The Best Bar-Bar None: How to set up a Home Bar for Entertaining

If you entertain frequently, and many of your guests drink alcohol, having a home bar set-up adds a nice touch to your gatherings.   While they are certainly nice to have, you don’t need a physical bar area to stock all the requirements for a basic home bar.  Drink carts, kitchen counters, and side tables can all be used as a bar area during a party.  While you will know best what drinks your friends prefer, the following set up will allow you to make most common drinks.  Keeping a drink recipe book on hand will allow you to satisfy unusual requests, and can be a fun way to try new concoctions.

Bar Ware – The Tools of the Trade
Before you start stocking up on liquors, mixers and garnishes,  it’s a good idea to gather together the basic tools for setting up a bar.  Keep in mind that the quantity for each glass is just a guide, and you can stock more as less glasses as suits your needs.  If you’re looking for quality glassware at a low cost, many top name crystal and glass companies have outlet stores with very affordable glassware.


  • 6-8 16 oz Collins Glasses – for juice based mixed drinks and soft drinks
  • 6-8 10 oz Highball Glasses – for tall mixed drinks and cocktails
  • 6-8 10 oz Rocks Glasses – for shots on the rocks and strong mixed drinks
  • 4-6 White Wine Glasses  – for white wine, will have a narrow bowl
  • 4-6 Red Wine Glasses – for red wine, will have a wider bowl
  • 8-10 Pilsner Glasses – for beer, iced tea and lemonade
  • 4-6 Martini Glasses – for martinis
  • 4-6 Margarita Glasses – for margaritas and daiquiris
  • 4 shot glasses – for shots and measuring mixed drinks in a pinch

Other Bar Tools:

  • Ice bucket and tongs
  • Jigger
  • Blender
  • Martini Shaker
  • Several long-handled spoons
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener
  • Strainer
  • Cutting board/paring knife
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Wine glass charms

Liquors and Liqueurs – Where All Cocktails Start
The basis for any cocktail is the liquor used in the recipe.  The variety of liquors you have on hand will determine the number of drink types you are able to make.  Knowing your friends’ preferences will allow you to have their favorites on hand to start, and you can gradually build your bar stock as time goes on.  Liqueurs can be sipped on their own, or used in various cocktails.  Again, the number of liqueurs you have will define the types of drinks you can put together.  A standard size for bar liquors is a fifth or 750 milliliters.

Basic Liquors

  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Whiskey
  • Vodka
  • Tequila

Extended Liquors

  • Brandy
  • Scotch
  • Mescal

Basic Liqueurs

  • Grand Marnier – Orange flavored liqueur, this is a brand name for triple sec
  • Southern Comfort – Whiskey flavored with honey
  • Chambord – Raspberry flavored liqueur
  • Cognac – Brandy liqueur
  • Kaluha – Coffee flavored liqueur
  • Sloe Gin – Plum flavored liquor

Extended Liqueurs

  • Bailey’s Irish Cream – Flavored whiskey drink
  • Crème de Cassis – Black currant flavored liqueur
  • Frangelico – Hazelnut flavored liqueur
  • Pernod – Anise flavored liqueur
  • Peach Schnapps – Peach flavored liqueur
  • Amaretto – Almond flavored liqueur
  • Midori – Melon flavored liqueur
  • Blue Curacao – Orange flavored liquor, provides color to mixed drinks

Basic Bar Mixers – Building Your Favorite Drinks
Unless you and your friends like to drink alcohol straight all the time, it’s wise to have a variety of mixers on hand.   Once again, the quantity and quality of mixers you stock should be determined by the types of drinks you usually enjoy.  For many drinks you can purchase pre-made mixes such as margarita, bloody mary, or whiskey sour mix.  There’s nothing wrong with going this route, but freshly mixed drinks almost always taste better.

  • Orange, Cranberry and Grapefruit Juice
  • Cola Soft Drink
  • Lemon-Lime Soft Drink
  • Ginger Ale
  • Tomato Juice
  • Lemonade
  • Club Soda
  • Tonic Water
  • Grenadine
  • Angostura Bitters

Beer/Wine – Just the Basics
Having selected beer and wines on hand will provide even more variety for your guests.  Beer should be chilled prior to the event and served in frosted glasses if possible.  Covering all possible options, it’s good to have a case each of light beer, standard beer and dark beer for your bar.  As for wines, you can have as many as you like, but serving at least one white wine and one red wine is standard for bar set-ups.  For special occasions, plan to have several bottles of champagne or sparkling wine on hand.   In most cases, red wine should be served at room temperature while white wines and champagne are served chilled.

Garnishes – The Finishing Touch
Providing applicable garnishes will complete your bar set-up and should be the last thing you attend to as many of them are perishable.  It’s often a good idea to cut lemon and lime wedges as they are needed to keep the fruit fresh.   For a whimsical touch, include multi-colored swizzle sticks and paper umbrellas with your garnish set-up.  Some common garnishes and cocktail condiments include:

  • Fresh Lemons and Limes
  • Celery stalks
  • Green olives
  • Cocktail onions
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Coarse Salt
  • Fine Sugar
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Tabasco Sauce

Final Tips About Using Your Home Bar
If you’re hosting a party with drinking involved, be sure to provide options to guests who imbibe beyond moderation.  Check for designated drivers,  match sober drivers with guests needing a ride, call a cab or pull out your couch if necessary.  It’s a good idea to have coffee and non-alcoholic beverages available for your non-drinking guests.  As much as your new bar can provide an entertainment Mecca for your friends, it also brings with it a level of responsibility.

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