A wet bar used to be the added touch in the middle-class home that symbolized that a family had "made it." It offered homeowners the luxury of entertaining guests over drinks from the living room instead of the kitchen.
But over time, good taste and socializing have changed. Inviting people over means everyone hangs out in the kitchen, and the drinks offered are often not much stronger than sparkling water with a twist of lime.
"People don't drink like they used to," says Janice Renne, an interior designer from Newport Beach. "And they don't want a lot of liquor around, especially if they have children.
"In the last three homes I've decorated, I've mentioned putting in a bar, and the owners had a fit," says Renne. "I wasn't even talking about a wet bar; I was referring to a simple bar in the kitchen where they could eat."
Designers are discovering that the wet bar has dried up.
"I recently redecorated a tract house, and the first thing the owners wanted me to do was rip out the wet bar," says Sandra Hayes, owner of Design Possibilities in Fullerton. "No one wants that image. They're concerned about fitness and health, and they don't want guests to be driving drunk from their homes."
In a number of older homes, the floor plans included a large bonus room intended for entertaining that had plumbing installed for a wet bar. Now, many of those bars are being given a "family" edge.
"We're turning a number of those bonus rooms into master suites, because people want really large bedrooms," says Louise Greiner, an interior designer from Anaheim Hills. "They were meant to be large game rooms, but they're being converted because the master bedrooms were often small."
Greiner has seen the owners of these conversions turn the wet bar into more of a "mini-kitchen."
"They end up with a large master bedroom that includes a sink and small refrigerator for snacks. We did one of them in which we made the new bar look like an entertainment center so that it fits in with the bedroom's decor."
New homes often don't include a wet-bar option. "New homes selling now often have a family room that opens to the kitchen," says Judy Deaton, executive director of the Interior Designers Institute in Corona del Mar. "That has eliminated the need for a bar because the kitchen is right there and drinks are accessible."
When they were popular in the 1950s and '60s, wet bars featured mirrors, a sink, lots of shelf space for bottles and shot glasses, and dark wood cabinets. With the light colors being used in today's homes, the old bar can easily look out of place. Creative thinking is needed to improve or replace them.
"We turned one into a curio cabinet," says interior designer Ron Sanchez of San-Pri Interiors in Fullerton. "We used a lot of high-gloss lacquer shelves and lighting to make it an attractive feature in the home. It was relatively inexpensive and easy to do."
Wet bars have advanced into the computer age. "In one house, we removed the living room bar and put in a large computer center," says Greiner. "It was something the family wanted and weren't really sure where they wanted it. I asked them if they ever used the bar, and they said no."
Greiner removed most of the old bar area except for a portion of the closet to use for storage. A slide-out unit to hold the computers was installed so that if the family moves, they can take their center with them.
Another option is to make the wet bar an area to store wines. "I've had clients turn their bars into wine cellars," says Renne.
There are some designers who embrace the wet bar. "They're not something that will disappear in a long time," says Wes A. Hageman, an interior designer from Laguna Beach. Hageman thinks it's unfortunate that the bar has become a forgotten item in a corner of the house. "People think that a wet bar is just a sink and a refrigerator. They often don't think about needing a built-in storage and display area, and to me that's an important part of bar design. They really can be quite beautiful."
However, Hageman appears to be in the minority. "Everyone I've talked to wants them pulled out," says Sanchez. "And as soon as possible."