I missed bars so much that I bought bar stools

This is an installment of Pandemic Purchases, a special series of personal essays about the items bought in the past year that brought the most value and joy to our lives and work while living in lockdown.

I miss sitting at bars. I miss pulling up a stool after a long day and perusing a wine menu. I miss my inquiries morphing into impromptu tasting sessions of wines I can’t buy at retail. I miss asking the bartender to make me a drink, more savory than sweet, and hoping it’s something that I’ve never sipped before. I miss the energy, the random conversations with the person next to me, the romantic feel of New York when you walk into a place like Bemelmans Bar.

I miss sitting at bars so much that I purchased bar stools for my apartment, when I don’t really have the need, the space, or even a real bar.

Bars in New York City are second homes for many locals, myself included. With a lack of square footage in our apartments—and a general disregard for the kitchen—New Yorkers live in our favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and pubs. It wouldn’t be unusual to pop into our go-to haunts a few times a week. If I polled my collection of friends, they could name in an instant “their” bars, whether they reside in a gilded Midtown hotel lobby, a trendy restaurant in the East Village, or a grungy dive bar in Murray Hill.

In pre-pandemic times, I had my wine bars, cocktail bars, beer bars, hotel bars, restaurant bars, and even coffee bars. No matter where I decided to go for a meeting or a date that involved a beverage, there was one constant: the bar stool.

I have written stories for work from the bar stools at my neighborhood Birch Coffee with a cold brew in the morning, conducted interviews from the bar stools at the Pierre Hotel with a cappuccino in the late afternoon, and furthered my wine education from the bar stools at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels with esoteric varieties in the evening. I’ve celebrated the holidays with live jazz and Manhattans at Bemelmans and posted up alone at the end of a busy event-filled evening for a solo nightcap of Champagne (or IPA, depending) at any number of delightful establishments.

When I traveled alone for work, I’d take a book to the hotel bar to read and sip Sancerre. When I vacationed with friends, we’d certainly end up at a cocktail bar…somewhere. Even my husband and I tend to skip the corner table in exchange for bar stools on date night; we’ve dined at the bar everywhere from Ivan Ramen to Le Bernardin. We also had our first date at a speakeasy-style cocktail bar where my drink arrived in an apothecary jar.

When the coronavirus pandemic restrictions in New York shut down restaurants, I missed bar stools. When restaurants could reopen but not with bar seating, I missed bar stools. So I decided if I were to drink at home, eat at home, sip my coffee at home, I should buy a pair of bar stools. At least I could pretend.

The funny part is that my kitchen doesn’t even have a real bar. We have this objectively sad excuse for an island, a thin slab of granite attached to the pass-through window of an otherwise galley-style kitchen that’s all too common in New York City rental apartments. It’s not even level! But I was so desperate for the feeling of sipping wine at a bar or “ordering” a dirty martini from my hobbyist bartender husband that I’d take it over nothing.

As if the 16-inch “bar” wasn’t dissuading enough, I have less than two feet between said bar and the edge of my dining room table. I couldn’t really move the table since it’s aligned with the chandelier, so the search for bar stools was 99% determined by size, a task that proved far more challenging that expected. So many bar stools are designed for lavish kitchen islands in suburban homes, not the tight quarters of Upper East Side doorman buildings, even if I do live in a nice one.

The author’s bar stools from Wayfair.
Stephanie Cain

I ultimately found a set for sale on Wayfair—not my typical stop for quality furniture—that fit the bill. The fabric on the chair backs match my living room furniture, and the stools have wood-veneer–style accents that complement the nearby dining table. The price (in 2020): two for $160 with free shipping. Considering many furniture companies sell one for much more than that, I figured I’d go for it. If I resold or donated them post-pandemic, I wouldn’t be upset about the experiment.

Around 6 p.m. each evening, I bring my laptop to the bar to sip an aperitif as my toddler eats her dinner. She likes to “cheers” me with her straw cup filled with her beverage of choice: any type of sparkling water. When we cook dinner with the couple next door, an ongoing tradition we began during lockdown, I chat from the bar while the others prep the meal. (My role is to pair the wines.) And Saturday mornings, I like to post up with my cold brew, scone, and a print magazine.

Just now, while writing this after our daughter has gone to bed, my husband asked if I would like a top-up on my glass of white wine. “Yes, please,” I responded from my perch. For a fleeting moment, it was like being back at a bar. Soon enough, I thought.

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