If you're hoping to elevate the mood in your home, a well-tended bar will do the trick. And who better to share tips on how to style and stock your bar than Paul McGee, head bartender and partner at Logan Square's The Whistler?
When McGee and his wife Shelby Allison relocated from Las Vegas in 2008, Allison immediately began scouring thrift stores and estate sales for items to round out her mid-century-meets-Americana aesthetic. The couple scored this stunning stainless steel rolling banquet bar at an auction in the suburbs for $275. It was produced in the 1940s by Brunswick in a building that now houses Columbia College and came complete with forgotten treasures tucked in the drawers, including cocktail flags dotted with just 48 stars.
Flanking the bar is an industrial lamp found at an antique store for $150 and a fiberglass bar stool Allison picked up at Andersonville's Scout for $40. The print that hangs over the bar might look like an investment piece, but it's actually an iPhone photo of Lake Michigan that Allison blew up and stuck in IKEA's Ribba frame—an easy DIY that cost under $30.
If you keep an open mind at thrift stores, most anything can be turned into a home bar: a bookshelf, tea cart, baker's rack, or just a decorative tray atop some spare counter space. McGee and Allison's bar cart is every drinker's dream, topped with curious elixirs and tools. The cart features everything from clay cups for sipping mezcal, a crystal mixing glass which is the benchmark of Japanese mixology and has recently become a fixture in high-end cocktail bars stateside, vintage bartending books found at various thrift shops and on eBay, copper Moscow Mule mugs (purchased from Cocktail Kingdom in New York for $13 each), and a wide variety of bitters, including the full line of Bittercube bitters, which are produced in Wisconsin.
As for the stocking part, McGee recommends these ten bottles to get your personal speakeasy started: rye whiskey, bourbon whiskey, London dry gin, silver tequila, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, white rum, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, Combier orange liqueur, Peychaud's bitters, and Angostura bitters.