Don Draper would approve. Bar carts with gold rails, hand carved mixing gadgets, illuminated backlighting — home bars these days can be really amazing. Like, totally Instagram worthy. Also, really expensive. A fully-stocked home bar should be more a culmination of years of collecting bottles and drinking with friends, as opposed to something that’s set up in just one weekend (unless you’ve got a lot of money burning a hole in your pocket).
Can we compare to a surfboard quiver? When you first started surfing, you didn’t go out and buy every type of board off the bat—shortboard, gun, fish, egg, twinny, step-up, etc — just because you wanted to have them at the ready. (Wait, you didn’t, right?) You probably had one board that you rode lots. Maybe eventually, once you had some coin and had a trip to warrant it, you got more boards to suit your needs. But even today, you probably still ride just one board most the time.
Let’s use that rationale with making your first home bar. There are tons of really rad bar guides online that tell you what to buy and why. Most are pretty fabulous. But again, it’s so weird to go to the liquor store and buy that entire recommended quiver with one credit card swipe. Build slow, build smart.
Besides, why do you need it all? If you like bourbon, why buy a nice bottle of vodka? “Well, so I can be a good host in case my friends want that,” you say. That’s sweet. But I can tell you, unless your friends suck, they won’t care. They’re not coming to your house looking for a Sizzler-sized bar assortment with whatever their hearts desire — they just want to hang out and have some of whatever you’re having.
So instead of giving you a shopping list telling you to go spend a bunch of money on some stuff you won’t drink, can I give some tips? Goals are to be able to make some basic great cocktails, not make a store run every evening to get supplies, and not break the bank. Let’s get going and get the drinks flowing.
CITRUS: Maybe it’s weird to start a bar list with lemons and friends, but it’s essential. There’s citrus and acidity in so many drinks, and you can use the peel to garnish and add freshness. Plus, lemons, limes, and oranges will help your cooking too. So keep a bowl around and I promise you’ll find yourself using them.
VERMOUTH: We’ve got two (main) types of vermouth—red/sweet and white/dry—and you should have them both. Use white to make martinis, red to make Manhattans, or both to make rositas. Remember that vermouth is a fortified wine, which means it will eventually go bad, so use it up quick. (If you say you don’t like vermouth it’s probably because it had gone bad. Try again, and this time keep it in the fridge.)
BITTERS: They’re the subtle staple in so many clean simple cocktails. Pick up a bottle or make your own.
THE LIQUORS: Dealers choice here. I won’t tell you what to buy specifically, but a few bottles should get you a long way. My bar has gin for martinis, white rum for daiquiris and mojitos, bourbon (or rye) for old fashioneds and manhattans, and tequila for the good times.
THE SET UP: Try to not keep your liquor above the fridge (ladies will not be smitten). Bar carts are great, I have one, but you can also simply keep your goods organized in your bookcase, on a shelf, or whatever. Just try to make it look nice. Dress it up. Candles are nice. Pretend like your bar is a store and you’re trying to sell that shit.
TOOLS: Let’s get into this more at a later date. For now, just get yourself a simple shaker and a strainer. This is a cocktail workhorse, so don’t spend a ton here. I found one on Amazon for $8.
GLASSWARE: It’s easy to get carried away here. But maybe consider some rocks glasses and wine glasses. I’m a fan of martinis and since drinking them out of red solo cups feels weird, I stock martini glasses. Also, a coupe feels really damn classy, and you can drink all sorts of cocktails or champagne out of them.
ICE: Yeah, you should have this. An ice bucket has always felt prissy for me, but hey, do whatever floats your boat. Those big ice cubes are pretty cool too, so maybe get one of those trays.
Easy enough? Let’s get the drinks flowing.–Paul Brewer