Jan Norris is a spunky, optimistic 50-something who won’t even think of letting life get her down. Her smile lights up her face and her youthful demeanor radiates through the room. She has no reservations when it comes to enjoying her life and making the most of every moment. Norris talks about how she and her husband, Randy, enjoy wine and entertaining. In fact, one of her greatest loves is cooking. “I love to cook,” she says. “That’s how I show people I love them, is to cook for them…that’s definitely who I am.” Whether for a casual weekend dinner or a special party of 50 or more guests, Norris happily welcomes friends and family into her home for food, drink and merriment. Their basement home bar serves as a fitting complement to these warm and joyful moments.
In fact, their bar lends a classy yet comfortable gathering place, stocked with bar fundamentals. “We’re pretty basic,” Norris says. “We’ll have beer, we’ll obviously have wine, and we always have the hard liquor, in case somebody wants a scotch and water, or gin and tonic, or that kind of thing.”
Jan Norris’ basement bar resembles a tasting bar in a country winery, with tall high-back bar stools, warm colors and a large window where light streams in and lluminates the entire room. Next to that, a tall wine cellar occupies a corner just across from the bar, the glass door giving guests a peek into the Norris’ favorite vintners. The lights in the ceiling are soft, providing a warm glow and comfortable atmosphere. “I think lighting is important,” she says. “Everybody wants to look younger when they’re drinking!” She laughs, saying that light and color add an important element to any room, especially the bar area.
Just about everyone in the neighborhood has a bar in their basement, which at first might seem to diminish the uniqueness of the home bar concept. Still, one of the defining characteristics of their home bar is the wine cellar. Their wine cellar is like a closet-sized wine cooler, with wine racks from the floor to the ceiling. Although the Norrises designed the basement and the bar, their contractor suggested that they put the wine cellar in the corner of the basement near the door to the outside, away from the heat vents. This provides a location where the temperature stays pretty constant no matter the weather.
Norris feels as thought having a home bar is trendy, although it does provide practical options for people who enjoy entertaining. “When I was growing up, it was a big thing to have a home bar in your basement. That would have been in the fifties and sixties,” she says. She feels she has seen a resurgence of home bars recently, the concept once again making a stylish addition to modern homes.
When entertaining, the Norrises usually have their friends relax at the bar downstairs, enjoying a cocktail or a glass of wine until dinner is prepared. Jan often finds herself upstairs cooking dinner while her husband mans the bar. “We’ll do hors d’oeuvres down here to start, before we move upstairs,” she says. The bar is ideal in the summer or winter, since the basement has a walk-out patio so the doors can open wide for summer parties. In fact, Norris has held themed cocktail parties centered around mojitos and margaritas, a fun departure from the typical dinner party.
One thing Norris especially loves is hosting get-togethers for the holidays. She has quite the collection of fine and antique glassware, which she retrieves from her hutch for special occasions. “If it’s [a holiday], I have certain glasses that I like to use,” she says. Jan has an eye for attractive glassware and appreciates any chance she gets to use it, although primarily it serves as decoration.
For the most part, the Norris home bar is a wine bar. Although a blender and cocktail shaker make their home on the back counter, the elegant wine glasses, the wine-themed bar stool cushions and the full stock of wine in the cellar all suggest that Jan and Randy must be wine connoisseurs of the highest caliber. Although they appreciate having wine on hand to serve guests and to complement dinners, Norris would not call herself an authority on wine. “I always feel like I know a little about a lot of things, but I don’t consider myself to be truly an expert,” says Jan. “Wine is very much about what you like.”
Norris believes that there is definitely a difference in tastes between a cheap bottle of wine and a more expensive one, but she believes that the most important thing about wine is that one drinks what she enjoys. “I can tell a big difference between a ten dollar bottle of wine and a thirty dollar bottle of wine. There’s definitely a nicer finish and it’s definitely more complex, but again I think it goes by what you like,” she says.
Although Norris enjoys a good wine, she would never place herself above someone with a less-refined palate. Laughing, she shamelessly remembers the day she enjoyed a good boxed wine. “[I] thought it was the coolest thing in the world that wine came in a box,” she says. “The only problem with boxed wine is that you really have no idea how much you’ve actually consumed in an evening.”
Nowadays, Norris rarely finds herself enjoying wine from a box, but her youthful charm has not diminished. Through thick and thin, she extends her generous spirit no matter what the occasion.