Setting Up a Home Bar

So you’ve grown up a little bit. Not enough to quit having fun, but you’ve moved on from frequenting a bar to having friends over for drinks. What now? Set up a home bar!

Do Your Research

To have an enviable home bar, research is key. Planning ahead will eliminate headaches later on, except the ones caused by over indulging the night before.

Think back to the “research” you did at your favorite pub.  What did you like about it?  Why did it feel like home?  What kept you coming back?  What were your favorite drinks? Knowing what you like will help you plan your bar. The style of your bar area is an extension of your personality. Do you want replicate your favorite Irish Pub in your basement? Pick colors and decor that match your style. It’s much easier to paint at this stage of the game! Maybe you are going with a Man Cave theme in the garage? You might want to add wheels when building a bar for this space. Bars can be heavy so try to do as much decorating as you can before it is installed.

Now, a fun homework project.  This weekend, grab a bite to eat, then go visit a restaurant bar where they charge way too much for a steak.  These places usually have a decent cocktail menu. Take the seat right in front of where the bartender makes his drinks.  Stay focused, you are gathering intel for your in home bar! Order a drink off the menu and pay cash with a nice tip, not a beer or vodka tonic, but something special.  Watch closely how the bartender makes the drink, what bar tools are used?  While you are enjoying the drink, watch what items he uses over and over, where does he keep them?  If you see something new, like an intriguing drink or some strange tool, ask questions.  Don’t worry, the bartender likes you because you already tipped well.  Learn as much as you can without doing so much “research” you forget it in the morning!

Use this research to optimize your space so that it fits your personality and has easy access storage for the bar tools you will be gathering. A well planned bar is a much better alternative to frantically looking through drawers and cupboards for a bottle opener!

Gather the Essential Bar Tools

Now that you’ve got your space, it’s time to pick up the essential tools for your in home bar. 

The Recipe Book: Not only is a guide like this needed for the cocktail recipes, it is an invaluable conversation starter. Imagine your friends picking drinks off this “menu” as you become a bartender. The possibilities are endless.

The Cocktail Shaker: There are opportunities here to show your personality. Go classic with a stainless steel shaker that twists to reveal recipes or go wild with  zebra stripes. Or maybe start a collection so you can make more than one drink at a time! You might also try a Bartending Set that has the shaker plus other tools of the trade.

A Cutting Board and Knife: It may sound simple, but where are you going to slice up your citrus and the makings for the best Bloody Mary? Surely not your bar top! Bottle Opener & Corkscrew: The opener is another item that is easily overlooked in home bars until you can’t open the bottle! You can go high tech with an electric wine opener or simple and elegant with an engravable combination corkscrew and bottle opener. A wall mounted beer bottle opener is a great choice, no matter how rowdy it gets, you can always find the opener!

Armed with these essentials, you can serve almost any drink! To get started, you can grab some glasses and utensils from the kitchen, a towel for spills and something to hold ice.  You are ready to invite some friends over, have them bring a bottle! You’ve put so much time and effort in making a great place for them to hang out, why should you foot the bill? If they balk at the idea, let them know that a good bottle of liquor is cheaper than a night out, and more than they can probably drink in a night. Get each friend to bring a different kind of liquor, and keep track of what they are bringing, so you can learn a few drinks you can make with each one.

Stock the Mixers and Garnishes

A well stocked home bar has the mixers needed for a variety of mixed drinks. Look up recipes for the cocktails you plan to serve and grab the mixers and garnishes needed.

Water: Grab some bottled water or filter your tap water to add to Scotch or Bourbon. Aficionados say it opens up the flavor.

Cola: This mixer is great for rum and whisky drinks. Don’t put this in a shaker! Instead, use a spoon or some swizzle sticks to mix your drink.

Tonic and/or Club Soda:  Used mostly for gin and vodka drinks, but can add a touch of greatness to a Margarita as well.  Don’t put this in a shaker either, stir it in later.

Sweet and Sour Mix:  From margaritas, whiskey sours, to the classic tom collins, many mixed drinks call for sweet and sour in their recipes. As you grow as a bartender, consider making your own!

To Make Enough Sweet & Sour Mix for a Pitcher of Margaritas (8 glasses) :

You Need:
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Water
5 Lemons
8 Limes


Stir – Sugar and Water in Sauce Pan over medium heat until dissolved. Allow to cool. (Congratulations, you’ve just made Simple Syrup!)

Combine – Simple Syrup and the juice from the lemons and limes.

Bloody Mary Mix:  This is another mixer that you can buy or make on your own ahead of time. Be careful how spicy you make your mix, more heat can be added on a per drink basis. 

Juices:  Orange and Cranberry are versatile drink additives, so make sure these are constantly in stock!

Garnishes: Check your recipes, but always keep limes and olives on hand. Consider adding lemons, oranges and cocktail onions. Fresh citrus can be squeezed to substitute  sweet and sour mix if you add a little sugar or simple syrup to your drink!

You’ve done your research,  built out your space, got your essential bar tools, and stocked up on the mixers. Congratulations you’ve set up a home bar!