Raising the Bar
One couple revives a former barroom into a modern entertainment space, complete with romantic touches from the past
It dispensed drinks in the 1890s, even survived as a speakeasy into the 1930s. But the barroom was gutted by the time Thomas La Fera and Colette Hallinan bought the house it was attached to. Determined to return the space to its intended use, the couple spent hours researching its history, discovering that their town of Rosendale, New York, was a center for cement manufacturing. The speakeasy cottage industry sprang up to give tired workers places to get booze after the whistle blew.
Six years passed before they began renovating the original barroom. Other projects took precedence, such as fixing the apartment above the bar where they suspect patrons slept it off after one too many. With help from a contractor friend, their first undertaking was laying a new radiant-heated concrete floor. There's 15 yards of concrete in the barroom, which pays homage to the town's legacy, while creating the industrial feel that the homeowners wanted.
With a more formal living room located off the barroom, this space is reserved for entertaining guests, watching TV, and playing board games.
A flat-screen TV, built-in speakers, and a media niche covered by a shade make up the bar's entertainment center. "Most evenings, I'm in there watching cycling races on the flat-screen, sharing a cocktail with my wife," says Thomas.
Original to the barroom, the "Gents" door is typically left open to publicize the half bath when it's not in use. Eco-friendly cork tiles cover the bathroom floor.
A storage area under the stairs, which holds boxes of extra glasses, is sheathed in beadboard salvaged from other rooms in the house. Colette requested an ebony stain on the landing and stair treads. "It looks great against the stark white beadboard walls," says Thomas.
Drywall replaced the original beadboard, which was damaged by dry rot and an old beetle infestation, above this exposed foundation wall.
A retro-looking fan keeps air circulating when the bar gets crowded. These ceiling tiles look like pricier tin, but they're really polyurethane knock-offs that the homeowner glued on and then spray-painted silver.
A plywood base faced in stained oak veneer supports the concrete prep surface and backsplash, as well as the ebonized walnut counter. For the raised countertop "I wanted to use a black walnut tree from our yard, but just getting it to the mill would have been really expensive," says Thomas. So they had an aquaintence at a millshop notify them when some local walnut passed through. They ended up with two 2-by-12-foot slabs and set them right down on top of the integral concrete prep counter and backsplash.
For the bar back, the couple agreed to wait until they found an original from the era rather than make a reproduction. "A local antiques dealer had just what we needed," says Thomas. "Salvaged from the old soda fountain in Vaughn's Pharmacy on Main, the bar even has a vintage 'Enjoy Coca-Cola' sticker still stuck to the mirror." They plan to have the sticker professionally cleaned and restored.
Found under rotted floorboards, these turn-of-the century receipts for wine and Cuban cigars confirm the room's history as a local watering hole. "It seems the bar ran even during Prohibition as a speakeasy, though I doubt anyone ever had to whisper any passwords to get in," says Thomas.
Thomas and Colette prepare cocktails for friends, who love the new space. "I've already noticed that guests no longer congregate in the kitchen," says Thomas. From neighbors, they learned that the adjacent glassed-in porch had been used as a dance floor. Plans for that revival are in the works.
Remodeling cost: $30,000
Time frame: 1 year
Where they saved: Using salvaged bath fixtures, installing faux tin tiles for the ceiling, and pouring concrete floors instead of replacing the rotted planks with new wood.
Where they splurged: On a flat-screen TV and other home-theater equipment.
What they would do differently: Use wax instead of an acrylic sealant to protect the concrete floors. The acrylic didn't adhere well, and it's peeling off in places. The wood-furniture wax we used on the bar prep counter, however, works great.
Biggest challenge: Pouring the concrete floors and making the molds for the concrete counter.
How they solved it: Called in favors from friends, who also happen to be skilled craftsmen.