Why bars are trending as the new heart of the home.
Written by Natasha Bourlin
Photos by Jeff Ross
Hunkering down at home is the new going out.
When seeking entertainment, social connection, and tasty libations, many people hit the local bar scene. But today a new trend is emerging. Revolutionizing the way humans interact socially and, satisfying their need for creative concoctions, folks are choosing to stay home and, in spaces customized to reflect their individual tastes and character, entertain family members and friends.
Home bars are hot.
These personalized oases of flavor experimentation and conversation are emerging within residences, eliminating the need to find parking or come to a consensus on where to meet. In homes, children can frolic nearby while adults mingle in areas reflecting the homeowners’ tastes, surrounded by bountiful bottles of spirits, wines, beers, and mixers.
Guests quaff creative cocktails sprung from the hands of the host, not a bartender, thus without the hefty price tags often found in craft cocktail bars. Guests can be involved in the process and educated, even have the bartender cater to their own personal preferences. They get to experience the bartender’s passion for mixology firsthand and try multiple offerings.
Three local families from diverse Reno neighborhoods have infused their homes with the cocktail culture, creating spaces in which friends and family members will revel, with house-made libations in hand. Each distinctive home bar reflects the owners’ personalities and tastes and is conducive to merriment and appreciation of a delicious craft cocktail.
Former professional baseball player and San Francisco Giants announcer Mike Krukow and his wife, Jennifer, like to entertain in their Reno home’s bar
Baseball pro’s bar is a home run
When professional baseball player turned San Francisco Giants announcer Mike Krukow isn’t on the road for work, he and his family members enjoy the expansive bar area they’ve fashioned in their Caughlin Ranch home.
When Krukow signed on with the Giants and moved to San Francisco in 1983 with wife Jennifer, beer was a part of the player’s lifestyle. After games, they’d head to the clubhouse to knock a few back while sharing memories and tales.
“I was pretty much a beer drinker, as most baseball players are. A lot of your life and the lore of baseball gets passed on in the clubhouse after a game,” Krukow says. “You sit around and talk about the game — what did we learn tonight, what did we learn that we can apply tomorrow? That’s how the game got passed on, veterans taught the rookies, and they taught them through stories.”
When residing in the wine-rich Bay Area, the Krukows became educated about the ubiquitous beverage, wine. They began touring wineries and meeting people immersed or interested in the industry. They noticed that baseball always was on the radio in the wine country, especially during harvest time, and discovered a new passion that seemed to mesh well with an existing one.
Taught by a vintner neighbor, the Krukow family, including their five children, began making their own wines in their garage, using a half-ton each of zinfandel and Chardonnay grapes to produce 25 cases of wine they declare were delicious. Their children were raised picking and stomping grapes. Wine became part of their family culture.
Eventually, that culture stayed with their children’s lives into adulthood: One son is a bartender in Davis, Calif., while another is general manager of a Manhattan bar and grill. Their daughter-in-law is a bartender. During their visits, “Dad, we have a new drink we want Mom to try,” is a common refrain. Somehow, it’s always for Mom, the couple says, chuckling.
Krukow isn’t really a cocktail guy, though. He’s more of a scotch fan — Macallan 12-year single malt scotch whisky in particular.
He appreciates a good drink, however, and learns from their children’s experience in the cocktail world; their influence often is found in the Krukows’ home bar area. Recently introduced interests of their now-adult offspring, such as tequila, line the shelves.
The family visited Lake Tahoe often in winter, and three of their children ended up attending the University of Nevada, Reno. One remained in town and had two children, so about five years ago the couple decided to set up home base in West Reno to be closer to their grandchildren.
“It was the best thing we ever did,” Krukow says.
Their home’s sprawling, open downstairs area is decorated with vibrant reds, yellows, greens, and blues. They created areas where the grandchildren could play or watch movies while the grown-ups imbibed, played dice or cribbage, and watched sports.
Mementos from Krukow’s illustrious career fill the bar. An antique barber chair rests in a corner, colorfully decorated with needlepoint done by family members. A hula girl lamp adorns the bar, as it might a tiki bar, and is beloved by the pair.
For this family of music lovers and musical savants, numerous instruments are placed handily nearby and often are played during gatherings. Many times, the bar area turns into a jam room of sorts, where songs are practiced until learned and new musicians are discovered and shared.
Naturally, a signature cocktail emerged from this multitalented family. It originated in San Francisco, where the Krukows befriended Jordan winemaker Rob Davis, who taught Mike about whiskey, imparting knowledge and instilling a fervent adoration in Mike for the spirit. Davis often attended Giants games and brought different bottles for them to try. Once, it was a bottle of 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. It was love at first taste.
But upon heading home to Reno, the couple left the Pappy behind at their apartment near the ballpark to enjoy another time. Their daughter, who often stayed there while they were gone, called them one day and excitedly told them of the incredible Manhattans she and her friends had made with a delicious whiskey — the Pappy she’d found. They’d gone through about half of it making drinks. He explained to her that he had been saving it for a special occasion, but couldn’t argue when his daughter asked who was more special than her.
Today, he refills the same Pappy Van Winkle bottle with different whiskeys as needed and pours guests their signature Pappy Vanhattan.
Alicia Barber and Mark Johnson enjoy making cocktails in their midcentury modern Reno home’s bar
Paying tribute to Reno’s yesteryear
When Mark Johnson rings the bell in the basement bar of the Reno home he shares with wife Alicia Barber, he gets a Pavlovian response from guests. They go barreling down the stairs, knowing that sound means deliciously intoxicating concoctions are ready.
The couple’s midcentury modern home in Southwest Reno is a reflection of their mutual interests. For architect Johnson and historian Barber, finding their ideal home five years ago perhaps was fate. Discovering the libation-filled treasure (bottles still remained when they purchased it) in the basement was a glorious surprise worthy of honoring.
Built in the 1950s by the owner of the tile-and-marble shop once based inside it, the house remains a showpiece for his wares. Beautiful tile, brick, wood, and marble fill the house with richness throughout, but the downstairs bar was where the gentleman really showed off his multifaceted skills.
The bar is cozy and dark with wood-paneled walls, like many gathering spots of the era, and a hand-painted tile mural of a cowboy evokes Reno’s Wild West history as a backdrop. It inspired the name of Johnson’s most popular concoction: the Italian Vaquero.
A hearth surrounded by comfy couches is ideal for watching movies or having little ones play while adults sip and socialize. A pool table and barstools left behind by the previous owners still seem right at home.
Tokens from Reno’s gaming history rest on the bar, including flasks and ashtrays from old casinos and ‘50s-era Reno Brewing Co. beer cans found in the crawl space. Barber and Johnson suspect the house’s original construction crew tossed back a few at work and hid the cans.
The couple wanted to pay tribute to the bar and home’s history when they moved in. They took cocktail-making classes and infused a bit of Italy, where they honeymooned, into their spirits collection.
“We felt like we had to deserve this bar, needed to live up to it,” Barber says. “We wanted to make a good cocktail and have some respect for the craft, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here. We have such respect for the craft of this bar and the tile, the builder, and the owner, and the fact that they clearly built this for themselves.”
Campari is “Mark’s special obsession,” Barber shares. She, a self-professed bourbon girl, says her favorite mixed drink is a Manhattan. Together, they share a love for Negronis, which they discovered in Italy, along with the joy of leisurely sipping an aperitivo and grazing on small plates. They bring these sensibilities into their home bar when entertaining.
Kevin and Cheryl O’Gorman love to showcase Kevin’s Irish heritage, love of travel, and recreational interests at the bar in their Montrêux home
Celebrating Celtic culture
Kevin and Cheryl O’Gorman were practically professional bar builders when they moved to Reno after Kevin’s retirement. He had traveled the world as senior vice president of international operations for a Niagara, New York-based manufacturer while Cheryl raised their two sons. In Reno, they found not just a new home, but a lifestyle they appreciated.
Cheryl declares the bar in their Montrêux home, “A great place to show the different aspects of our lives.”
Lovers of the outdoors, sports, and owners of a couple of thoroughbreds, the O’Gormans showcase their interests at the bar, which displays signed sports memorabilia and a collection of shot glasses from international destinations they’ve visited or lived. Ruddy-colored shelves surrounding a television hold NASCAR models — an interest of their sons’ — mint julep glasses from Kentucky Derby visits, a photo of Governor Ronald Reagan presenting an award to Kevin, and more, comprising a museum of sorts for bar guests to peruse.
Being of Irish descent, Kevin wanted to pay tribute to his heritage in the bar. Walls and a poker table are colored peacock blue — the Gaelic word gorm, as in O’Gorman, means blue — and his Irish family’s crest color. The ceiling is covered in burnished, metallic tiles emblazoned with Celtic crosses. A sweeping, black-granite bar marbled with streams of white and flecks of iridescent blue follows the lines of a dropped ceiling that lights up the cocktail-making area.
Behind the bar are items they deemed must-haves after previously having bars in other homes — a clear ice maker, two refrigerators, a dishwasher, expansive glass storage — and any little extra that may be needed to craft cocktails. Recessed lighting shows off their liquor collection on lipped shelves, which they made sure to include after learning the hard way that bottles slide off shelves during earthquakes.
When they’re entertaining, taking care of their guests is the top priority.
“Especially if it’s the first time we’ve socialized with someone, we make sure we have their favorite beverage and check on (what they like),” Kevin says.
For St. Patrick’s Day, they serve green Champagne made with a touch of Midori, as well as Irish whiskeys and beers. As for their personal favorites, he loves Bombay Sapphire and Empress 1908 gins, while Cheryl is a fan of Champagne cocktails. Their grown sons most enjoy scotch and bourbon.
The empty-nesters’ bar helps bring their amateur mixologist sons home and keeps them there while visiting. It’s a space where the family gathers, and stories and interests are shared over one of the family’s greatest mutual passions: fantastic cocktails.
-Natasha Bourlin is a freelance writer of Russian and Irish descent and a fan of craft cocktails, as she considers her liver a genetic champion.
(courtesy of Mike Krukow, former professional baseball player/San Francisco Giants announcer/home bar owner in Reno. Serves 1)
Note: The secret to this cocktail is the 2:1:2 ratio, which also is Manhattan’s area code.
2 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 shakes bitters
Stir, then serve with a true Maraschino cherry, such as a Luxardo.
(courtesy of Mark Johnson, architect/home bar owner in Reno. Serves 1)
1½ ounces Mezcal
½ ounce sweet vermouth
½ ounce dry vermouth
½ ounce Campari
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir, then garnish with burned orange peel.
(courtesy of Cheryl O’Gorman, home bar owner in Reno. Serves 1)
2 ounces Irish whiskey (Jameson or Bushmills)
Juice of ½ lime
4 mint leaves
Fill a copper mule mug with ice. Add whiskey, lime juice, and mint leaves, then fill to top with ginger beer. Stir lightly and enjoy!