You come home at the end of a long, productive workweek and walk through the front door to a neat and cozy place. You head to your well-stocked bar, make yourself your favorite drink easily because everything you need is within arm’s reach. You kick off your shoes, switch on some music and sip your drink as you send your friends messages to set up some great weekend plans.
That sure beats coming home to find that the one beer you had left is not even in the fridge and there’s nothing else to drink. And then you waste five minutes debating whether you should go to the store to get something or just wait a few hours till your friends agree on the bar for tonight’s outing.
Setting up and decorating a home bar is easy – it doesn’t need a large space or a big budget, and it can be a great way to make entertaining at home stress-free. With just a few choice items, you can have it all ready in one go.
Here’s what you need to do…
Pick A Spot
Survey your place for a good spot. A home bar doesn’t actually have to be a bar with stools, though if you have the space and you like that idea, go right ahead. There are some bars with high stools that don’t actually take up a large area.
But the other way to go about this is to designate part of a cupboard or table that you already have.
One of most popular spots is the dining room. This makes “dinner and drinks” easy to pull off and you don’t have to keep getting up from the table to top up. Another popular spot is the kitchen so you can have quick access to the fridge for ice, white wine, beer and mixers.
But don’t worry if the spot you really like is not close to the fridge. One piece of equipment you can use to fix this issue is an ice bucket. Otherwise, if everything is already set up at the bar and all you have to do is walk to the fridge to get the rest of what you need, then it’s not going to be a hassle.
Another great place to set up a home bar is in the area where you entertain most frequently. For example: if you have a game room in the basement, or if you do movie nights in your living room, or if you like to sip cocktails on the patio, those are all options to consider.
Any area of the house is fine as long as the bottles are not exposed to direct sunlight, and can be kept in a cool and dry environment.
Another smart idea is to set up a bar cart so you can just move it around depending on where you want to hang out.
With just a few pieces of equipment, you can have everything you need to create a large selection of drinks. Here are the basics:
- Bar spoon – this is for stirring, measuring ingredients, layering different spirits in one drink, and garnishing
- Muddler – this tool is used for mashing ingredients like fruits or herbs that are used in cocktails (think: mojito, old fashioned), as well as for crushing ice
- Jigger – this is the bar “measuring cup”, it has two sides, one that measures one ounce and the other two ounces
- Shaker – made up of two metal pieces that fit together, this is what you use to mix cocktails of the “shaken, not stirred” variety
- Strainer – this is like a sieve that fits on the shaker so that when you pour out the cocktail, ice and other bits don’t go into the glass
You’ll also need ice bags, ice cube trays, an ice bucket and ice tongs, as well as a box of toothpicks for cocktail onions and olives, a couple of small bowls for nuts and other nibbles, napkins, and coasters.
Depending on how many people you plan to entertain on the regular, you’ll need to get sets of different types of glassware. Those include:
- Beer mugs or pint glasses
- Red wine glasses
- White wine glasses
- Champagne flutes
- Martini glasses
- Highball/tall glasses
- Rocks/short glasses
Four to eight of each should be enough. On average, most people have three drinks, with three or four ice cubes each, and a napkin for each round. Some will use the same glass and some might want to try different drinks, so plan to have minimal extras of everything just in case.
The star of the show, of course, will be the selection of alcohol you have on hand. But even so, you should start with a small collection of your favorite and most often used alcohols. You can build from there later on.
Some of the most popular are:
- Gin – for gin tonics, gin martinis, tom collins
- Vodka – for vodka tonics, screwdrivers, white russians/black russians, bloody marys, cosmopolitans
- Rum – for mojitos, daiquiris, mai tais, cuba libres, piña coladas
- Bourbon – for old fashioneds, manhattans, whiskey sours, mint juleps
- Scotch – for rob roys, rusty nails, godfathers
- Tequila – for margaritas, sunrises, palomas
Each of these spirits has different brands and types. For example: light and dark rums; vodkas distilled from potatoes or sugar cane or grains; there are gold and silver tequilas.
In general, you want to use the more expensive brands for drinking straight or on the rocks, while the less expensive brands for mixing. But you never want to go really cheap either way. And one thing to remember is that although alcohol stores well for long periods of time, the emptier a bottle gets, the more quickly the alcohol in it will spoil due to the air inside.
Next up you want to have some wine. You don’t need a wine cellar; a few good bottles of red and white wine, with maybe one or two Rosés should be enough. As you probably already know, red wine is served at room temperature and white wine should be chilled.
And of course, you should have a pack or two of beers stocked.
Mixers and Garnishes
Again, you don’t want to go overboard with mixers because you might end up spending a lot of money and using only a little.
So just stick to a few basics:
- Red vermouth for manhattans
- White vermouth for martinis
- Bitters to make the different ingredients in the cocktail blend well
- Juices (orange, pineapple, cranberry and tomato)
- Ginger ale
Garnishes can include:
- Hot sauce
- Worchester sauce
- Cocktail onions
Now that you have everything ready, you might want to try your hand at a few cocktails first before you have a cocktail party. You can find lots of recipes online, on YouTube, or you can buy a cocktail recipe book.
You should even make a night of it. Invite a few friends over and experiment with different recipes. Pick your favorite five or six and master them. That is always better than mixing a dozen not-so-great cocktails.
You’ll also need to master some of the basics, such as how to shake, how to strain, how to use a bar spoon, how to use a muddler, how to crush fruit and herbs, etc. The different layers of your cocktail should be composed of the base spirit, like the vodka or gin, plus something bitter and something sweet to give a nice balance of flavors.
If you really want to go all the way, check out some mixology classes in town or online.
And that means two things…
One – get to know your regular guests and what they like.
Two– personalize your equipment.
We have some really cool stuff you can check out, like:
Some friends of yours may not be drinking alcohol – for whatever reason – and you want to make sure that you don’t leave them out. Just handing them a can of cola or a box of juice is not good hosting, so why not learn a couple of non-alcoholic cocktails and impress them?
Some easy favorites include:
- Flavored sparkling iced-tea
- Lemonade or limeade
- Non-alcoholic punch
- Orange spritzer
- Watermelon cooler
- Asian pear sparkler
- Pink grapefruit soda
There are many recipes online for different virgin cocktails, or “mocktails”, that taste just as delicious as the alcoholic ones. A spicy, savory virgin bloody mary is one example. You will also find non-alcoholic wines you can make virgin sangrias and mimosas with. And there are even pretty good non-alcoholic beers on the market nowadays.
So as you can see, with just a little bit of planning and creativity, you can set up and decorate a home bar that can everyone can enjoy and, more importantly, one that you can enjoy.