How to Set Up a Home Bar
The host with most doesn't get stuck behind the bar.
by Erin Henderson
We are at the starting line of the most festive time of the year. No doubt, you've got a long list of parties to throw and holidays to host, but that doesn't mean you should martyr yourself (and your fun) in the name of keeping your guests' topped up.
Instead, I champion a DIY home bar set up, so friends and family can help themselves to whatever they want, however they want it.
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A bar works for so many reasons: not only freeing you up to air kiss and hob nob through your own soirée, but eliminates the awkwardness of someone asking, "for another," or giving long-winded instructions on how to make their cocktail to their specifications.
Your set up doesn't have to be elaborate, but it does have to be functional and efficient. Here's how to do it.
What to Serve
Let's start with what to actually put on your bar.
If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: keep your selection streamlined. This is a house party, not a bar, and most people will drink what's being offered. (And if they turn up their nose, don't invite them back.)
I typically serve one red, one white, and one sparkling wine. Pick your favourites. No need to have the selection of the wine store.
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As for cocktails, we recommend making a pitcher or two of a seasonal cocktail in advance and leaving it at that.
If you really, really want to offer a spirit, stick to one white and one brown spirit, such as gin and whisky. But don't forget the mixes, garnish and tools so friends can make cocktails a la minute.
Where to Put It
I like to set up the bar on a dining room table, or at least somewhere away from the kitchen, to encourage people to comfortably scatter throughout the whole party area.
Clear away all the chairs so guests have 360° access to the bar without having to line up or crowd around.
Keep snacks elsewhere so people pour their drinks and go, keeping the area free for the next imbiber.
How to Set It:
I'm normally not one for tableclothes as they get caught on people's legs and add an unnecessary level of stuffy formality. However, for a bar I make an exception to save the surfance from stains and sticky spills.
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I avoid decorations! I know this is a celebration but the bar will already be full with items, no need to clutter it up with more. At the very least, I stay away from glittery ornaments in areas with food and wine. That glitter gets everywhere, and it's not fun to ingest.
Similarily, avoid flame-burning candles. You don't want Aunt Rhonda reaching for a maraschino cherry and catching her sateen blouse aflame. Setting your friends and family on fire really harshes a party's vibe.
So, ixnay fire and glitter, but do add:
- A ice-bucket bucket for wine and water bottles
- A second ice bucket, with a scoop, for adding to drinks and shaking cocktails
- Wine bottles (open at least two of each)
- Cocktail pitcher (if making a pre-batched drink)
- Spirit bottles (one of each)
- Mixes (a few cans/bottles will do, you can replenish as the night goes on)
- A few wine and bottle openers (someone always walks away with one!)
- Cocktail shaker, strainer and jiggers or shot glasses
- Cocktail napkins
- Bowls of garnish (sliced lemons and limes, fresh berries, or whatever is relevant to the drinks you are serving.)
- Glasses (at least one per person)
- A tray for guests to leave dirty glassware and used napkins (you might want to set out a few through out the party for easy clearing)
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