On Friday nights, Chip Zayak is not among the thousands who flock to bars and nightclubs in the Charlotte area. No, he stays home. So does Carlton Thornbury. And so do Josh and Rhonda Patt.
That's because Zayak need only saunter across the backyard to his barn. Thornbury and the Patts don't even have to go that far. They just pad downstairs to their respective basements.
What awaits these homebodies is the same thing that awaits any barfly: a bar. Zayak, Thornbury and the Patts have built full-service bars at their homes, with flat-screen TVs, blaring music, ice-cold draft beer and premium wines. These Charlotte-area residents are part of a growing movement of would-be bar patrons who have money and like to party — at home.
In neighborhoods throughout the region, residents have transformed unfinished basements, barns, garages and family rooms into what resemble full-service pubs. Setups range from pre-fab designs to handcrafted marvels that rival some of Charlotte's hottest commercial establishments. Many home bars include the full gamut: kegerator draft systems, wine cellars and rare spirits. What they offer to folks who like to hang out in bars are the amenities of a night on the town without the hassles.
"You don't have to drink and drive," says Zayak. "You can invite your friends over and have a good time."
Josh Patt is the father of three young children. "We don't really go out that much, but we still like to entertain," Patt says. He and his wife Rhonda turned their 1,700-square-foot basement into an entertainment center refined with marble countertops and hardwood floors. They added a bar, 3D flat screen TV, wine cellar, pool table and even a play area for their children, ages 4 months to 6.
Geoff Goss, owner of Custom Home Pubs in Matthews, says couples such as the Patts — young and affluent — represent a big part of his clientele. A large portion of Goss' business is installing residential draft systems. Since he started the company in 2007, business has increased 30 to 40 percent per year.
"We see more and more people staying home and bringing the bar, the party, to their house," says Goss, who has a bar in his family room. "It's become the neighborhood watering hole."
Thornbury's bar is the cornerstone of his basement. It features cherrywood custom cabinets and marble bar top. The stools are more comfortable than the ones in your average tavern. But Thornbury chose not to have a TV in his lair.
"The point of getting together is to talk and do things," he says. "When I am with people, I like the conversation."
Zayak's place is straight-up frat house, and that's how he likes it. He and his son built the place six years ago and dubbed it the Man Castle. The bar is made of reclaimed wood from their bonfire woodpile. While Thornbury and the Patts purchased commercial kegerators for their draft systems, Zayak converted an old refrigerator into a kegerator.
"You make it what you want it to be," he says.
Zayak built the bar six years ago, and his house now has become the place to go on any night of the week. Christmas lights strung in his backyard serve as an "open" sign for Zayak's neighbors; when the lights are on, his friends know it's cool to drop in.
Each July Fourth weekend, Zayak hosts an event he's dubbed Chipapoolaza, a three-day music festival featuring a half-dozen or so bands, PBR and barbecue sandwiches. The first year, 20 people came; last year, 180 people showed up during the course of the weekend. Custom Home Pubs has taken to parking a keg truck at the house for the event because Zayak runs through at least six. Guests are mostly family and friends, some who live in the area and others who come from Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Zayak pitches tents in the backyard for people to stay overnight, because he says he doesn't want anyone drinking and driving.
Winn Bassett, executive director of the N.C. Brewer's Guild, says the proliferation of home bars is a by-product of the state's booming craft beer industry. North Carolina has more than 60 operating breweries and nearly 30 more in the works. In 2005, the state raised the legal alcohol content maximum from 6 percent to 15 percent per beer. Popping the Cap, as it was called, opened the doors for more craft beer aficionados to practice their trade. Charlotte has three breweries and two more on the way.
Initially, craft beer fans served bottled beer at home, Bassett says. Popping the Cap created a niche market for retailers to sell craft kegs as well as the supplies necessary to maintain a home draft system.
Voila! — instant home bar.
"It's pretty neat to have your own bar, your own draft system in your home to entertain people," Bassett says.
Name: Carlton Thornbury, 66, Retired banker
Bar Name: Man Canyon
Bar Motto: "Formality should not impose restraint."
The History: Thornbury bought a kegerator three years ago for his previous house. When he and his wife moved into their current home last year, one of the things they initially liked about it was the unfinished basement. Thornbury knew it would make a good bar.
The Setup: The Man Canyon is nestled into a 3,000-square-foot space. The bar and custom-built cabinets are cherrywood. The counters are Virginia marble. The bar taps are hand-carved and the tap plate boasts the Thornbury name. His bar area includes an antique billiards table built in the late 1800s.
Beverages: Thornbury's bar has a two-tap commercial-grade kegerator that holds one full-size keg or two bullets. It also has a 150-bottle wine cabinet. Thornbury says he prefers to purchase quality liquors from a store in New York. His collection of spirits includes a 1975 Bas Armagnac Vaghi cognac.
Loves His: Beer stein "purloined" from the legendary German pub Hofbrauhaus, in Munich, in 1967. Thornbury also treasures the gold-rimmed Lowenbrau beer mug he acquired on a first-class Lufthansa flight in 1960.
Name: John "Chip" Zayak, 52, Video editor
Bar Name: Man Castle
Motto: "When the lights are on, the party's on."
History: Friends often dump scrap wood in Zayak's yard for bonfires. Someone left two large pieces of plywood. Zayak's son, Jacob, suggested building a bar in the family's three-pole barn (think a tall two-door car garage).
Setup: The Man Castle feels like a frathouse. It's about 800 square feet, with a bar constructed of the reclaimed plywood. Zayak recently tiled the bartop. Although Zayak says his space is a Man Castle and not a Woman Castle, his girlfriend told him it was time to spruce up the joint. There are a couple of sofas (one fancy and one soon-to-be replaced), bar video games, cornhole, a flat-screen TV and a toaster oven (mini-pizzas are great snacks). He plans to add a pool table. Photos of Charlotte concerts adorn the walls.
Beverages: Zayak and his son converted an old refrigerator into a kegerator. It holds one full-size keg and one bullet, which is about half the size of a keg. Visitors have scribbled their names on the outside of the fridge. A few celebrities have hung out in the Man Castle, including pro golfer Boo Weekley.
Loves His: Collection of 32,000 songs that he blasts from two 18-inch subwoofers.
Name: Josh and Rhonda Patt, Doctors
Bar Name: The Basement
Motto: "Game On!"
History: Several of their friends had home bars, and since the Patts like to entertain — especially during big sporting events such as the Masters, Super Bowl and the Final Four — they sought advice from their home-bar buddies and built their bar this year.
Setup: The bar is the centerpiece of the Patts' 1,700-square-foot basement, which includes a 3D flat-screen TV as well as a section for their children to play, an exercise space and a 1,500-bottle wine vault (comparable in size to a huge walk-in closet). The place is equipped with a refrigerator, icemaker and dishwasher. The bar itself has a granite top with a leather finish. Other appliances include a soft-serve ice cream maker, popcorn maker and margarita machine.
Beverages: The Patts serve up beer from a two-tap kegerator, but wine is their beverage of choice. The wine cellar is under construction, so they currently store it in a closet. Another signature beverage is Josh's homemade margarita.
Love Their: Jacques Selosse, a French champagne difficult to find in the U.S.