It’s the dream of every drinking and entertaining aficionado: Building your own home bar. Isn’t it your reprieve from the world when you get home after a long day?
It’s a source of mirth and merriment when you’re hosting a guest or a party. It’s a great way to bring home what you learn in bartending class and practice on your friends. And it’s cool to have around, period.
But building a proper home bar means a lot more than having a few bottles of liquor stashed away in a cabinet and a few tumblers you swiped from your local bar.
A quality home bar should be created with two goals in mind – being capable of offering an array of drinks for any occasion, and to impress.
If you’re going to succeed with these goals, there are a number of things that your bar can’t do without.
The first thing you have to decide involves where your bar will be set up. Sure, you can go all the way and put in an actual bar-top with stools and the whole deal, but for most people any surface with enough space will do.
For some that means an unused countertop in the kitchen. For others, the classic bar-cart is appealing due to its mobility. I’ve arranged a number of home bars over the years, and my favorite was housed in a tall, narrow bookshelf.
Obviously you can’t have much of a bar without the booze, but building up a substantial assortment can be costly.
The solution is to gather it all piece by piece. Start by getting the bare essentials – medium to low shelf whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, and tequila – then think of exotic drinks that require various liqueurs to add to the repertoire once a week.
Liqueurs tend to be consumed much slower than the base spirits, so it won’t be long until you’ve built up a sizable collection.
Once you have the basics along with a few key liqueurs, start branching out and building a selection of higher shelf liquors.
The Mixers and Garnish
You might prefer your drinks neat or on the rocks, but chances are you’ll be hosting people who will want mixed drinks.
Once again, start out with a few basics that you know will be popular – cranberry juice, orange juice, tonic, Coke, and so forth. From there, do the same thing you did to build up your liquor and try to make a new drink requiring different garnish and mixers every week.
You can’t make a drink without a glass to serve it in.
The right glassware can really make the difference between having a shabby home bar and one which is sure to impress. At a bare minimum you need martini glasses, tumblers, and both white and red wine glasses.
Once again – augment your collection over time. The next thing you’re going to want are tall glasses, as certain drinks like a Tom Collins will never be quite right in anything else.
Now – the tools of the trade.
A cocktail shaker is, of course, at the heart of your entire set-up. You’ll also need a corkscrew and bottle opener, a strainer, and muddler.
As time goes on you can continue to build up your bar gear, as items like a wine decanter, a citrus stripper, an absinthe spoon, and more can go a long way towards not only helping you make and serve drinks properly, but will also make your whole operation look more authentic.
The Bedside Manner
We’ve got the material things out of the way, so now it’s time for a word on another key aspect of a good home bar – the host.
Your bar isn’t anything special unless you have the right hosting attitude. That means making it clear to everyone whether or not they’re expected to pour their own drinks. It means (like in a real bar), making sure that people’s drinks are filled and that you’re not running out of ingredients or glasses. It means putting on good music and helping everyone enjoy themselves in general.
A good home bar – like any good bar – can literally be the life of the party, so ensuring that it’s properly stocked is essential to pulling it off.
And you never know – what starts out as some at-home entertaining could very well end up leading to a lucrative career in bartending.