If you regularly host holiday gatherings, dinner parties or after-work happy hours, chances are you’re often mixing up drinks for guests. And if these events are a regular occurrence at your home, it might be time to learn how to set up your own bar. Building a home bar might seem like a complicated and potentially expensive undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. We spoke to bartenders from all around the country, and they explained that you really just need a few essential tools and ingredients to whip up professional-quality cocktails at home.
Your local watering hole might feature rows upon rows of different spirits to choose from, but bartenders recommend sticking to the basics for your home bar. “Tequila, bourbon, vermouth, angostura bitters and soda water are always at my home bar,” says Micky Mullins, bar manager at The Bower in New Orleans. “The real secret is most of these ingredients play well with one another. With these items, I’m able to make popular classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan and an array of highballs with minimal effort.”
Other bartenders also recommend keeping vodka, gin, whisky, Campari and any other ingredients for your favorite drinks stocked at home, as this will allow you to create a wide range of cocktails that are sure to impress any guest. If you’re ready to turn your house into the neighborhood’s hottest hangout, use the following expert tips to set up a beautiful and highly functional home bar.
Start With A Great Bar Cart
Unless you have an actual bar in your home, the first thing you’ll need is a bar cart, cabinet or even a tray to store your supplies. There are a wide range of options to choose from in every style imaginable, and you can spend as much or as little as you want. Just be sure to choose a bar cart that’s sturdy and spacious enough for all your tools, glassware and alcohol. Here are a few popular options to consider.
An Inexpensive Industrial-Style Cart
This budget-friendly cart is ideal for those setting up their first-ever home bar. It features three wooden shelves and a metal frame for a distinctly industrial aesthetic, and it even has designated areas for your stemware and bottles of wine. It’s mounted on swiveling wheels for easy movement, and the top shelf can also be removed and used as a serving tray.
A Simple And Elegant Side Bar
This metal side bar will look sophisticated and luxe while holding all your bar tools and essentials—and who can resist its reasonable price? The cart has a metal frame that comes in a gold or silver finish and its two mirrored shelves offer plenty of space to hold supplies. Plus, it gets rave reviews from buyers who say it “looks great and enhances any space.”
A Stately Wooden Bar Tray
If you’re pressed for space, this simple bar tray can be displayed on a counter or sidebar in your dining room. The tray is made from solid mango wood with a versatile brown finish, and it has a small lip around the edges to keep your mixology supplies organized.
A Sleek Mid-Century Bar Cabinet
You can keep alcohol, glassware and supplies tucked away with this enclosed bar cabinet. It has a distinct mid-century modern vibe in an attractive acorn finish, and inside there are several shelves and cubbies as well as a wine rack and slots for stemware.
Bar Tools for Your Home Bar
“The right set of bar tools can really change how you make cocktails at home,” says Sarah Troxell, director of “Vibeations” at The Toasted Coconut in Houston, Texas. “With a few high quality essentials, it is easy to mix up drinks just as well as your favorite local watering hole. I always reach for Cocktail Kingdom products—they are well made, affordable and durable enough to last in high volume cocktail bars.” Here’s what she and other pros recommend investing in.
A Jigger For Measuring Ingredients
“This [jigger] has one side that is at 1 1/2-ounce capacity, and the other side measures at 1/4-ounce, 1/2-ounce, and 1-ounce increments,” says Ebony Austin, head mixologist and owner of Nouveau Bar & Grill in Georgia. “It also has laser-etched measurements that won’t wear off. This is perfect for the home, as you can easily throw it in the dishwasher to clean along with your other standard dishes.”
A Japanese-Style Jigger For Added Precision
“Japanese-style jiggers are way more precise and spill much less than the standard shot glass,” says Lara Creasy, beverage director at Tex-Mex chain Superica. “They look slick and professional for your home bar setup. I suggest the 1- and 2-ounce combo for maximum versatility. The line markers inside help you measure 1/2-ounce, 3/4-ounce, etc.”
A Sturdy Shaker For Mixing Drinks
“A great shaken cocktail can’t be made without a trusty shaker,” explains Mark Phelan, beverage director at Chicago-based 16 On Center. “While a mason jar or thermos will do the job in a pinch, a two-piece metal shaker is more durable and efficient. Look for tins with weighted bottoms for stability when pouring and for handfeel when shaking.”
A Cocktail Strainer For The Perfect Pour
“An impressive home bar setup does not require as much as one might think—a few essentials can go a long way when it comes to glassware, bar tools and booze,” says Arianna Hone, bartender of High West Saloon in Park City, Utah. “For tools, a good Hawthorne strainer—I like Pina’s because it comes with two coils and keeps your drinks free of ice chips.”
Lidded Ice Cube Trays
“Ice is the one ingredient that you will be using in every cocktail you make. Even if the drink is served up, you still need to use ice to chill the drink,” explains Robert Kidd, head bartender at Delaware-based Le Cavalier. “Make sure your ice trays have lids to protect the ice from smelling like whatever is in your freezer. I would recommend you invest in two sizes—1-inch cubes will be great for drinks served in highballs and for use in stirring and shaking your drinks.”
Another Solid Ice Cube Tray Option
“Two-inch cubes are a great size for drinks served in a rocks glass that you do not want to dilute quickly,” says Kidd. “This cube is particularly important for classics like the Old Fashioned and Negroni.”
A Cocktail Mixing Glass To Serve A Crowd
“If entertaining, a larger mixing glass to make several cocktails is a great thing to have to make a round of martinis or Manhattans,” says Lynnette Marrero, bar director of NYC-based Llama San. “This one from Piña Barware can make one cocktail but is suited for scaling up. The perk is that it is handblown and made from recycled glass.”
A Fun And Functional Bar Spoon
“Bar spoons are crucial for stirring cocktails, especially like a Negroni or Manhattan,” says Cleary. “[One of my favorites] is the skull bar spoon from Cocktail Kingdom. Not only is it fun to look at and work with, it has a really great weight in your hand and the skull itself can be used for cracking ice cubes if needed to get better dilution.”
A Juicer For That Fresh-Squeezed Taste
If you’re planning to serve gimlets, screwdrivers or any other cocktail that uses fruit juice, a citrus juicer is a must-have for your home bar. “Fresh juice is always best in your cocktails,” says Marrero. “There are a variety of hand juicers that are great for home. I like this one because you can juice everything from limes to grapefruits with one tool.”
An All-In-One Barware Set
Want to get everything for your home bar in one shot? This barware set has the essentials that you’ll need to start whipping up cocktails, as well as two beautiful glasses. “I love this really nice at-home barware set that includes a shaker, muddler, strainer and jigger,” says Marrero. “Designed by Charles Joly, this is a gorgeous set that will give you what you need to make shaken cocktails. It also looks nice on the bar.”
Best Glassware to Stock Your Home Bar
Naturally, you’re going to need to stock your bar with glasses to serve all sorts of drinks. The number of glasses you’ll need depends on how many people you typically host, and bartenders recommend having a few key styles of glasses on hand for different drinks.
The Basics: Rocks And Highball Glasses
As you build out your bar setup, the two main glasses you’ll need are rocks glasses (also called lowballs), which are great for an Old Fashioned, spirits on the rocks and many other cocktails, and highballs, which are taller and slimmer. “For glassware, a nice rocks glass and a highball would do it, but if you’re trying to go all out, a classic coupe is a must,” says Oscar Gil, head bartender at Scampi in New York City.
Pretty Coupes For Fancy Drinks
Other bartenders echo Gil’s recommendation to keep a few elegant couple glasses on hand. “Libbey is my go-to for new glasses,” says Troxell. “Coupe [glasses] will do double duty and work beautifully for cocktails and sparkling wine.”
Nick & Noras For Stirred Cocktails
“Nick & Noras are fun because they’re a bit more contemporary than a martini glass and more versatile,” says Ben Howell, beverage director at Rolo’s in Queens, NY. “They can be used for any boozy stirred cocktails—think Negroni, Manhattan, martini. They also make any drink look a touch more official.”
Classic Whisky Glasses
“You have to have a glass for neat pours, like a Glencairn,” says Natasha Mesa, beverage director of Portland-based Bit House Collective. “Sometimes after a long day, you just want the simplicity of enjoying a nice pour of whiskey or scotch, and this is the best glass for the job.”
A Set Of Quality Wine Glasses
For the wine drinkers out there, our experts also recommend a quality set of wine glasses, ideally with options for both red and white wine. Riedel is a commonly recommended brand and this set comes with four red wine glasses, four white wine glasses and four champagne flutes, all made from fine crystal.
Fun Add-Ons For Your Home Bar
Once you have tools, glassware and alcohol for your bar, you can add a few more items for a well-rounded display. Here are a few options that serve both functional and aesthetic purposes.
The Ultimate Guide To Cocktails
If you’re looking for a book to guide your adventures in mixology, this well-known manual is the way to go. “The industry standard is a little book called the PDT Manual,” explains Tony West, food and beverage manager at Austin’s Driskill Hotel. “Written by the folks behind the infamous Please Don’t Tell speakeasy in New York City, this book covers absolutely every facet of bartending, from an ideal layout to strictly necessary tools and machines, to making and batching homemade shrubs, mixers, elixirs and all the classics, as well as trendy drink recipes.”
An Array Of Bitters To Expand Your Repertoire
“Bitters are the easiest way to play around with cocktails and diversify your repertoire without a massive investment,” says Creasy. “Adding bitters to your martini, Manhattan, Old Dashioned, mimosa or whiskey sour can take it to a very different level. No bar should ever be without angostura bitters—I also keep them on hand as a mini shot when you’ve had too much to eat!”
A Crystal Decanter To Instantly Upgrade Your Bar
“The only reason this William Sonoma crystal decanter isn’t my number one suggestion is because it’s not a high use item, but it is a high visibility item and boy is it pretty!” says Jordan Catapano, bartender and co-founder of This Girl Walks Into a Bar bartending services. “I’d suggest adding brown spirits only—whether you fill it with a $15 bottle of scotch or a $1,500 bottle of rum is your secret. Regardless of what’s inside, it looks super fancy and immediately elevates the status of any home bar.”
Cute Reusable Garnish Picks
If you’re making drinks with olives, fruit or another garnish, you can keep the decoration in place with these reusable cocktail picks. “Reusable garnish picks look so nice for a cocktail party—let’s get rid of the disposables!” says Creasy.