a moment to define the general type, look, and feel of your basement bar. Style informs function. Top-level bar design ideas influence so many of the design and buying choices you will later make.

Do you imagine your home bar as a low-lit hideaway for hanging out with a few friends, watching sports or movies, and drinking local craft beers? For this, you'll likely want a full-size bar with seating for four, a beer or wine cooler, and barstools that swivel so that you watch the big screen.

Or do you envision a swanky, retro home bar that celebrates the cocktail life? Style is of the utmost importance here, so pick a bar unit that evokes the period—a half-circle or L-shaped bar or even a tiki-themed bar.

If you entertain frequently, load up your bar with all of the fun-making essentials such as a fridge, ice-maker, wine cooler, and sink. If it's just a couple of friends every now and then, you may decide to pass on the wet bar and stick with the dry bar.

Basement bars are flexible spaces that can serve many needs. Host a wine tasting party with friends. Use the bar top as a table for having a light dinner. Or share the newest local brew with friends. A basement bar, too, can work for all members of the family when it's stocked with popcorn and sweets for a movie night.

How to Build Your Basement Bar

Plan the Bar

A mobile bar cart might be as small as 48 inches long by 16 inches deep, with the ability to hug against a wall and no need for seating. A larger unit that can seat two or three people occupies a footprint of at least 70 inches by 28 inches. But as a rule of thumb, you can at least double that footprint to account for seating.

For a wet bar, the best location generally will be below or adjacent to an existing bathroom or kitchen, as this allows you to tie into the plumbing supply and drainage lines. For a dry bar, location to plumbing is not an issue.

Control Basement Moisture

Controlling basement moisture is essential for any kind of basement refinishing project, including building a basement bar. The interlocking panels found in subfloor systems will elevate the floor covering above minor amounts of moisture and will help keep the floor warm.

The best floor coverings for basements are those that are hard, inorganic, and capable of drying out quickly: tile, resilient (vinyl) tile or plank, and laminate flooring.

Apply For Permits

For a wet bar, in most cases, you will need to apply for a building permit with your local permitting agency. If you are running new electrical lines, in all likelihood you will need to apply for an electrical permit for all of the work. Most communities require permits for any kind of electrical circuit and service extension or alteration.

Build or Purchase the Bar Unit

The bar unit establishes the core of your basement bar. You may choose to build your own bar unit from plans created by other do-it-yourselfers or purchase a bar unit (which usually will need to be assembled).

Install the Plumbing and Electrical Lines

If this will be a wet bar, hire a plumbing contractor or do it yourself to create the plumbing hot and cold supply line stub-outs, as well as the drain line. Both the plumbing and electrical plans will essentially follow the same building codes as for kitchens. As an example, the wet bar countertop should allow for no more than 48 inches between countertop GFCI receptacles.

Install the Wet Bar

For the wet bar, install the countertop with a cut-out for the bar sink. Drop the sink in place and complete all of the plumbing connections to fixtures.

Install the Bar Fridge

Now that you have working outlets, you can install the bar fridge, wine or beer cooler, and other small appliances that might be located in the bar or off to the side.

Paint and Decorate

If your basement bar plans call for painted walls, now is the time to let your creative juices flow—with a roller and paint tray. Or you may want to install a drywall alternative such as wood paneling for a classic look or textured 3D wall panels for a contemporary look.

Enjoy Your Basement Bar

Now it's time to flip on the "Open" sign. Your basement bar would not be complete without guests to admire your handiwork. Invite friends over for a night of classic cocktails. Rev up that blender for a round of blended drinks all-around. And non-drinkers will thoroughly enjoy your frappes or other non-alcoholic drinks.