The Lowdown: Vintage Bar Mode

By Sean Chaffin and Randy Mastronicola

From Mad Men to Suits, Hollywood has re-invigorated cocktail cachet, and modern drinkers are snapping up 1950s and ‘60s liquor cabinets. These classics have certainly seen a resurgence and the growth of the craft spirits industry has only added to the party.

“During the mid-century era, drinking liquor was an acceptable, and expected, part of the daily scene,” notes Rachel Moreno, a manager with Lula B’s Antique Mall in the Dallas Design District. “We’ve seen theatrical productions that portray majestic liquor cabinets in the home or workplace, bar carts abound with the best whiskeys, and a complete dry bar setup in homes, including barstools, to serve guests at neighborly soirees.

“The trend of the liquor drinker was even extended to portable bars which were a totable, locking case that contained drinking cups, shot glasses, all the barware one would need, as well as a bottle or three of one’s personal taste of liquors. I amusingly refer to these portable bars as being designed for the 1960s businessman on the go.’”

Cabinet shoppers will find designs and sizes vary, along with prices. Smaller pieces were compact, wall-mounted cabinets while more grandiose styles rival common furniture pieces like large credenzas. Some even incorporated turntable stereos or faux fireplaces into the design.

Depending on style and size, prices range from $500 upward toward $7,000 for popular makers of more exquisite liquor cabinets with top craftsmanship. Adrian Pearsall Brutalist, and Broyhill Brasilia are some of the most notable designs with G Plan, Kent Coffey, and American of Martinsville popular manufacturers. The classic “tiki” theme, which became popular in the 1930s, is also collectible and remains popular for the home bar¬–bringing a bit of the tropics home.

Another attractive option is a Danish wooden cabinet¬–spot them by finding “DENMARK” stamped on the backs of these pieces. These are extremely desirable and capture the class of the era.

“Typically, Danish cabinets are made of teak and thoughtfully designed to accessibly store all of your bar implements and bottles,” Moreno says.

Numerous other mid-century drinking accoutrements remain popular as well–from stylish glass ice buckets and drinking glasses to rolling bar carts, cocktail tables and dry bars. During the pandemic, many bars closed and drinkers instead mixed their liquid refreshment themselves. A vintage liquor cabinet only adds to the ambiance. As the Cheers theme made clear, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” Open that cool cabinet and pour–no designated driver needed. -S.C.

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