Essentials for Starting a Home Cocktail Bar

Essentials for Starting a Home Cocktail Bar

Home Bar feature

A spent keg in the living room and a 5th of vodka in the freezer may have sufficed for a full bar in college, but we’re no longer subsisting solely off Hot Pockets and convenience store burritos. Check out these essentials you'll want lining your liquor shelf to keep the mood chill or the party thriving.

By R.K. Gella

The rule of thought is that a stored bottle of champagne is the perfect way to welcome an unexpected guest. I ask: what thirsty traveler would turn down a mojito? They say a neighborly visit should be negotiated with a six-pack of beer. I ask: what’s wrong with margaritas?

Enjoying the luxuries of a home cocktail bar is not pertinent on a dank basement, bumper pool or shag carpeting. In fact I would urge you to resist any lingering temptation to these archaic items and focus three key components in their place: ingredients, equipment and layout.

Perusing the net you’ll find all sorts of home bar furniture catalogs – some of them are quite exquisite and equally pricey – however, unless you’re in the market to replicate your favorite neighborhood watering hole, you only need to start with the three basics. Constructing a usable and sophisticated cocktail bar doesn’t have to break your bank.

Cocktail Bar spirits


If you don’t readily have a bar in your possession and don’t plan on attaining one soon, let's skip the bar furniture and sports paraphernalia for now and focus on what’s important: the booze.

The hardest part of getting a bar together is stocking it with the liquor, yet it is the most vital. This is where evolution takes place. Most households have a mismatch of spirits, perhaps a bottle of vodka from the weekend, scotch from the holidays, triple sec left over from a party, these items will not complete your bar but can be utilized.

To start, first decide on what type of bar you want. Do you want a Whisky bar, a Tequila bar, or a Tiki bar? Determining this will prevent the headache of having random spirits at the start, save you money and give you an idea of the cocktails you want to perform.

Beginning with a standard rail is perhaps the easiest and most efficient way to begin your bar. By doing this you cover all the basics. Think of them as the primary colors if you will.

Maker's Mark

The Spirits

Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Rum (White and Dark), Bourbon, Whisky, Triple Sec, Dry and Sweet Vermouth.

If you look behind any bar, from posh to dive, the rail is pretty consistent. What differentiates is the quality of the ingredients. This is going to be for you to decide and how much you want to invest. If you want to take it up a tier I recommend these:

Russian Standard Vodka, 23.99 USD
If you’re going to do vodka make sure it’s Russian. This extremely smooth spirit is perfect for sipping or blending.

Bombay Sapphire Gin, 22.99 USD
Dry, yet slightly botanical and fruity, this gin makes a great martini.

Herradura Silver Tequila, 29.99 USD
100% Blue agave this tequila is consistent and pleasurable.

Bacardi Light Rum, 22.99 USD
Easy to drink and widely known, this rum although not the best sipping rum is great in a mojito.

Jack Daniels, 19.99 USD
No bar is the same without it. And remember it’s a Tennessee whiskey not bourbon.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon, 19.99 USD
Widely marketed, cost effective, drinkable.

Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky, 21.99 USD
For a basic bar starting with a blended whisky is the best bet. From here you can expand to single malts.

Cointreau Liqueur, 39.99 USD
This is a premium triples sec and will make the difference in all your margaritas and heaven forbid, cosmopolitans.

Diaganal line break

So now that you have you’re spirits you can start drinking right? Well, not quite yet. The idea is to move away from the jungle juice and Jell-O shooters remember?

With these spirits I recommend on keeping a supply of tonic, seltzer water, sugar cane syrup (agave syrup if you like), and small canned juices. This will save you the inconvenience of running out for mixers every time you want a drink. And remember the most crucial element to keep on hand: ice. Ever had a martini constructed without ice? If not, don’t explore it.


Now that you have the supplies you just need the tools to make the magic happen. You can buy a cocktail kit, but they are usually rudimentary and incomplete. I suggest hitting a restaurant supply catalogue instead. The tools will be cheaper and last a lot longer.

The Shaker
Most shakers sold for home use are cobbler-style shaker. This is sometimes recognized as a martini shaker, made of three pieces: a metal tumbler, the lid, and a small cap that fits over the lid and covers the strainer.

I recommend the Boston Shaker. It’s two pieces, a pint glass and a large metal tumbler. This is what you find in most bars. The strainer is not built in and is more versatile than the cobbler-style shaker.

The Strainer
If you use a Boston shaker set you’ll need a Hawthorn wire strainer. You can also use a Julep strainer, which looks like a semi-flat colander and slightly messier.

The Jigger
It’s a vital instrument in making a good drink and it’s surprising how many homes have one laying around in a drawer or cupboard. This measuring tool comes in the ratios of 2:1 or 1 ½:¾. A standard shot is 1 ½

The Muddler
Who needs a blender when you can mash your fruit and mint with a wooden club?

The Rest
Tongs, bar spoon, hand juicer, pairing knives, peeler, zester, bar straws (metal), glassware.


Now that you have the basic ingredients and equipment you need a place to set up shop. As mentioned before, unless you plan on replicating the neighborhood bar, the trick in making your bar functional is imagination.

There are plenty of corner units or folding bars that you can pick up online for less than $400.00. If you have the money and the space go with these.

Otherwise, find a corner, it can be in your living room or kitchen or any vacant space you don’t mind having a drink, and set up your spirits. A sturdy shelf is ideal, but a table unit or counter space will work as well. You want to be able to access the spirits without trouble.

Make sure there is a drawer near by to keep your tools. The worst bartender is a tool-less bartender.

Long Island Iced Tea


Now you’re ready to play. I suggest picking up a cocktail bible to get some recipes under your belt. You want to practice your favorites before company arrives.

But to avoid leaving you hanging, here are a few recipes to start:
(All recipes are in ounces)

Classic Margarita
1.5 Herradura Silver Tequila
0.75 Cointreau Orange Liqueur
0.75 Lime Juice
0.5 Simple Syrup

Combine all ingredients into a Boston shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a rocks glass with ice and salted rim.

Long Island Iced Tea
0.75 Herradura Silver Tequila
0.75 Bacardi Light Rum
0.75 Russian Standard Vodka
0.75 Bombay Sapphire Gin
0.75 Cointreau Orange Liqueur
0.75 Lemon Juice
0.5 Simple Syrup

Combine all ingredients into a Boston shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a pint glass with ice and top with cola.

1.5 Bacardi Light Rum
0.5 Simple Syrup
Mint Leaves
Lime Wedges

Muddle four mint leaves, two lime wedges and simple syrup to the bottom of a rocks glass. Add rum and ice and shake. Top with soda water and serve.