Last Call: I dream of vintage basement bars

This bar might not be in someone’s basement, but it sure is vintage
This bar might not be in someone’s basement, but it sure is vintage
Image: Jim Heimann Collection (Getty Images)
Last CallLast CallLast Call is The Takeout’s online watering hole where you can chat, share recipes, and use the comment section as an open thread. Here’s what we’ve been reading/watching/listening around the office today.

Instagram has become, for me at least, an increasingly inhospitable environment over the past several months. If it’s not celebrities flaunting their #blessed and highly choreographed lives in the feed, it’s loved ones posting photos from fretfully large-looking gatherings in the middle of a pandemic. (Stop all the gathering!) I’d probably delete Instagram entirely if not for two powerful forces that continue to draw me in: friends’ cute babies and the @vintagebasementbar account.

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The institution of the vintage basement bar is sacred and rapidly disappearing. These bars hearken back to an era where basements could simultaneously function as social spaces but also still look like basements. Today’s basements are dug out to insane depths to sport cathedral ceilings and nicer entertainment systems than anything on the upper levels. Those types of basements can be fun and relaxing, of course, but there’s something refreshingly honest about checkered linoleum floors, exposed pipes, the smell of a nearby laundry machine, and a wood-paneled bar whose stock of brown liquors is doing all the heavy lifting to turn the basement into party central. The vintagebasementbar Instagram account understands this, and pores over real estate listings to showcase the very best examples of these midcentury treasures across the country. Here’s a great example from a ranch home in Gary, Indiana:

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Do these images provide instant nostalgia for you, too? I’ve known some spectacular basement bars in my lifetime, many of which have since been sacrificed to make way for man caves, teen zones, or whatever else might increase square footage and resale value. Indeed, some have become entirely new basement bars, complete with updated quartz countertops and chrome mini-fridges. But the tidy little basement bars of the past, in all their Formica glory, will always have my heart.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

My house had a bar in the basement when I moved in, and a crawl space chock full of old whiskey bottles and cigar boxes. Plus some old roll-maps of the area rivers (like those maps at school you could pull down), which would have fit into the window-blind mechanism by the bar. I like to imagine parties where they planned fishing trips and talked of the huge salmon that got away, drinking Four Roses and smoking Factory Seconds.

As other houses in the neighborhood have come to market (there’s been a large turn-over in the years I’ve lived here), the listing inevitably involves a bar in the basement. Two doors down had the nicest one I’ve seen, with a wall mural and a dance floor to go with it. Portland still is a huge bar town, just above ground now (although I can think of three public bars that are actual basements).