Tempting as it may be, odds are you can’t dedicate an entire room to your home bar. Most people make do by sticking bottles wherever they’ll fit, mixing cocktail glasses in with everyday glassware, and storing bar tools in a silverware drawer. I think it’s a shame to hide all those cool-looking bottles and hardware out of sight, plus there’s a benefit to having them visible: it’s a signal to guests that you’re a prepared host who is on standby 24/7  to show friends and family a good time. But that doesn’t mean things have to get out of control. I’ll start with the assumption that you’re working with a limited space and a limited budget….


Any space near your kitchen or mixing area that can be set aside can be made into a dedicated home bar, even if it’s just a single bookshelf or a section of your counter. If you have the area, look at employing a sideboard or buffet as your home bar central – you can display bottles and tools on top, store glassware and extras underneath. A rolling bar cart works well for tight spaces, and can be wheeled away as needed. For the tightest spaces, a single vintage crate can be a cool way to group together a compact collection of bottles and keep things looking tidy. A well-secured shelf can work in a pinch for a dozen or so bottles – just make sure it’s rock-solid and level. Avoid that hot, greasy, dusty area over the stove or any spots that get heavy direct sunlight. Your booze won’t spoil, but it will evaporate – and mixing cocktails with overly warm spirits will dilute your ice faster, making for a watery drink.


Only keep on display the bottles you use day-to-day, and keep any extras in a dedicated “overstock” area out of sight. You may even consider rotating your selections seasonally – rums and tequila in the summer, whiskey in the fall, for example. Wherever you wind up keeping your bottles, group them together by family so you can find what you’re looking for easier: whiskies, gins, rums, and so on. One of each basic spirit (bourbon, rye, Scotch, light rum, Old Tom gin, London Dry gin, brandy, tequila) and basic liqueurs (triple sec, Herbsaint, Drambuie) is a good rule for tight spaces and allows for flexibility depending on your mood or your guest’s preference. Always store vermouths (Italian and French) and syrups (simple syrup, grenadine, orgeat, etc.) in your refrigerator to avoid spoilage.


Getting good and plentiful ice at home can be a big challenge, especially if your freezer doesn’t have a built-in icemaker. Honestly, the ice that comes out of the icemaker isn’t all that great anyway. Use Tovolo trays for perfectly square cubes – just make sure you keep an open box of baking soda in the freezer to help absorb odors and try to keep the stinky things away from your ice (unless you like a garlic Manhattan – and if you do, I don’t think we can be friends). Once the ice cubes are set, remove them from the tray and store in an airtight container to avoid that silicon-rubber stink, and to keep the supply coming. If you’re very tight on space in the fridge, consider getting a few of those resealable narrow glass flask-shaped bottles for storing vermouths and syrups. You can squeeze a lot into a small area with those, maybe even just one shelf on the refrigerator door for everything. Label and date your bottles to help keep an eye on freshness.


Your basic kit of bar tools should be stored in sight – shiny silver and sparkling glass look great and indicate you mean business. A sturdy mug, jar, or low vase can hold everything except your jigger, shaker, and mixing glass.


Always have a few fresh lemons and limes on hand, maybe an orange and a grapefruit. Keep them in the same area as the rest of your home bar setup for a punch of color. There’s some debate about refrigerating versus storing at room temperature – they can go from fresh to moldy overnight if the room is warm (rotate them around the bowl to get a bit more life out of them), but they’ll dry out and get bitter if left in the fridge too long. See what works best for you and your home environment.


I like to keep four of each glass on hand at a minimum (Old Fashioned, Collins, cocktail or coupe). Glasses should be stored upside-down in an enclosed, dust-free spot so you don’t have to clean them each time before using. Locate your nearest professional restaurant supply for bargain prices on great-looking glasses like the Libbey 3773 coupe, the Libbey 124 Old Fashioned, and the Anchor Hocking 3181EU Collins.


Cruising around local thrift stores, yard sales, estate sales (or shopping online at Etsy) can be an affordable and fun way to decorate and organize your home bar. Trays of different sizes are great for creating order out of chaos, for carrying drinks or supplies from one room to another, and doubling as decorative items when not in use. At thrift stores, you’re sure to find treasures like vintage glass punch bowl sets, antique glasses, bowls for serving snacks, stir sticks from long-gone restaurants, or kitschy tchotckes to complete your scene.


Got a great-looking home bar you’d like to show off? Email me some pix – I’ll choose some favorites to feature at the end of this article and on the Home Bar Basics Facebook page.


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