Here's What You Need for a Practical and Stylish Home Bar Setup

bar cart drink station
Meredith Jenks

Everyone has that one friend who can mix up perfect cocktails at a moment's notice—the one who can stir up a mean martini, Manhattan, or margarita with the flick of the wrist. There's no need to have cocktail envy, because you can easily develop the knack, too. All that's required to concoct classic—or even kooky—libations is a home bar setup with a few spirits and mixers, some essential barware tools and glassware, and a batch of dependable drink recipes.

If an actual bar cart and the space to house it are off the table, just let your imagination be your guide—you don't have to turn your studio apartment or finished basement into a speakeasy. "A lot of homes don't have permanent bars set up; my house included. Just about anything can be turned into a bar," says Rebecca Lang, entertaining expert and author of the entertaining guide Y'all Come Over. For instance, you can transform furniture you already own, like a sideboard or buffet or armoire into a home bar setup, with lovely trays to separate your bottles of liquors, mixers, and tools. And plenty of other pieces can do double duty come cocktail hour or full-on soirée. "An antique armoire or TV cabinet can be refitted and become dreamy as a bar. The doors can be closed to hide the bar on regular days," she explains. "For the smallest corners, a couple of folding TV trays can work wonders for an impromptu bar."

Let those ideas marinate for a moment as we move on to other important aspects of setting up your home bar.

01 of 07

How to Store Liquor

liquor bar cabinet
Jens Mortensen

The key to ensuring that your liquor keeps its great taste is to store it in a dark cabinet or on a bar cart, away from direct sunlight. Once a bottle is open, oxidation sets in, which will impact the flavors of delicate spirits more so than high-proof liquors. And those bottles that are nearly drained? The oxygen may have already wreaked havoc with the flavors. Drink the rest if it's still going strong or just pour out the dregs.

02 of 07

Barware, from Basic to Vintage

bar tools on cart
Kreber Photostudio

Barware isn't a complicated affair—with just a few basics you can easily get the party started. But don't let that stop you from going a bit wild: bar tools can also be an avenue for creative expression. "Drink-making tools should be a collection that is eclectic and full of personality," says Lang. Your list should include an ice bucket and pick or ice bag and mallet, plus a muddler, shaker and strainer, jigger, bar spoon, and corkscrew. And don't overlook napkins, picks, and stir sticks. "There's a time and a place for everything to be brand new and shiny. The bar is not it," she says. "I look for antique mallets and ice picks at estate sales and markets. Vintage cocktail picks are a real find, so I like to mix and match the ones we have." She's also partial to sterling silver sipping spoons, which can be used like straws.

03 of 07


glass glossary group of different types with drinks
Bryan Gardner

If you're a diehard mixologist with a home that's made for entertaining, by all means go for the bells, whistles, and drinkware galore. Otherwise, consider what you really need and have room for. "Wine glasses are the most versatile party glasses in your house. They work for non-alcoholic drinks, fizzy water, wine, and even cocktails," says Lang. "If storage space is an issue, stemless wine glasses are also an ideal collection for your party stash." A dozen basic wine glasses are a great starting point. And if space and budget allow, Lang says, round out our glass collection with highball, rocks, martini and pint glasses. Six or eight of each should do the trick.

04 of 07

The Hard Stuff

assorted liquor bottles on tray
contrastaddict / Getty Images

The liquor store is a veritable spirits wonderland, offering row after row of tempting possibilities. Perhaps one day you'll sample the vodka made from quinoa, the pastis, and maybe violet liqueur, just for kicks. But for bar-stocking purposes, zero in on a half-dozen or so base spirits, along with a few mixers. With that in hand, presto, you can concoct a huge variety of libations. "If you're just starting out, begin small and add new bottles as your cocktail repertoire expands and as your budget allows," says Lang.

Foundation liquors to include: gin, vodka, bourbon and tequila, and white rum. And down the line? "Investment liquors to add as you can are Cognac, Scotch, red and white vermouth, Cointreau, and rye whiskey," she says.

05 of 07

Spirits to Stock

home bar on shelf

Now that you've got the goods, a world of cocktail options awaits. Shake, stir, or mix, then pour, and enjoy!

* Bourbon: For Manhattans, old fashioneds, and whiskey sours.
* Cognac: For sidecars, brandy milk punches, crustas, daisies, and smashes.
* Gin: For martinis, gin and tonics, Tom Collinses.
* Tequila: For margaritas, sunrises, and palomas.
* Vodka: For vodka tonics, screwdrivers, and the vodka martini.
* White Rum: For daiquiris and mojitos.

06 of 07

The Mixers to Have

bar tools on bar cart
Paul Costello

Mixers are essential for great cocktails. Stock up on these must-haves.

* Cointreau: Sweet, but not too sweet, with a citrus oil nose.
* Red Vermouth: For Manhattans.
* White Vermouth: An absolute must for sublime martinis.
* Bitters: And don't forget the bitters to enhance the cocktail's flavors.

07 of 07

Be Smart, Think Local

pouring cocktail into coupe
Mike Krautter

While you don't have to buy the tippy-top of top-shelf, don't set the bar too low, either. "The general rule I follow is to buy the best you can afford. Opting for the least expensive bottle on the shelf will usually come back to haunt you the next day," Lang says.

And consider brands with community ties. "When amping up your bar with a few more choices, buy alcohol and mixers that are local to your area," she says. "Small-batch distilleries are opening up in almost every state with impressive results. No matter your taste, there is likely a somewhat regional or local version on the shelf—corn whiskey, gin with native botanicals, grain vodka, absinthe, liqueurs, even bitters from nearby can be an option that's very worth exploring."

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