It's important to know that you don't need to hire a contractor or interior designer to create a stellar home bar -- it's entirely doable yourself with a bit of direction. First you'll need to find a location within your home that makes sense for your bar. This can be as small as a dedicated space in your kitchen -- counter space or a nook in your cabinet -- or a larger area in your den, living room, or patio. Think of wherever makes sense and will be useful to you when entertaining.
The next most important considerations are counter height (to ensure a useful workspace -- this should be just about at your elbow) and storage (for prominent display of both your spirits and your glasses). If you're like me and have a prized glassware collection, you'll want to find a way to prominently display that. At home in my own office/studio, I converted a bookcase into a home bar in a few easy steps: replacing the upper wood shelves with glass shelves, adding a mirrored background to highlight my Baccarat glassware, and putting a marble top on a prefabricated, freestanding cabinet. Voila! This created an instant home bar where I shoot many of my cocktail video tutorials, film virtual cocktail classes, and livestream shows.
I had the honor of creating a dream home bar in partnership with Baccarat for the Hampton Designer Showhouse, where I utilized the iconic French brand's stunning glassware and lighting in the space, which I dubbed Bar L'Orange, inspired by my book Cocktail Chameleon. I transformed the home's pantry space between the kitchen and dining room into a fully functional wet bar (a term used when a space has running water, versus a dry bar, which does not). I transformed my classic cocktail illustrations into wallpaper and images of the cocktails into a home art collection. To show off an array of Baccarat glassware and objets d'art, I removed cabinet doors and applied a mirrored background. But you don't need to entirely renovate a space -- some of these small changes can go a long way in your own home bar.
Lighting is a key element that can help create the perfect mood as well as illuminate your bar top and bar back. Remember how I used a mirror to highlight my glassware collection? Lighting elements installed above and or on the bar top itself will bounce light off of the mirror background and make your glassware really stand out. Adding artwork and objets d'art in and around the bar adds personality and can spark conversation with your guests when you entertain.
I also like to highlight high-end spirits on a silver tray with a dedicated collection of glassware, placing them front and center -- even if you never open that uber expensive bottle of cognac!
5 Glassware Essentials
Consider the glassware as attire for your drink -- or the "cocktail attire," if you will. The choice is part tradition, part personal touch: Certain drinks require certain glasses, but you can also alter them based on your style and preference (some rules are meant to be bent).
Start with the five essential types of glasses first -- you can always add other specialty glasses that you might find necessary. Here are some of my favorite versions from Baccarat, available at boutiques nationwide and Baccarat.com: tumblers, sometimes called the old fashioned glass (the Harmonie Tumbler is classic, simple, and substantial); highballs (the Mille Nuits version is an elegant go-to); all-purpose wine glasses (the Chateau Baccarat collection offers beautiful, simple glasses for every wine variety); cocktail or martini glasses (the JCB Passion martini glasses make your drinks feel even more special and decadent); champagne flutes (mix and match with one of each in the Bubble Box); and coups (optional: these are interchangeable for a martini glass or champagne flute -- none better than the Massena).
5 Base Spirits
There are several varieties within each spirit type that will allow you to create a wide range of cocktails for you and your company: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey (within the whiskey category fall bourbon, rye, and scotch).
5 Fundamental Liqueurs
Liqueurs are generally distilled spirits that are flavored with herbs, spices, cream, milk, or even botanicals. Use these to add flavor and/or sweetness to your drinks or to enjoy as an after-dinner drink: triple sec, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth (red), amaro (red), and a flavored liqueur of your choice (floral, herbal or fruity).
Top Ingredients & Garnishes
Most cocktails from your bar will be alcohol mixed with nonalcoholic ingredients. To properly make these cocktails, you will need some or all of the ingredients below on hand at your bar or in your refrigerator: club soda, tonic water, bitters, simple syrup, fresh juices, olives, cocktail onions, citrus fruits, cocktail cherries, and salt rim mixes.
5 Best Bar Tools
After you have collected the proper cocktail ingredients and attire, you will now need basic bar tools to help you create your cocktails. While not all are required, they will make drink preparation much easier.
Cocktail Shaker Set A cocktail shaker is a device used to mix beverages by shaking. When ice is put in the shaker, this allows for a quicker cooling of the drink before serving. Cocktail shakers come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, usually in one of three classic styles: Boston shaker, Cobbler shaker, and French shaker.
Jigger A jigger or "measure" is a tool used to measure liquor and other liquid cocktail ingredients, which are typically poured directly into a glass, mixing glass, or cocktail shaker. The style of double-ended jigger common today is made of stainless steel with two unequal-sized opposing cones in an hourglass shape. Typically, one cone measures a regulation single shot and the other some fraction or multiple thereof -- with the actual sizes depending on manufacturer and bartender preference.
Strainer A type of sieve, this metal bar accessory is used in conjunction with a mixing glass or shaker to remove ice from a mixed drink, as it is poured into the serving glass. There are three common types of strainers: Hawthorne, Julep strainer, or fine metal sieve.
Bar Spoon A long-handled spoon used in bartending for mixing and layering cocktails. Its length ensures that it can reach the bottom of the tallest pitcher or tumbler if mixing ingredients directly in the glass. It is used for measuring small amounts of ingredients, and typically holds about 1 teaspoon of liquid.
In Cocktail Chameleon, I prepare 12 variations on 12 classic cocktails, starting with a lesson on the fundamentals of each drink (proportions, technique, and ingredients), before sharing the secrets of my own recipes. My ultimate goal is to inspire you to create your own unforgettable signature cocktails.
Believe it or not, ice is the one thing most people don't consider when creating a home bar. Proximity of your home bar to the kitchen doesn't have to be an issue if you purchase a portable ice maker. If you have the luxury of creating a wet bar, you can install an under-the-counter ice maker that will continually create perfectly square clear ice cubes -- you are golden! If not, investing in a relatively inexpensive countertop ice maker will yield bar-quality ice cubes in minutes.
For perfectly clear, specialty "king" ice cubes and ice spheres, you will need to use a chest-style clear ice maker such as the Wintersmiths Chest Ice Maker. Products like these slowly freeze the water, eliminating air bubbles for perfectly clear square or round ice cubes that make for a super dramatic presentation. They also melt much slower than traditional ice cubes and won't dilute your drinks.
Your home bar will evolve with your experience of cocktail making. Start with the basics and learn the classic proportions of your favorite drinks. Outfitted with the right tools, glassware, and ingredients, you will be crafting your own signature cocktails to share with family and friends in no time!
Mark Addison is an award-winning author and authority on entertaining and design expertise. Learn more tips from his book Cocktail Chameleon and at MarkAddison.com.
This article is part of Out's September/October 2022 issue, now on newsstands. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.