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How to Create the Perfect Home Bar

I’m seeing them everywhere.  Just this summer, I found a tiki-bar sitting on a curb in front of a neighborhood house being renovated. I threw her in the back of the Volvo, refinished the top, picked up some whicker barstools at a value-village, and now I have a summer bar-port.

I’ve had neighbors ask me if I want the bar in their cellar, which has been storing old X-mas ornaments for the past few decades. I see them at garage and estate sales, on craigslist and in junk shops. If you’re looking for a home bar, put the drink down and get out there.

If you hit an estate sale and see a bar you like, come back on Sunday when everything’s half price. Home bars are a hard sell and chances are you’ll be lugging that baby back to your home or apartment for under $30. My neighbor, this past Sunday, picked up a hardwood, 6 foot beauty for $12.50. Cleaned and polished, this bar looks amazing.

The hard, cold facts are…not every homeowner wants one. Not every seller wants to deal with the old one in the basement. Forty years ago, 90% of new homes had a bar. Do the math and get out there.

What You Really Need For Your Starter Bar

Just kicking off? Time to move the booze from the cabinet over the stove to a designated drinking area? Here’s what Mr. Booze feels you’ll absolutely need when you take the training wheels off and add that home bar. Storage will be a problem when it comes to barware and booze. If you buy a bar, make certain it has shelving behind for storage. You can even buy those cool little ceiling racks to hold your stemware. A nice set of shelves close by or behind your bar never hurts.  Add the following:

6-10 Cocktail or Martini glasses – Don’t go for the giant 8+ ounce glasses…they just get you and your guests plastered. Look for the older 4 – 6 ounce glasses. Most drinks are only 3 – 5 ounces anyway.
5 Old-Fashioned glasses or Double Old-Fashioned – Many drinks call for ice, or sometimes you or a guest will just want a whiskey on the rocks. Store these upside down to prevent dust from settling inside.
6-10 Hi-Ball (tall) glasses – You’ll find tons of drinks on our site that call for tall, rocks glasses. Tiki drinks, punches, bucks, etc… These are usually sweet, highly drinkable cocktails that everyone will want, so stock up.
An Ice Bucket – What are you gonna do? Open the freezer every time someone wants a drink? Find a fun one with a handle, you never know when the party’s gonna move outdoors. I also keep a small cooler behind my bar, filled with ice to refill the ice bucket.  Remember…cold is key.
Shaker – You just have to have one. Don’t go expensive on your first. Just make sure she has a tight seal and can hold lots of fluid. I also would suggest a tiny, 1 or 2 drink one if it’s just going to be you or two.
Glass Pitcher – Small and cheap works. You’ll need one for Martinis and any other drink you don’t want to pour cloudy. Find one that includes a glass stirrer.
Little Cutting Board – Doesn’t need to be more that 6 inches across. You don’t want to score your new bar or get it all sticky while you’re cutting oranges, do you?
Basic Set of Bar Tools – I see these all the time at Target and for well under $20. Bar knife, muddler, wine/bottle opener, strainer, stirrer, etc… When you have a set, you’ll use them.

On to the Booze

Vodka – 1 bottle for starters; it really doesn’t have a strong flavor so don’t blow the bank. Not too many drinks here call for it.
Gin – Have 2 bottles; a good one with a strong juniper/flowery taste (Bombay Sapphire or Damrak comes to mind) and a basic bottle for mixing (Beefeaters or Bombay are great). Gin was extremely popular when many of these old timers’ drinks were created.
Bourbon – 1 big bottle; I love bourbon but remember, you’re going to be mixing so don’t go crazy on the expensive, small batch brands. I buy the 1.75 liter of Early Times. It’s a great whiskey that really mixes well. If you have to go more upscale, Knob Creek is amazing.
Scotch – 1 bottle.
Vermouth – You’ll need a bottle of Red (sweet/Italian) and White (Dry/French). Manhattans and Martinis are very popular.
Laird’s Apple Jack – A good fifth of the recipes here call for it. You can really pour some interesting drinks with this.
Brandy – E & J is fine and quite affordable.
Rum – 2 bottles; to start, you’ll need a bottle of light and a bottle of dark. If it’s summertime, you might want to get an additional bottle. I don’t know about you, but I drink the hell out of it on hot evenings. Summer punches and tropical drinks all call for it.
Cointreau/Grand Marnier/Curacao – So many cocktails call for an orange flavored splash, you’ll need this.
Simple Syrup, Bitters, Roses Lime and Grenadine, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice, Olives and Maraschino Cherries – Keep ‘em handy in your fridge. If you’re making cocktails, you’ll need ‘em.

This should get you started. Remember to peruse the papers for good deals on Spirits and buy when on sale. Have fun setting your bar up. People should want a drink when they see it. As you get up to speed and master the art of the confident pour, I will pull out the stops and follow up with a 201 class. There’s a lot of stuff you’ll need if and when you want to kick it up a notch. Think about all the money you’re ultimately saving by not going out to bars all the time and paying $10 for a drink. This bar will pay for itself eventually. “Bring a Bottle” parties are also wonderful ways to restock and add.

Ready for more? Click here to read part 2 of How to Create the Perfect Home Bar