Whether you’re redecorating for the summer or looking for a housewarming gift for your BFF, creating a home bar is a surefire idea. A basic home bar setup doesn’t have to be expensive—all you need is a few foundation liquors, some basic mixology equipment, and a place for it all to live. The payoff—for very little effort—is a step up in adult entertainment options. Here’s what you need to know to set up a versatile basic home bar.
Stocking Your Home Bar—Essential Liquors
Liquor is the starting point for any bar, and your home bar is no different. While your imagination may already have leapt ahead to a fancy bar cart, an array of glassware, and all that shiny equipment you see in your favorite YouTube videos, it all starts with the right spirits.
The most basic rule of stocking your bar is to start with liquors you enjoy drinking. After all, you’ll be the most frequent guest at your own cocktail table. Beyond that, this list of foundation liquors is a good starting point.
- Gin is essential for some of the most popular modern and classic cocktails, including the Tom Collins, the Singapore Sling, and the Gimlet.
- Bourbon Whiskey, neat, on the rocks, in an Old Fashioned (or other cocktail) is a must for your home bar.
- Scotch Whisky is the essential sipping liquor—many Scotch aficionados would tell you it’s sacrilege to desecrate an excellent Scotch with anything—but it’s also the base for some tasty modern cocktails.
- Tequila is essential for Margaritas, Tequila Mojitos, and Sunrises, among other popular tequila drinks.
- White and Dark Rum are both essential foundation liquors for your bar. This Caribbean staple will spark your drink repertoire like almost no other. As you progress, you may also add spiced rum and black rum to your arsenal.
- Vodka is nearly flavorless on its own, making it an excellent mixer with nearly any type of fruit juice. It’s not on My Domaine’s official list, but no home bar is complete without, at the very least, plain vodka. Shop around, though, as flavored vodkas have become among the most popular liquor store staples.
Housing Your Home Bar—Bar Carts, Consoles, and Other Options
My mother’s home bar lived in a custom-built cabinet, but you don’t have to be that fancy. The most important consideration in choosing a site for your home bar is how much space you have for another piece of furniture. Your options include standalone carts, liquor cabinets, and even full-size bars you can install in your home. Here’s a quick look at some popular options.
Bar carts are stand-alone serving carts designed for holding, mixing, and serving drinks to your guests. They’re smaller than a full bar, and most are on wheels, so you can move them to the party room, wherever it may be. Whatever your decorating style, you’ll find bar carts that are a perfect fit for your design aesthetic, from mid-Century modern to industrial chic. Some even include built-in storage for stemware and wine bottles.
Bar Cabinets and Consoles
A bar cabinet or console is a bit more permanent than a bar cart. It’s a bar housed in a console or cabinet, which often hides its purpose behind closed doors. These range in size from bedside table to full wall credenza, and start at around $100 for a basic cabinet with built-in storage and wine rack.
While you might think that a full bar would be a really pricey proposition, that’s not necessarily true. The biggest difference between a bar console and a full bar is seating, and the ability to stand (or sit) behind the bar. While they do tend to take up more space than a cart or cabinet, full bars also add serving, preparation, and seating space to your room. This basic rectangular bar has three storage shelves, built-in stemware storage, and enough room to seat two people.
Equipping Your Home Bar—Shakers, Siphons, and Glasses, Oh My!
You could spend a fortune equipping your home bar with premium bartending equipment bought à la carte, but why? The truth is that for under $40, you can buy a basic home bar set that includes all of the most essential bar equipment you’re likely to use. Check out this one that includes a strainer, a jigger, 2 shakers, a bar spoon, a pourer, a muddler, a fruit peeler, a bottle opener, a corkscrew, and ice tongs, all for less than you’ll spend on a bottle of top shelf liquor—and it will last a lot longer.
In addition to mixing equipment, you’ll also want a few basic types of serving glasses. Spruce Eats includes a list of must-have cocktail glasses that you should have in your home bar setup. As with getting your essential bar items, you can purchase the various glasses à la carte or you can dive in with one complete setup, such as Libbey’s Bar in a Box, which includes the absolute basics you need for serving different kinds of cocktails. Add a set of glasses for white wine, one for red wine, and one for sparkling wine, and your glassware needs are covered. And yes, you can get them all in one set.
Learning More—Essential Reading for the Home Mixologist
Of course, all that equipment isn’t much good if you don’t know how to use it, right? One final essential for your home bar setup is at least one book on home mixology. The Bartender’s Guide to Cocktails is a quick reference card to help you mix on the fly. For more comprehensive info, check out “The Home Bartender,” which features cocktails made with four or fewer ingredients, and The Ultimate Bar Book with more than 1,000 cocktails, available for just $2.99 on Kindle.
And that’s it. Buy a few bottles, add some glasses and basic equipment, find a place for them to live, and start entertaining your friends with your mixology skills.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working in Massachusetts. She writes frequently about health, wellness and lifestyle topics.