Sonoma County locals with bars in their backyard

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Greg and Jen Espinoza fly to Hawaii as often as they can. Their idea of the perfect vacation is sipping mai tais on a tropical island. But when they can’t get away they do the next best thing — they sail off to Pink Pearl’s Lagoon, right in their own backyard.

Pearl’s is their personal tiki bar, a hangout for friends, family and neighbors, just beyond their sliding glass doors. Greg built it himself out of bamboo he picked up cheap years ago at the old Yardbirds’ going-out-of-business sale. Over the years they’ve added personal touches, like a Bourbon Street sign mindful of their 10th anniversary trip to New Orleans, a full-sized skeleton standing at the bar and an old puffer fish hat that sat for years on the refrigerator at Greg’s aunt’s house.

“It’s just like being on vacation at home, bringing vacation into our daily life,” Jen said of the little backyard bar that has become the center of socializing in the summer months.

“Neighbors and friends have brought over drinks for a tiki drink competition, and it has been the watering hole for solstice parties,” Jen said. “Just last year we put a year-round roof overhead so it could be left up all through he winter. Before, we dismantled and re-built it each year.”

The Espinozas are among a class of fun-loving homeowners who have figured out that having their own personal cocktail bar outside is one of summer’s great pleasures, whether they have an elaborate installation with running water and refrigeration, or are happy just to have a simple covered counter with an ice bucket.

For the Espinozas, it all started when Greg, a tile contractor, decided to throw a surprise disco party for Jen’s birthday.

“A friend of ours, one of my college roommates, brought a portable tiki bar and right away, I knew we were going to end up with one,” Jen remembered.

While outdoor bars can be bought at Home Depot for as little as $499 and tiki bar kits aren’t hard to find, a lot of homeowners have found that do-it-yourself is best. Since you’re probably going for more dive bar than luxury lounge, salvaged materials will do.

David Albracht used the leftover corrugated metal from an outdoor shed project to build a backyard bar to contain his wife Diane’s pig collection, which had outgrown their house. The couple previously owned a cafe called Pignoli in Occidental, which led to an avalanche of pig-related gifts. Now many of those little piggies are out in The Pig Bar, a drinks shack suitable for Indiana Jones only 12 feet from their back door, across a flagstone patio.

Albracht made the walls of the leftover metal and a laid a wooden deck for the floor. The bar itself is a wood frame with metal siding and a slab of marble, left over from a job, as the counter.

“It’s just such a focal point. People come in and stop short when they see it,” said Diane. “It’s a real conversation piece. Our grandkids just adore it. We have to keep them from turning it into a playhouse. They love eating lunch out there.”

It is the second bar for the Albrachts. In the front of their home is a Texas country-style bar, outfitted with an old cash register and cowboy collectibles like an oxen harness.

With a little imagination, an existing structure in the yard can lend itself to conversion.

George Borecky, a retired utility worker for the city of Ukiah, put in a gazebo in his Redwood Valley backyard. There was an outdoor dining table out there but he never used it.

“Now that area gets used all the time,” he said.

“It all started when I was just looking to redo our backyard. I was watching HGTV one day and somebody had a backyard bar and I said I’d really like to do something like that,” he said. “It just kind of evolved.”

Grabbing ideas off HGTV and Pinterest, like turning an old surfboard into a sign, he transformed the gazebo into “Jorge’s Cantina,” complete with running water and a Kegerator, a refrigerator big enough to hold a 15-gallon keg of beer.

He loves the fantasy of flying off South of the Border when the spirit moves him.

“It’s simple,” he said of the project. “All you need is a couple of ideas. I’m a pretty handy guy but I wouldn’t say I’m handier than anyone else. It’s within anybody’s reach to build something like this. You just have to have a few basic skills and you can do it.”

Patrick McCleery, who was born in Hawaii, built a tiki bar for his girlfriend, Kathy Gillespie, in their east Petaluma backyard.

“It’s as authentic as I could make it,” he said of the 2 1/2 by 5-foot wide drinks stand, which replaces a three-tiered fountain that no longer seemed practical considering the drought. He found bamboo fencing at a Friedman’s home improvement store to encase the bar and then ordered real thatch online at Amazon.com for the roof. It has sliding-door cupboards to store things and an older stereo and CD player for music. The whole thing cost no more than $400, which was far cheaper, he said, than buying a kit.

The bar is now the center of Hawaiian-style parties, complete with kalua pork and teriyaki beef and rice.

“I love Hawaii and the whole Polynesian culture,” said McCleery, who came to the mainland when he was 12.

Beverlee and Michael Laird of Cloverdale redecorated their covered deck into a classic tropical watering hole with a vintage rattan bar and matching dining set, with atmospheric touches like tiki torches and a lit puffer fish.

“We serve plenty of Mai Tais during the season,” Beverlee Lair said.

A backyard bar can be as elaborate or as simple as you want to make it.

Designer Shawn Hall, who specializes in restaurant interiors, made her own little “Martini Bar,” with the sides made out of two old Tunisian shutters and a decorative wrought-iron grille holding up a slab of walnut that serves as the counter.

“It’s not one of those fancy ones with a refrigerator, but it’s really functional,” she said, noting that when friends come over to socialize they go right to the bar to drop off a contribution or to take a martini glass hanging from the top under an awning.

“I’m a real outdoor person,” she said. “So it’s nice to have that feeling of outdoor fun. With a bar you don’t have to go in and out and in and out. You can just relax with food and full a bar full of stuff right there.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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