The holiday season brings lots of house parties, and a well-prepared bar is essential for those gatherings. Having just wine and beer at your festive event won’t get you great reviews. It’s all about the experience — the stirs, squeezes and sips as well as the setting. Here are ideas for serving cocktails with style in your home.
Bar carts are great if you have the space. They can be positioned in almost any room, indoors or out. I love the new brass bar cart from Bernhardt’s Jet Set collection. Its mirrored shelves are easy to keep clean, and the little rolling feet make it easy to maneuver.
Bar cabinets are popping up everywhere. They are among my favorites because you can close them when not in use and they look like a great piece of furniture.
You can transform almost any table or console top to a dry bar if you have the right tools. Start with a couple of decorative trays, one to hold the liquor bottles and another to keep bar accessories tidy. Select a location that allows your guests to gather and mingle while preparing their drinks.
What do you need to stock your bar?
▪ An ice bucket, preferably insulated, is a must have, as is a wine-chilling bucket for white wines. If space is tight, consider a free-standing chilling bucket. These can do double duty when the party moves to the dining room for dinner.
▪ For many guests, a plastic glass would diminish a great glass of wine or a perfect martini. You can do better than that. Glassware is inexpensive, and it takes only a quick run-through in a dishwasher to clean an evening’s worth of glasses.
You’ll need an assortment of glasses. Every bar needs wine glasses, and you can use the same ones for white and red, as well as for wine-based cocktails. You also need rock glasses, also called old-fashioned glasses. These short tumblers are used for serving liquor on the rocks or drinks that are mixed in the glass, including mint juleps and Manhattans. A high-ball glass between 10 and 16 ounces is ideal for mixing a gin and tonic or for other drinks that call for a lot of ice. A stemmed glass is multipurpose. Use it for drinks that are shaken or stirred and served “up,” without ice. It can be used for martinis, champagne and cocktails. These drinks tend to stay in the glass and not get sloshed over the sides when served.
▪ A cocktail shaker is also a must-have bar accessory. I prefer the stainless steel variety. They get cold quickly. Put in the mix first, top with ice and then the liquor of choice. Make sure the lid is on tight and shake it until frost appears on the outside of the shaker. Don’t forget a strainer to keep the ice in the shaker when pouring the drink into glasses.
▪ Other mixing tools you’ll need are a jigger to measure liquor, bar spoon with a long handle for mixing, corkscrew and a hand juicer for limes and lemons. Mixing straws are a nice touch, and don’t forget the cocktail napkins.
▪ Don’t try to be all things to all people. You select the quality and brand of liquor based on personal preferences and budget. Don’t know which brand to buy? Go for the one in the mid-price range. A basic spirit list includes gin, bourbon whiskey, scotch, tequila, white and dark rum and vodka. I keep my vodka in the freezer for icy drinks.
▪ The most popular mixers include club soda, tonic and fruit juices such as orange and cranberry during the holidays. It’s a good idea to also have a selection of sodas on hand, including cola, 7Up and water for nondrinkers or the old Jack-and-Coke crowd.
▪ Have bitters for whiskey drinks and garnishes such as lemons and limes, and of course olives and cherries.
If you’re a beginner, pick up a good how-to bar guidebook. Practice and develop a signature drink that you can have ready to pour when the first guest rings your doorbell this holiday season.
Designer and home improvement expert Vicki Payne is host and producer of “For Your Home,” available on PBS, Create TV and in national and international syndication. Reach her at ForYourHome.com.