Blog: GarBars. The new speakeasies

In my adventures I have frequented many fine establishments, taverns, pubs, and bars. But by far, some of the best I have been lucky enough to find aren’t in the heart of a city or on a rooftop—they’re in a garage! There are many different degrees of garage bars (GarBars) and they’re popping up more and more as a popular place for people to get together and enjoy each other’s company, food, and great libations. From a kegerator to a bottle of shot-worthy bourbon or vodka with a bowl of chips and salsa, to glorious hand-crafted settings with walk-in coolers, craft beer on tap, and outdoor kitchens and BBQs, homeowners are growing in the bar world. GarBars range from thousands of dollars to the cost of nails to repurpose free wooden pallets found at the side of the road. Regardless of monetary investment, they’re all in the design of a speakeasy meeting place with a dose of their own individuality. 

Perhaps their popularity stems from a new trend I’ve noticed in which more local bars are starting to pop up in small neighborhoods around the world. People tend to be going out less and traveling miles, or even across town, to meet others for a night out. Local pubs or GarBars are within walking distance and it’s a gathering of friends, family, and neighbors, rather than a room full of strangers. They’re definitely places people feel more comfortable and more at home. I should also add that GarBars aren’t limited to city neighborhoods—rural areas have GarBars too. The difference is people break out their golf carts and four-wheelers to go GarBar hopping.

I was recently invited to an amazingly warm and rocking GarBar for a holiday get together. I was pleasantly surprised at just what a great pub it was! It wasn’t the type of pub that sells alcoholic drinks. For most GarBars, it’s bring your own beer, or BYOB. But a GarBar isn’t just about the booze. It’s also the best in culinary creations, as people bring their specialty dish to share. Added to this was the fact that the occasion was a Halloween costume party. I instantly knew it would be a festive evening of libations, food, and partying that would last until the wee hours of the morning. This wonderful place I was invited to even had a name—Splinters! The proprietor told me the story of how his pub was named. It started with a personal joke between him and his friends and the possibility of how certain guests might get splinters in their derrieres from the rough stools. Perfect!

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of variety in the character and ambiance of these private speakeasies, but of those I’ve frequented, Splinters was a blast to see! It had everything in memorabilia and nostalgia that anyone could identify with, which made it so much fun. On this evening there were around 40 friends, family, and neighbors. There was one hell of a great bonfire and everyone was dressed representing their inner character on All Hallows Eve. The list of friends I would be introduced to this night were none other than Popeye and Olive Oil, Wonder Woman, Colonel Sanders and his Chicken Lickin’, Steam Punk Girls, the Invisible Woman…and there was the Pope himself, blessing the lost nuns and clergy along with a Doc and a Nurse waiting on standby case someone needed medical services.

Check out this video to see some of the creative costumes!

In all the characters, I found a lot of great friends who love this GarBar Splinters. I have to say the fun was on for all for sure! The drinks were chilled on ice and the drink menu ranged from beer to vodka lemonades to yep! Jell-O shots. No GarBar is a real GarBar without iconic Jell-O shots! Then there were the wonderful smells of some incredibly great food. A buffet of crock pots brimming with meatballs in various sauces, chili, quesadillas, and some of the best chicken wings ever! And I can’t forget to mention the competitive games. No GarBar is complete without them. They can range from dice games like Ship, Captain, Crew, and Left, Right Center or games such as Bocce Ball, Corn Hole (Bags), or Darts. Splinters has specific games they play and schedules throughout the year. In some, an individual or winning team takes home the pot and for others the contribution pot goes to charity. This night was Ship, Captain, Crew and it was truly fun to watch! Especially since the drinks were flowing and money from winning rolls of the dice were being tucked away for safe keeping in places no one dared to explore. The air was filled with music playing random, new, and old tunes and the volume was not too intrusive. The dance songs and sing-a-longs made it easy to join and share in the fun. Conversations of new people meeting old friends and telling stories of previous gatherings made it an enjoyable evening all around. It was a great group of people who care about each other and always have great time together.

I was amazed by how Splinters was put together—better than some restaurants I have been to. In the design of the bar and the aesthetics that adorn Splinters, you could feel the warmth from the floor up. From iconic posters and small framed sayings in different locations to a cozy lounge couch with pillows, a touch of both the proprietor and Splinters Frequent Flyers can be found.

Needless to say, I had a great time in learning about GarBar culture at Splinters. It’s what’s missing in a lot of professional establishments today and that is WARMTH. It’s warmth that has made quite a few bars, sports bars, and dives famous. And their uniqueness is what eventually set them above other places and later duplicated throughout the world. But unfortunately, it gets lost in the translation when planted somewhere new. The one thing that made it unique in the first place is the curator: the one who created it . That’s what always gets lost to a service crew and can’t be replicated. They don’t understand it’s not merely the décor that draws customers in. It’s the environment, the care, and warmth.

The design of a GarBar starts with the likes or hobbies of the proprietor and themes range from sports and movies to beach and other outdoor activities. Everywhere I go, and with each I encounter, they all have their own identities, stories, and fond memories. But in the end, it’s the people that make it a great place and the main reason friends, family, and neighbors share in a common GarBar.

Do you have a GarBar? What does your GarBar have that makes it unique? The drinks? Odd rules? Best dishes? I want to hear what makes yours great! Sound off in the comments below.

Until next time, Cheers! 
Chef T.

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