What We're Working On: My Upcycled Light-Up Bar
I needed a bar. My whiskeys and other spirits were crowded in with the reds in the wine rack I built, and that just isn’t right. I was at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for another project and I saw something fresh off the truck. It didn’t even have a price on it yet.
It was a light table from a photo studio. Since very few people shoot slide film anymore, it was being scrapped. Very well built, heavy as hell and with no decorative elements at all - 6 feet long, 2 feet deep and 32 inches tall, with a 2 foot by 4 foot milk glass back-lit light set into the center - It was a perfect blank slate.
Given its height it wasn’t right for a sit down bar. I’d make it a back bar, set against the wall. The bottles would stand on the glass, lit from below. And the whole thing had to compliment my outdoor heater across the room, upcycled into a jukebox – the Audiopticon.
I still had paint left over from the Audiopticon build, so I removed the glass from the table and painted the chunky sides of the table a rich blue. This would be the only part of the original construction still showing when finished. To pick up the brass tones of the jukebox I banded the edges with angled aluminum, spray painted to match.
I didn’t want to just paint the surface of the bar. That expanse of melamine would never pick up the character I was looking for. I found a 1/8-inch thick walnut panel from the side of a modular kitchen cabinet and cut it to fit on the top inside the metal banding. I tried to use a router to cut out the opening for the light, but the little rabbit around the perimeter that holds the glass prevented that. That meant I had to rely on measuring and math to get the perfect cutout in the walnut, which caused some anxiety during this one-off cut, but I nailed it. Finally, I stained it and glued and clamped it to the surface of the table.
The Audiopticon is metal and visually heavy. The light table has a strong but spindly looking base and legs. I needed to skin the lower portion with something. I liked the look of the vented door on a steel shed, meant to house a water heater outside. It was also a perfect fit for the space under the bar top. The galvanized metal was too clean and nice, so I roughed up the surface with my angle grinder, squirted it with the hose and left it outside for a week. Then I ground off the rust and it picked up the aged patina I was looking for.
I fixed it in place and it looked terrible. The door looked like a door and the whole thing looked like a shed on its side.
What it needed was contours. The Audiopticon is a cylinder and I had to transfer that form onto the bar.
I scored the flange on the top and bottom of the door so it could flex.
Then I made a simple jig out of sawhorses and screws and bent the door into an arc.
Finding a curve that appealed to me I welded on panels cut from the sides of the shed.
I slid the panels around the sides of the table and secured them to the legs with self-drilling screws.
Of course, without the proper setting, all I built was a tricked out light table. I made a little light box for an X-ray of my face, framed it with a welded barbed wire ring (the most terrible hula hoop in the world), and hung it behind the bar. I paired it with the pipe, oak and baling wire floor lamp my mother dubbed “The Wing Light” and a chair I rescued from a dumpster and rebuilt with barn wood.
Finally I arranged my bottles from Scotch, through the rye and bourbons, to tequilas and mescals, to ouzo and other spirits, filling in the last spot with a so-so vodka from the freezer, just so there wouldn’t be any gaps.
Now I can sit on my reclaimed chair, listening to tunes from my upcycled Audiopticon, enjoying an adult beverage from my repurposed bar.