If you love to cook and entertain your friends, investing in a home bar is a smart way to save money and a fun way to impress guests! Creating a classy (and affordable) home bar is easier than saying “sip a sazerac in your slippers” five times fast! op.
In Seattle, a good cocktail isn’t hard to find. A few of our favorite spots at Nav.it are here, here, and here. But there’s something about pouring your own drink at home and kicking back on the couch after a long day that you just can’t beat. Besides, cocktails in Seattle can range from $10-15–not a very cost-effective way to get your drink on.
I’m also a foodie, and I love to cook and entertain, so being able to reach into my cabinet for some vermouth to deglaze a soup or a batch of risotto is essential. Besides, there’s an added level of hospitality that comes with offering a friend a classy cocktail when they stop by your home (I’m not pulling a Don Draper and offering friends whiskey before noon, but you get my point!).
The prospect of building a home bar without breaking the bank may sound daunting to you. At least, it did to me until I did some research, and learned the anatomy of a home bar, which requires a only few essentials (everything else is for showing off).
Choose Your Booze
The first step is to figure out what you like to drink and how to make it. Are you a big fan of whiskey-based drinks like Manhattans or Old Fashioneds? Or do you prefer a dirty vodka martini? Pick one type of booze that you enjoy that can be mixed to make different drinks. I’m a big fan of gin-based drinks, so my bar is set up to make negronis, gin and tonics, or a nice gin martini a la James Bond.
Don’t just reach for the generic brands at the store. Quality is important since the base liquor is the foundation of any cocktail (and UV Vodka should stay in college where it belongs). Finding a local option is a great way to ensure quality without paying a premium for top shelf brands. Ask your local bartender which local distilleries they enjoy or do a little research online. My personal favorite local gins in Seattle are Sun Liquor’s Hedgetrimmer Gin and Captive Spirits’ Big Gin. Sun Liquor also makes its own rum and vodka.
Add More Booze
Most cocktails call for a base liquor and an additional mixing liquor like vermouth or campari. It may seem daunting or expensive to buy a whole bottle of campari if you only plan on making a negroni every now and then, but hear me out: once you buy it, you’ll have it forever (unless you treat every night like #ThirstyThursday). Other good investments include a dry white and sweet red vermouth. They pair with a lot of cocktails, and will come in handy in the kitchen.
Mix in the Essentials
The idea of mixers might evoke memories of pouring some type of soda over UV in a solo cup (not for me, of course), but I promise mixers can (and should) be a lot classier than that. Swap soda for a high quality tonic water and replace sugary fruit juices with fresh citrus. I really love Q tonic water because it contains a lot less sugar than other tonics, and the bottles are really cute so they look great sitting on your bar cart. Oh, and keep bitters on hand if you are a whisky drinker.
Feeling extra? Go a step beyond soda and citrus, and stock up on herbs for your cocktails. Mint and rosemary are two of my favorites because they are versatile (mint is great with rum and vodka, rosemary with whiskey and gin). Buy them fresh at the grocery store, keep them in mason jars like flowers, and they will last you a week or longer!
Go Easy on the Gear and Glassware
To get started, you really don’t need a lot of gear. There’s no reason you can’t make a great drink with what you already have in your kitchen. As long as you have ice cubes, a tall glass, a shot glass, and a spoon or knife for mixing drinks you can make just about anything. If you are going to buy some gear, get yourself a nice cocktail shaker, and call it a day.
Glassware is important for presentation, and many classic cocktails have specific glasses they are traditionally served in. But this doesn’t mean you have to have five different types of glasses on hand. I personally knock everything over so I have a set of highball glasses that I use for everything! I tend to think that stemware is overrated–and while I would never serve a martini in solo cup it is OK to keep things simple. Start with a classic highball glass and a set of martini or coup glasses to get you started. These are easy to come by at flea markets and antique stores and will add character to your bar!