How to Set Up the Hottest At-Home Bar

The perfect drink menu, no snooty mixologists, and it doesn't get any more local than this.
How to set up a killer bar

Setting up your own home bar for the perfect end-of-day unwind or weekend hangout could be just what you need these days. And the good news is, it doesn't even have to cost a lot—or require an actual bar for that matter. You can just set up your home bar in the kitchen, on top of a sturdy bookshelf, or even in a wheel-out cart in the backyard around an entertaining area. 

But if you do want to take your bar up a notch or two, you could look into some pretty fancy cabinets from stores like Pottery Barn or West Elm. At decor stores like these, you can find a lot of options that are made specifically for a home bar that include space to display bottles, cabinets to store more bottles, drawers for tools and a place for glassware and decanters. 

But no matter what your bar looks like or where it is, if it's not stocked right, happy hour just won't live up to the name. To help, we turned to bar expert, Sean Ludford, founder and editor of And here's where he says to start when it comes to filling your bar right.

Start With Your Base Spirits

According to Ludford,  you should "start with what you like and build up an inventory one bottle at a time." Just like aged whisky, your bar can start simple and grow with time. A bottle of vodka here and some tequila there could do just fine. Orrrrr, you could just knock it all out in one fell swoop and be ready for anything. 

Whatever you do, though, don't skimp and get the cheap stuff. "Get a little better quality because you're entertaining people you have a relationship with," Ludford says. "Don't get an off-brand vodka, but aim for middle or higher tier."

Hay believes every home bar should contain at least one bottle each of:

  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • American whiskey, like bourbon
  • Irish whiskey
  • Blended Scotch whisky
  • Single malt Scotch
home bar

Mixers Round Out Cocktails

Once you get your base spirits set, start adding mixers. These help you craft a great cocktail like a margarita, a manhattan, an old fashioned, or a negroni. "A quality orange liqueur is an essential ingredient in many classic and modern cocktails, including the margarita, sidebar, and cosmopolitan," Ludford says. "Vermouth is essential for martinis and manhattans. Bitters is another common ingredient, and a bottle will likely last you a year." You can get sweet and dry vermouth, but keep in mind that this is a fortified wine that will start to go bad after being open about a month. Once you open it, keep it sealed in the fridge to stay fresh longer.

Some things to specifically look for and keep on hand, according to Hay, include Angostura bitters, Regan's Orange Bitters, and Cointreau (for your orange liqueur). Over time, when you want to expand and have some fun, you can add aperitifs like Lillet Blanc or Lillet Rose, Campari or Luxardo Bitter Liqueur; maybe a Fino sherry; digestifs like Fernet-Branca; and a bottle of St-Germain, a sweet, aromatic liqueur made from elderflowers.

Another must, Hay says, is to keep a bottle or two of sparkling wine — whether Champagne, Prosecco, or Cava — on hand with one bottle in the fridge. You never know when you're going to crave a bit of the bubbly or have an occasion to celebrate.

Tools for Mixing Cocktails

To mix your drinks, you'll need a set of bar tools. You don't have to spend a lot, but remember that if you're entertaining, you want your tools to look good, right? "Your home is your showplace so you should have nice, visually pleasing items," Ludford says. If you're on a budget, Libbey makes a 9-piece mixology set that you can pick up at Bed Bath & Beyond for about $30. If you want bar tools with a more professional feel, Hay suggests logging on to Cocktail Kingdom, where you can find it all. Here are the things you'll need:     

  • 1 or 2 jiggers
  • Spiral bar spoons
  • A nice mixing glass
  • 1 or 2 shaker sets
  • Hawthorne strainer or cobbler shaker with a built-in strainer
  • Muddler
  • Citrus press/juicer

Get Proper Glassware

Your days of drinking out of red plastic cups should be behind you. If you're setting up a home bar, you’ll need to have some proper glasses. "You can get as fussy as having a glass for each cocktail, but you can do well with three styles of glasses," Ludford says. Stock your bar with:

  • Coupes for martinis and champagne
  • Old-fashioned or rocks glasses for anything short and over ice
  • Collins (or tall) glasses

This Round Was On Us

Happy mixing and drinking, everyone—and always be safe. One of the best things about an at-home bar is the distance, meaning no need for sober drivers or anything like that's key.

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