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TV's 'Mad Men,' cooking shows boosts interest in home bars, bar carts

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VICTORIA - As cocktail culture becomes trendy in lounges and bars across Canada, there's increasing interest in bringing a piece of it home.

The desire to shake, muddle and stir vintage cocktails has been fuelled by cooking shows, along with programs including "Boardwalk Empire" and "Mad Men" (which has inspired much online chatter about how to mimic the drinks imbibed by Don Draper et al).

"With the Internet (and) Food Network ... everyone wants to be Jamie Oliver and be bartenders at home now," says Shawn Soole, bartender, general manager and proprietor of Little Jumbo Restaurant and Bar in Victoria B.C., and author of "Cocktail Culture."

As cocktail making becomes a popular hobby, Soole warns it can be an expensive one and says many of his customers at Little Jumbo, and Clive's Cocktail Lounge in Victoria (where he used to work), buy equipment that is more expensive than what he uses at the restaurant.

"Once you start entertaining and that sort of thing it goes from being what you do at house party to something more serious," he says. "Our customers will buy the top of the line mixing glasses from Japan and gold-plated spoons. They start travelling and buying products in the U.S. and bringing them back, so it can get out of hand as an expensive little hobby."

Even though there a lot of high-end cocktail tools on the market Soole says there are only four essential pieces needed to make great drinks.

"I always say you need a two-piece Boston shaker, and the reason why is, they are a bit more finicky and hard to get used to as an amateur cocktail maker but they can be used in a lot more ways," he says.

Soole says a Boston shaker can be used to stir, shake and muddle (mash up spices and herbs) for a wide range of cocktails.

He says a bartender also needs an ergonomically designed bar spoon, a Hawthorne strainer and a jigger.

While the tools and ingredients are important for making great drinks, homeowners are also trying to enhance the overall home cocktail bar experience.

"The trend is definitely there," says Tamara Bowman, owner and lead designer at Metric Design Centre in Saskatoon. "It is all a part of entertaining and it is such a big part of people's lifestyles now. We have very few hours at home we want to enjoy them with friends or family, and entertaining is a big part of that."

Unlike the dated bars of the past, Bowman says homeowners are including feature lighting to highlight wine displays, wine coolers and also backsplashes with stone.

"Feature things are important in creating a wow factor," she says. "It is about bringing in different materials that don't necessarily match what is going on in the rest of the home, instead they are creating this feature area that is more interesting."

Bar carts like those that appeared in the offices of "Mad Men" are also a popular choice for those looking to bring a bit of the cocktail culture into their home, but are on a budget.

"The bar cart is a really great way to bring that bar element into the space, and there are so many cool options for bar carts now," says Bowman. "Including a few key pieces of glassware helps draw the focus to that space. Dressing it up with barware and maybe a flower to soften it and bring focus to it."

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