Dispatches from a Pandemic: ‘You feel like you’re being social — and responsible’: Meet the people who are turning garages into mini-bars

This post was originally published on this site

Michael and Lauren Lerman consider themselves outgoing. That’s why they’ve been hanging out a lot in their garage lately.

As the coronavirus outbreak turns life upside down, the South Orange, N.J. couple has turned their two-car garage into a bar.

There’s hand sanitizer by the vodka and an oscillating fan to keep air blowing out the open bay doors. Guests can have individually-wrapped snacks and drink from paper cups.

The Lermans’ bar has hand sanitizer by the vodka and a fan to keep the air moving out the door.

“You feel like you’re being social,” said Lauren. “And responsible,” Michael added.

In Seattle, Wash., Matt Rarity is transforming his greenhouse into a speakeasy he can use with the families he’s been quarantining with since March.

It will include a flat-screen television, card table, dart board, walls festooned with sports team flags and a portable hand washing station. It’s supposed to be a “men’s club” for the husbands, but Rarity says the wives are also eyeing the space.

“I’m sure there will be a battle for who gets what days,” he told MarketWatch.

It’s difficult to say how many people like the Lermans and Rarity are converting home space into watering holes. But Twitter TWTR, +3.42% and Instagram FB, +4.61% are dotted with mentions of newly-minted garage bars.

Garage bars pre-date COVID-19, but this round of bars fit a broader pattern. In the face of the pandemic, many people have been enhancing their homes to get some break from the monotony during a summer with far fewer options for fun.

These personal garage bars fulfill a unique role: They are sprouting up as concern grows over the real ones.

It’s not just garage bars either. Backyard pool sales have been hot. More than 70% of Americans are planning home improvement projects, according to a Bank of America BAC, -2.06% survey. Lowe’s LOW, +0.37% beat first quarter profit expectations, powered by customers tackling do-it-yourself tasks.

But these personal garage bars fulfill a unique role: They are sprouting up as concern grows over the real ones. With infection rates climbing in many places, states like Texas and Arizona are closing bars and other public spaces for the second time.

“Congregation at a bar inside is bad news. We really got to stop that right now, when you have areas that are surging like we see right now,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told senators on Tuesday.

‘This is not a work space, this is a fun space’

The idea for the Lermans’ bar sprang from an argument their teenage daughters were having over the backyard trampoline (which pre-dated the pandemic).

Their older daughter, Carly, recommended clearing out the garage for more space. Until then, the garage was “the biggest dump. It was furniture on top of crap, on top of other crap,” Michael, 56, said.

They cleared the 400 square-foot space and weeks later visited a friend who had a pool and a cabana bar. A family friend at the gathering, Daniel Teitelbaum, 18, said he could build a bar for the Lermans.

Teitelbaum used reclaimed wood from a barn, shipping palettes and corrugated metal; the student told MarketWatch he already has a lead on another garage bar job.

Michael Lerman tests his free throw skills.

Andrew Keshner

The Lermans added amenities like a television from BestBuy BBY, +0.09% for $130 and a $180 Pop-a-Shot basketball game on eBay EBAY, +0.97%. Tapestries cover the wall and there’s a couch on the way. “I wanted to populate this with fun stuff,” said Michael, a real-estate developer.

The biggest expense was a hot tub, which is something the kids have always wanted. Michael wasn’t willing to pay for an expensive new one, so he found a six-month-old, lightly-used hot tub on eBay. It cost $1,500 to purchase and $2,000 to ship from its previous Wisconsin owner.

The entire project has cost approximately $5,000, but the Lermans say it’s been worth it.

With the line blurring between professional and domestic duties, the bar is a refuge from all that.

With professional and domestic duties mushing together in the rest of the house, the bar is a refuge from all that. “This is not a work space, this is a fun space,” said Lauren, 53, who works in publishing.

It’s been open for two weeks and getting steady use. The Lermans’ oldest daughter graduated from high school, but didn’t have a prom and there’s no word on a real-life graduation ceremony. So she had a small party in the space with a couple friends instead.

The Lermans don’t invite too many people over at a time.They can entertain two other couples and still keep a comfortable distance.

Once the pandemic ends, they want to maintain their beloved bar. “Some day we’ll sell this house. Some day. And hopefully [the buyers are] going to see the value of this too,” Michael said. “Or, they’ll turn it back into a garage,” Lauren said.

A garage bar isn’t a guaranteed home value boost, according to Amanda Pendleton, Zillow Z, +2.25% Home Trends Expert. Some buyers will love it, but others will see it as a renovation project they’ll need to accomplish to restore the space to its original purpose, she said.

“Consider this project an investment in your happiness and your enjoyment of your home, but don’t expect to earn the money back when it comes time to sell,” she said.

‘An alternative way for us to connect’

Rarity’s family and two other families will start using the re-purposed greenhouse over the July Fourth weekend.

Rarity and his wife have long been planning a house remodeling. About two months ago, a friend casually remarked they could turn the greenhouse into a bar.

The speakeasy started with ‘a month of back-and-forth dude banter.’

That sparked “a month of back-and-forth dude banter,” which grew into real-life renovation plans, Rarity said.

Rarity, who works in telecommunications, spent between 20 to 30 hours clearing out the greenhouse and building benches.

The biggest expense so far has been the $320 kegorator. Fellow speakeasy users are donating the refrigerator and 60-inch flat-screen television. The portable handwashing station costs $170.

“All of it has been sweat equity,” he said.

Now Rarity is ready for a pint and good times. “All the bars are shut down. You can’t go out and comfortably have a drink with friends.”

A garage bar, he said, seemed like a no-brainer: “This became an alternative way for us to connect.”

Add Comment