Everything You Need for a Picture-Perfect Home Bar

A satisfied bartender

Love to get a few drinks out but hate the noise at your local sports bar? You’re not alone. Not every town is blessed with a genuine cocktail bar, but serious mixologists can get the experience all on their own with a custom home bar. Whether you want a classic cocktail experience, or just a nice place to sip a few drinks with some friends, we’ve got you covered. Below, we’ll run through the basics of designing and stocking an at-home bar—because nothing tastes as good as a hand-mixed nightcap!

Colorful drinks sitting on a bar

Decide on Your Layout

Most people prefer a bar-rail setup—This Old House has helpfully provided some building plans and details if you want to DIY your own. This plan is a take on the classic bar layout, with a rail, paneling, shelf and stiles. To elevate the plan, the bar is finished with an oak facade, moulding and foot rail.

However, if you’re pressed for space, there are other designs, like a wall-mounted murphy bar, standing bar cabinets and portable rolling bar carts. Whatever your constraints, there’s a plan that fits your needs!

You’ll also need to make a few decisions about how functional you want your bar. Many people will advise you to start small, but if you’re going to go to all the trouble of building a home bar, you might as well make sure it has all the features you’d like.

  • Wet Bar Versus Dry Bar: A “wet bar” just means that your bar has water—preferably in the form of a sink. Of course, adding plumbing to your bar is a serious undertaking, so at that point you’ll probably need to hire a professional remodeler to help you do some of the work.
  • To Refrigerate or Not? On the other hand, if you like the occasional chilled drink, you can get it fairly easily by installing a mini fridge under the bar. This plan, for instance, includes extra cabinet space specifically designed for a refrigerator or wine cooler.

A dog lying on the floor near a bar

Must-Have Tools of the Trade

It’s not just about the plans, of course. You’ll also need the right equipment and glassware to get your mixology on. Here’s what you need to get started.

  • A Good Cocktail Book. Some great back-to-basics beginners guides include the Mr. Boston: Official Bartender’s Guide, The 12 Bottle Bar and The PDT Cocktail Book.
  • The Right Barware. You’ll also want to get the right barware. At a minimum, that includes a jigger, a shaker (preferably a cobbler-style shaker with a built-in strainer), a separate strainer, a muddler, a bar spoon, a citrus peeler and a hand held citrus press.
  • Ample Glassware. You can’t serve a highball in a pint glass! For a well-rounded bar, you’ll want a set of martini glasses, rocks glasses, red and white wine glasses, highball glasses, and either beer mugs or pint glasses.

Colorful drinks sitting on a bar A satisfied bartender

Buying Your Basic Spirits

Of course, when push comes to shove, it all about the drinks! A well-stocked bar needs a selection of basic liquors, liqueurs—and the mixers and garnishes to complete the whole thing.

  • Liquor. Everybody has their favorites, of course, but if you plan on serving guests, you should have at least one of the following: vodka, gin, tequila, light and dark rum, bourbon, scotch, cognac.
  • Liqueurs. As for liqueurs, it all depends on what you like to drink. Dry and sweet vermouth, Cointreau, Disaronno and Campari will help you make some of the more classic cocktails, but who’s to stop you if you want a good White Russian either (in which case, you’ll need a coffee liqueur)?
  • Mixers. Ah, mixers: the refuge for drinkers like myself, who hate the taste of straight liquor. Simple syrup, bitters, club soda, tonic water, cola and ginger ale will help you make most cocktails, although you may want to include cranberry and orange juice as well.
  • Garnishes. If you want a great drink, you’ve got to top it all off with the right garnish! Limes, lemons, maraschino cherries, as well as cocktail olives, sugar, salt and Tabasco will all give your drinks a dash of something extra.

Learning to bartend is a lifelong hobby, so your bar will probably grow as you develop your skills and dry more exotic drinks. So don’t limit yourself—go wherever your tastes lead you. Cheers to that!

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