When John Garbarino moved to Maplewood, NJ, from Soho in 2008, he left one thing behind: his neighborhood bar.
Garbarino, 47, had been a regular at downtown dive Spring Lounge and even met his wife, Erin, there. But after he moved, his weekly pint downings dwindled; only rarely did he find himself at a guy’s night out in a pub. So, in 2011, he decided to bring Spring Lounge to the burbs.
The business development pro spent $6,000 converting his 400-square-foot garage into the GarBar. It features a 14-foot oak bar with seven wooden chairs identical to the ones at Spring Lounge, a beer tap, a wine fridge, two TVs, Guinness and Brooklyn Brewery lights, and a “Hippies use side door” sign. It quickly became a neighborhood gathering place. Garbarino supplies some drinks — Bloody Marys are the house specialty — and guests bring others. Every Christmas Eve, there’s a party with a karaoke stage, and there are annual Super Bowl get-togethers and regular dinners that spill into GarBar after-hours.
“It’s my place, and something that I created and something that I’m able to share with friends and family as opposed to just going to the bar,” he tells The Post.
It’s also motivated others in Maplewood — known as one of the places former Brooklynites and downtown Manhattanites flock to after having kids — and surrounding areas to do the same. City expats are bringing the bar life they once enjoyed in Williamsburg and Soho to their suburban garages, spending thousands to create elaborate home watering holes for friends and neighbors to gather. (The bars aren’t open to strangers and they don’t charge for drinks.)
“It really brings joy to people,” says Garbarino. “So many of us have these spaces where things were dumped [that] could be turned into something useful, entertaining and fun.”
In 2017, Brian “Smitty” Krupkin, a former Hoboken, NJ, resident who now lives around the corner from Garbarino in Maplewood, spent $2,000 to turn his own 20-by-20-foot parking area into Smitty’s Tavern. “The garage had a lot of potential and [my neighbor] opened our eyes to that possibility,” says Krupkin, who runs his own marketing company.
GarBar also inspired Garbarino’s next-door neighbor, Joe Melvin, a 40-year-old London native who works in communications. In 2018, Melvin spent roughly $700 building a dive bar called Sloppy Joe’s in his two-car garage. It’s replete with a fridge where cans and bottles of beer and wine are kept, a faux brick wall and light-up Modelo and Johnnie Walker signs. Just outside, there’s a pizza oven and a barbecue grill. There’s only one rule: Don’t come empty-handed.
“If you want to drink something fancy . . . bring it with you,” says Melvin, who also cites the familial atmosphere of British pubs as an inspiration. “Show me how to make it, but I’m not a bartender. I can open a can or a bottle — that’s as far as I go.”
Melvin and his wife, Beth, 38, previously lived in Hoboken, and they like that the conversion allows them to have friends over late without fear of waking up their young children, Charlie, 5, and Ryan, 2. The bar allows them to be safely close to their kids but not too close if their parent-party gets loud.
“You’re not a million miles from your house — you’re maybe 15 steps,” he says.
Melvin admits that hanging out in a garage, even one that looks like a bar, isn’t the same as actually going out. But it works for this point in his life.
“There is something about going to a bar and not knowing who’s going to be there, or who you’re going to meet, or where the night’s going to go,” he says, nostalgically. Despite the name, at Sloppy Joe’s, “There’s none of that spontaneity of youth . . . It’s more of a stability of middle age.”
Elsewhere in Maplewood, 49-year-old Felix Sockwell’s home bar is anything but divey. He’s spent roughly $100,000 transforming his garage into the Garage Mahal, an elaborate pub with a hand-painted dome ceiling, a mahogany bar and salvaged windows from Argentina.
“There’s not a whole lot of corners that were cut,” says Sockwell, an artist and illustrator.
His kids — Brooke, 13, Natalie, 12, and Skylar, 5 — do their homework there from time to time, and adult friends pop over for a beer or an espresso.
“We just try to keep it low-key and family-friendly without a whole lot of people coming over thinking we’re going to get hammered all the time,” he says.
In Millburn, NJ, a few miles west of Maplewood, Anne, 41, and Phil Thomas Di Giulio, 42, spent $10,000 to construct a pub on their property. Barport is housed in a former carport and has a beachy feel with plants, an airy white-and-gray color scheme and local beers on tap. Moms gather for lunch during soccer practice and the couple uses it to host birthday parties and ice cream socials for their three children — Penn, 8, Cooper, 6, and Eliza, 3.
“Half the time we have to kick them out because we want to sit there,” says Anne.