When Bud Burge and Sallie Watson Burge bought their 1914 Craftsman-style house in Uptown Minneapolis several years ago, it came with a cute but ancient detached garage.
"It had some character," Burge said, but the garage was small — only one stall — and was falling over.
So he knocked it down, hired a crew and worked alongside them to build a new two-car garage. Only once it was done, he didn't like the way it looked.
"The old one was charming and small. The new one was big and intrusive," he said. "I was staring at a massive windowless wall. It was just bugging me."
One day he decided to cut a hole in that windowless wall. Chewing through his fiber-cement siding with a diamond saw blade was not fun. "It was pretty tedious. Loud and dusty," he said. "I knew enough not to compromise the structure," thanks to some skills he picked up while he was flipping houses during the Great Recession.
At first Burge thought he might fill the new opening with a barn door. Eventually the idea evolved into building a bar, a Garage Bar.
"We do a lot of entertaining," he reasoned.
He'd spotted such projects on social media where "garage bars" were trending. Google "garage bars" and you'll see everything from primitive, rustic sheds to huge industrial-chic retreats.
Some are more bar than garage, to the extent that their owners can no longer park in them. Burge didn't want to go that route. "I didn't want to ruin the integrity of the garage — what a garage is," he said.
Cues from the old garage
Burge poured concrete to create a 200-pound slab bar countertop, and ordered a custom roll-down door from Menards to secure the opening when the bar isn't in use.
To give the garage more character, he sketched some shutters, taking design cues from his old garage, and hired a friend, woodworker Steve Stoeckel of Rustic Buffalo, to build them.
He dressed up the interior of the garage with some shiplap siding from Home Depot.
"It gives it that rustic cabin-y vibe," he said.
He decorated the Garage Bar with vintage beer collectibles he sourced via Facebook Marketplace, and added a dartboard, a small pizza oven and a potter's bench where he can set up food and beverages. Everything is on casters for ease of movement. "Versatility was key," he said. "It's a practical and versatile man cave."
Pavers were used to create a large patio in front of the Garage Bar and integrate it into the backyard. "It made the yard more inviting," he said.
The whole project cost less than $2,000, with most of the budget spent on the custom shutters, the security door and the siding. (A step-by-step how-to video is posted on YouTube.)
Burge finished the Garage Bar in 2019 — not knowing how essential it would soon become during the pandemic and restrictions on indoor socializing.
"COVID changed everything," he said. "The timing worked out perfectly."
The Garage Bar gave the Burges a place to safely gather with a few people outdoors, even in winter.
"We use it pretty often," he said. "I had a happy hour out there in February when it was 12 degrees," with the help of a propane restaurant-style heater.
After Burge's father died during the pandemic, Burge held a "mini wake" for him at the Garage Bar. "We were able to spread out," he said. "You can open the garage door to the alley, so it's light and bright."
The Garage Bar also became the inspiration and backdrop for Burge's new COVID-era hobby — Shelter in Place Television or SIP*TV, featuring comedy sketches in which Burge, a multimedia professional, plays multiple characters.
The protagonist is himself, hanging out at the Garage Bar. "Bud never gets to leave," he said. Bud has an alter ego, Guy Lowenbrau, a hockey-playing Canuck who sports a poutine-thick accent and a vintage leather jacket from the '70s that belonged to Burge's dad.
Guy gets around, but visits the Garage Bar to shoot the breeze with Bud. "He tells me about his adventures," said Burge.
He's videotaped about 20 episodes and shared them via YouTube.
"It's a lot of fun," he said of his new pandemic pursuit. "It's kept me creatively challenged during this time."