The modest east-of-Brookside bungalow my husband Kyle and I have called home for six years is stylish, sure, but I’d never go so far as to call it stunning. Still, there’s one element that always stops first-time visitors in their tracks: our home bar.
I develop cocktail recipes, so the vintage buffet I use to house our booze is overflowing; I couldn’t fit another bottle of bourbon or gin in the lower cabinets if I tried.
One of the many benefits of this bounty is that I’m able to offer guests just about any cocktail their little hearts desire. Fancy a Manhattan? Easy. Oh, a Gibson’s more your style? Done. You don’t really know what you like but last week you were at a bar and had something with gin and lemon and a floral liqueur in a tall bottle but you can’t remember the name? Coming right up! (It’s called St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, by the way, and it’s delicious.)
I realize our setup is absolutely ridiculous, and clearly I’d never expect anyone else to have as many spirits, liqueurs, and apéritifs as we do. That said, I’m always disappointed when I visit a friend who offers me a drink and my options are something along the lines of Michelob Ultra, a dusty bottle of vodka, and warm Red Bull. It’s even more shocking when they have a pantry full of macadamia nuts and artisanal potato chips, or a fridge packed with expensive cheese and fine wine (not that I’ll ever turn down a good glass of bubbly).
Obviously, there are people who choose not to imbibe or don’t keep alcohol in their homes for a number of reasons. But if you appreciate a good drink, and your bar looks like it belongs in a frat house, it’s time for an upgrade — especially if you like to entertain. Luckily, building a better home bar doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right staples you’ll be ready to offer your guests a drink, and actually make one, in no time!
To please every palate, your bar should be stocked with whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, and tequila. If you’re not ready to go all-out on the booze, you can probably get away with just whiskey and vodka — though I’d be sure to have a bottle of tequila or mezcal around, at least in the warmer months.
Which brands you buy is a matter of taste, of course, but a handful of spirits are available from local producers. J. Rieger & Co. and Tom’s Town Distilling Co. both make whiskey, gin, and vodka, and while it can’t be officially classified as either tequila or mezcal, Crossroads-based Mean Mule Distilling Co. makes a delightful agave-based spirit. When in doubt, just ask the staff at your local liquor store for recommendations.
Unless your friend group consists entirely of the cast of “Mad Men,” you’ll probably want mixers for those spirits. For the most part, your guests will be happy if you can offer club soda and tonic. I like to store these in the fridge so they’re always cold, but you can get nicer glass bottles (brands like Fever-Tree and Q) that will look good on your bar, too. At the very least, keep a few bottles of S. Pellegrino on hand.
As far as I’m concerned, no bar is complete without a bottle of Angostura bitters, a spicy, herbal concentration that can take many drinks from good to great. I add a few dashes to everything from whiskey on the rocks to cold coffee cocktails and my Pretty Pink Party Punch. And if you really want to look like you know what you’re doing, pick up a bottle of both dry and sweet vermouth, a fortified wine used to make drinks like martinis and Manhattans.
I love a fun cocktail garnish — everything from fresh herbs to cherries and cocktail onions can enhance the experience of a drink. But for the most part, all you really need is lemon and lime. Bonus: a bowl of fresh citrus looks really great on any bar.