During the holiday season, many of us will entertain at some point, whether by hosting a party, a meal, or an open house or simply by welcoming friends and neighbors who happen to stop by. Having a home bar stocked with snacks and beverages can make entertaining easier and more enjoyable, no matter how much of it you do. Here's how to set up your own bar so you'll be ready to welcome guests at the drop of a hat.
Step 1: Think about how you entertain
Before you stock up on supplies for your home bar, give some thought to the type of entertaining you do. If you regularly have parties or other events with lots of guests, you'll want a bar with a range of drinks and non-perishable snacks. If your events tend to be small and low-key, with a few friends or neighbors occasionally stopping by, a simpler set-up with a few bottles of wine and a handful of basic snacks should do the trick.
Step 2: Choose a location
Next up, decide on a location for your home bar. If you have the space, and if you entertain frequently, you might want to invest in a bar cabinet or other designated storage spot for your bar. You can also tuck your bar supplies into a dining room hutch or a kitchen cabinet, or stash them on a shelf in the pantry or living room. Choose a location for your bar that makes it easy to access from wherever you normally entertain, and one that allows you to store all of your bar supplies together in one spot.
Step 3: Stock up
Now for the fun part: stocking your bar with drinks and supplies. Remember, what's most important is that your bar support the way you generally entertain. If you tend to stick to wine or beer when guests are over, there's no reason to invest a lot in liquor or special glassware--and even if you do serve mixed drinks when you entertain, you might not need shelf after shelf of bottles.
A good rule of thumb is to start with the basics and to add to your bar supplies over time. The very knowledgeable Brad Ellis of The Bar Mix Master Has Spoken blog has a great post with an overview of how to stock a home bar in phases; see Related Links below for a link. Phase 1 involves a few simple, flexible supplies such as gin, vodka, sweet vermouth, and bourbon, while Phases 2 and 3 include liqueurs, mixers, and special garnishes.
If you'll be serving beer and wine from your bar, keep a small selection of each on hand. I always try to keep a few bottles each of red and white wine in my bar; around the holidays, I add a few bottles of bubbly and dessert wine to that stash. A six pack or two of beer, or a few larger bottles of specialty brews, rounds things off nicely.
Finally, you'll also want to include non-alcoholic drinks, both to use as mixers and to serve guests who prefer not to tipple. Tonic water is an essential (to prevent waste, opt for cans or small bottles unless you know you'll be using a full bottle all at once); ginger ale and Coke are also handy. A variety of juices can round out your selection.
Beyond drinks, you'll also want to stock your bar with glassware and some basic cocktail supplies like a shaker, cocktail napkins, and measuring glasses. As you expand your bar, you might also want to include tools like a hand-held citrus press (great for squeezing fresh lemon and lime juice), a bar spoon, a paring knife, and a cutting board.
Step 4: Add snacks
To make your bar an even more useful resource for keeping guests happy, it's smart to add some basic, non-perishable snacks into the mix. Classics like nuts, pretzels, and snack mixes are super-simple and easy. Add a few fancy touches like breadsticks, crackers, special olives, high-quality chocolates, dried fruits, and dipping oils.
Remember, stock what you'll reasonably use based on the type of entertaining you do and how often you expect guests. The goal is to limit the amount of prep work you need to do before parties and visits, not to fill your bar with snacks you'll never use.
Step 5: Enjoy!
Once your bar is stocked with drinks, supplies, and snacks, you'll have one less thing to think about when it comes time to entertain. To make things even easier on yourself, consider setting up a self-serve drinks station during parties, with a few bottles of wine and a few house cocktails that guests can mix themselves. Or enlist a mixologically gifted friend or family member to staff the bar during your events so you can focus on mingling with your guests.
After each event, take stock of your bar supplies and replenish them as needed to make sure you don't find yourself short of an essential ingredient during your next fiesta.
However you'll be entertaining this holiday season, a simple, organized, and well stocked bar can make it easier and less stressful to welcome guests into your home. Cheers!