Published in Red Clay Soul 2/19/2020:
Like many young bachelors, I spent a good amount of my 20s in bars. Bars were where I spent quality non-work hours socializing and enjoying good libations. Things changed…I fell in love, cohabitated and my focus changed to building a life and home together. Long lost was that time happily spent on a barstool, drink in hand.
The one place a man can take a foot hold and feel true pride is in the creation of his own Home Bar. Men, I promise going deep in the hooch demonstrated by a quality bar presentation is what will separate the boys from the men.
Buying gifts for men can be challenging. Building interest in a home bar means people will have a forum to give you something you will surely enjoy. Your mother-in-law won’t buy another argyle cardigan. She can go to her local liquor store seeking a recommendation for good bourbon or give you her father’s silver jigger that’s been stored away for years.
Knowing where to start can be tough. Below is my primer on how to create your new favorite bar - the one in your own home.
The Place - Anywhere will do. The living room, the corner of the kitchen or even a modified hall closet. It doesn’t matter where as long as it is a designated location where you can build and create plus where your guests will gravitate when the festivities begin.
Best to have a tray to hold the space together, keeping it from looking too loose as if the bottles are waiting to be put away. Trays with character are preferred - silver, woven, textured, modern, vintage. These can be an easy score at estate sales or antique collectives. I’ve even been known to find a winner at the local box store. Don’t over think it. Just choose one that grabs your attention.
The Sprits - Start with good quality basics and build a collection from there…Vodka, gin, bourbon, scotch, rum and tequila. The most expensive labels aren’t always necessary and just the same, don’t be caught filling in with the cheap stuff either. Your daily drinker is the one you drink the most – make it a 1.75L. It’s just about determining your house brand. Then add one bottle from each of the other categories. The rest go in the cabinet, shelf above or below the bar. Might be good to have a vermouth and St. Germaine on hand as well.
The Mixers - Mixers have come a long way. Interesting selections with quality ingredients and good stories. I like to keep Jack Rudy bitters and cherries in supply. Their tonic is also awesome as it is a concentrate syrup that you mix with soda - genius. Topo Chico, Navy Hill or Canada Dry are right up there for best choices to add some fizz. Navy Hill has an awesome soda + tonic product too - half tonic, half soda. Less sweet, less calories. When it’s Bloody Mary time, Sister Sauce is the answer. Before your guests arrive, decant a bit of cranberry juice into a small pitcher. Keep a bowl of wedged limes, lemons and oranges at the ready. In our house, orange is king, and so is good preparation! A must for managing a successful bar for adult social situations.
The Glassware - A good, solid Double Old Fashion means a lot to me. My advice is spend the money on quality DOF and High Balls then purchase less expensive wine, martini and champagne glasses. Your local big box store will have the quality stemware you need that won’t break the bank. Local estate sales and antique collectives are excellent places to pick up interesting glassware.
The Accoutrements - This is where the fun comes in. Make it your quest when you explore antique and junk shops. Needed is a shaker, stirrer, bottle opener, jigger, wine opener, ice bucket, ice scoop or tongs, sharp knife and small cutting board. Carved handles, woven, sterling, horn/ antler or vintage chrome. Make it your own. From here, you can later add special pieces as you stumble across them or receive as gifts.
Cocktail Napkins and Bar Towels – At our house, we keep a drawer full of both cloth and paper cocktail napkins. Monograms are highly prized in this category. Your financial life may be dismal, but a pack of $5 cocktail napkins and a few peanuts served with a drink sends the message of quality to your guests. For large occasions, I use a bar towel. These can be fun but nothing too precious as they get a workout.
Cocktail Books - Cocktail Books are fun to collect, super informative and help fuel creativity. I have a shelf full, but one never-fail, go-to. Find yours. It’s what you will turn to when someone wants a Manhattan and you’ve forgotten how to make it. I’m a big fan of creating one signature drink to start an evening of entertainment. That’s then I use my library to research those signature drinks. Online, Liqour.com or Garden & Gun are my go-tos.
Getting the gear is one thing, but establishing the rituals is what leads to the good life. Taking time to connect with family, friends and even your home is what makes life golden. Hit your Spotify playlist, light a candle, put out nuts or a bit of charcuterie and start clinking the ice into the glass. I promise it will be what makes your life different from that of Rosanne Barr or Ed Bundy. It’s not about wealth, it’s about establishing your own quality of life.
I grew up in the family that observed cocktail hour every Friday night. Nothing formal - just a break at the end of the work week to kick off the weekend. We follow this same ritual in our home. And I hope my boys will do the same when they finally have a place to call their own. Mine have come to be known as Brown Water Friday or #bwf.
My guests think I make a great cocktail. I’m not so sure that’s true. Like many things in life, good presentation can make things appear better than they really are. The home bar is no different.
Cheers…and do it responsibly.