This Retro Home Feature Is Making a Major Comeback, and You’ll Want One ASAP

published May 31, 2024
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Wet bar in hallway.
Credit: Erin Derby

Bar carts are a rite of passage — the first furniture purchase that signifies your transition from a college student who proudly displays cheap vodka bottles on top of their kitchen cabinet to an adult who artfully arranges spirits next to IKEA glassware. But as palates refine, it’s only natural to let go of the training wheels to upgrade to something a bit more substantial.

Cue: the wet bar.

What Is a Wet Bar?

Unlike mobile bar carts, wet bars are permanent fixtures. A wet bar is essentially a small, specialized bar area that holds glassware, bar tools, spirits, mixers, and whatever else you need to create your favorite drinks. While you can add one anywhere in your home, wet bars are typically built into entertainment spaces like dining rooms, living rooms, basements, and backyards. They’re not to be confused with your standard bar cabinet or wine rack (also known as dry bars), which are primarily used for storage and don’t include the wet bar’s defining feature: A sink with working plumbing.

Every household doesn’t need this feature, and it’s often seen as a luxury touch. But if your place is the go-to spot for get-togethers, or if your nightcap routine is more involved than a simple glass of wine, a wet bar is definitely worth considering.

Wet Bars vs. Dry Bars

Like all home upgrades, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of a wet bar before you commit to one. Designers have their own opinions here, too. For more insight, I spoke to designers Grace Start and Jean Stoffer of Jean Stoffer Design on the wet bar versus dry bar debate. 

“Having a wet bar is the epitome of functional luxury,” says Jean. “It looks great, and it’s practical — you can rinse everything, and it can even serve as a coffee bar when needed.” 

The direct access to running water is an entertaining game-changer. This eliminates the constant running back and forth to the kitchen, allows for more elaborate drink preparations, and makes rinsing garnishes and glasses a total breeze. Wet bars also tend to have other useful features like built-in refrigeration, ice makers, dishwashers, and ample counter space for mixing and serving drinks.

However, a wet bar can have its downsides. “It’s expensive, obviously,” explains Jean. “You need to make sure you have access to plumbing, and you need to set up the whole system. You also, overall, will have less space wherever you set it up.” She also points out that placement is key and advises putting one in a more prominent area of a home as opposed to, say, somewhere like the basement, where the wet bar will see less use. 

“Wet bars are great for high traffic areas,” adds Grace. “You want to have them adjacent to the kitchen or even in it. You can even add them to a breakfast nook — the important thing is to make sure it’s easy for your guests to access.” 

As for what you need to get started on adding a wet bar to your home, it’s pretty simple. “Make sure you have the counter space, access to plumbing, and plenty of room for trash and storage,” Grace says. “An under-the-counter fridge and dishwasher are also nice but not necessary.” Jean adds, “If you really want to knock it out of the park, make sure to keep some nugget ice!” 

How to Style a Wet Bar

If the pros far outweigh the cons for you, and you’re ready to turn your house into a cocktail haven, check out some of these striking wet bar setups for inspiration.

Play with Small Spaces

Most wet bars are built along a big wall, like a traditional kitchen or living room. But if you have tight corners or awkward nooks, don’t be afraid to experiment with unconventional layouts. Tucking a small wet bar into an unused closet can create an unexpected and (downright charming) surprise for guests.

Credit: Grace Start and Jean Stoffer

Put Glassware on Display

Give your vintage shooters and highballs the spotlight they deserve with open shelving or glass cabinets. This kind of open storage is both practical and adds a touch of personality to your setup.

Credit: Lula Poggi

Keep it Subtle

Just because you’re building a bar doesn’t mean it has to look like a bar. If you prefer a more low-key aesthetic, opt for a minimalist setup that keeps the alcohol and tools out of sight.

Credit: Theplantedwanderer / Shutterstock

Add a Backsplash

Really want your wet bar to stand out from the rest of the space? Add a counter-to-ceiling backsplash for some extra oomph and to make the area look even more luxe. 

Credit: Lisa Cole

Don’t Forget the Fridge

You don’t need a fridge in your wet bar, but it certainly makes life easier for storing not only drinks, but also non-alcoholic beverages. If you are working with a smaller space, an under-counter refrigerator is your best bet.