Photo: Taste of Home
Seasoned entertainers have a secret: When impromptu guests stop by, they don’t stress. Why? Their home bar is stocked and ready to go. And they also may have some make-ahead appetizer ideas up their sleeve.
“Home bar” means different things to different people. It may be an actual built-in bar, or perhaps an armoire-turned-home-bar (like mine!). For some, it may mean a bar cart that can easily be rolled from room to room. Or maybe it just means an area in the kitchen cupboard where the liquor bottles live. Wherever your home bar may reside, having one can help you make entertaining easy for any guests that come your way.
1. Always Have a Few Staple Liquors on Hand
It’s important to remember that you need not have a selection of liquors rivaling your neighborhood watering hole. With a combination of these key base spirits and a couple of mixers–see No. 3–you’ll be able to make most any guest happy. Along with the most common spirits, it’s a good idea to have handy a couple of bottles of both red and white wine as well as a sparkling option.
- Vodka: Try it in these Cranberry-Jalapeno Martinis and Refreshing Cosmopolitans.
- Light rum: Want mojitos? Stock up on light rum so you can mix one up at any given time.
- Dark rum: Having dark rum is especially important around the holidays—spiked eggnog is an easy Christmas crowd-pleaser.
- Bourbon: It’s essential in beverages like the Bourbon Slush and Cranberry Bourbon.
- Gin: A traditional Tom Collins can go from springy to wintry with a splash of grenadine or Campari to turn it red.
2. Keep Track of Your Bar Tools and Glassware
A thoughtfully stocked bar includes the tools to tackle all kinds of cocktails, from the simplest to most sophisticated. Common items include an ice bucket, bar spoon, muddler, jigger (for measuring shots), a cocktail shaker and strainer. And don’t forget wine and beer bottle openers! Those tend to end up in kitchen drawers in my house, but you’ll save yourself a few steps if you keep some in your home bar.
If you’ll be making a variety of cocktails, it’s nice to have a combination of short, tall and stemmed glasses. For wine, consider basic stemmed glasses suitable for white or red wine rather than two separate sets. Now’s a good time to take inventory of your glassware. Were any wine glasses broken during your last party? Replace them.
3. Don’t Forget the Mixers and Garnishes
Basic mixing staples such as tonic water, club soda, cola and lemon-lime soda, fruit juices and ginger ale provide enough options for most. Your personal preference will dictate how many, or few, options you choose to keep on hand.
A cocktail just isn’t a cocktail without a garnish. It’s like wearing a nice dress without jewelry—it looks nicer with it than without. Knowing your go-to concoctions will help you determine your garnishes, but lemons, limes, maraschino cherries, olives and fresh herbs (mint and basil) are good picks to have around. These items tend not to stick around as long as liquor does, so make sure to add these to your grocery list when you’re shopping for your next party.
4. Establish a Go-To Signature Cocktail
Whether you create a different one for every party or use the same house recipe every time, having a signature cocktail eliminates the pressure of needing to play bartender. Guests can even make their own drinks and have fun with garnishes! Having a go-to cocktail also will help in stocking necessary ingredients before a get-together.
5. Have a Nonalcoholic Option
There is nothing worse than attending a party and feeling left out because you’re the only one refraining from alcohol. Rather than spotlighting any of your guests, consider offering a nonalcoholic version of your signature cocktail, garnished just as nicely. Just be sure to label which ones are which. Here are a whole bunch of mocktail ideas to get you started.
6. Splurge on Festive “Extras”
Your home bar will see the most action at party time, so let’s help it shine. If there ever were a time to display those fun extras like stir sticks, cute beverage napkins, embossed coasters and toothpicks with flair…well, now is it. (Psst: Hit post-holiday sales to get these at bargain prices, then show them off the following year.)
7. Take This Chance to Get Creative
Part of the fun of entertaining guests is being creative with what you have on hand in your home bar. Hosting can be stressful enough without adding worry that you don’t have just the right flavor combinations or ingredients. Have fun making up your own drinks! Who knows? Maybe your made-up cocktail will become a yearly tradition because it’s just that incredible.
Follow these tricks, and next time the doorbell rings, you’ll be calm, collected and ready for fun.