Everything You Need to Stock an at-Home Bar
So you finally found the bar cart of your dreams, and you’ve loaded it up with your favorite liquor. While those are two very important steps to curating an at-home bar, to really make your setup recall that of your favorite watering hole, you’re going to want to add some barware and cocktail equipment. But that can be an intimidating task, especially if you’ve had more experience drinking cocktails than making them. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money. “Most people in their home bar really don’t need that many tools,” advises Joaquín Simó, a partner at New York City’s Pouring Ribbons who was named Tales of the Cocktail’s American Bartender of the Year in 2012. “I say you start with the absolute basics and concentrate on the things that you like to use.”
If you’re in a pinch, Martin Hudak, a bartender at Maybe Sammy, says you can always use bartender tools you may already have on hand: “For your shaken cocktails, you can use empty jam jars or a thermos flask. For measuring, spoons and cups, and for stirring, any spoon or back of a wooden ladle.” But Stacey Swenson, the head bartender at Dante (which currently holds the No. 1 spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list), notes that if you’re going to put stuff on display, you might want gear that’s both practical and stylish. “You want something that’s functional and also something that’s pretty,” she says. “If you’re putting it on your bar cart, you kind of put on a show for your guests.” With the help of Simó, Hudak, Swenson, and 28 other experts, we’ve put together the below list of essential gear for any cocktail-lover’s home bar.
For some people, a two-piece setup like the above shakers might be tricky to use comfortably. “Say you’re a petite female — if you have very small hands, then maybe using a Boston-style shaker may be a little harder,” explains Simó. In that case, a cobbler shaker may be the better choice, because it’s smaller than a Boston-style shaker and thus easier to hold. The other convenient part of a cobbler-style shaker is that the strainer is already built into the lid, so you don’t necessarily have to spring for an additional wine tools. Karen Lin, a certified sommelier, sake expert, and the executive general manager of Tsukimi, suggests this shaker from Japanese barware brand Yukiwa. “The steel is very sturdy, and the shape fits perfectly in my hands,” she says. “It is also designed well so you can take it apart easily to clean.”
If you’re making a stirred drink, a mixing or bar set spoon is also necessary. “Three basic styles exist: the American bar spoon has a twisted handle and, usually, a plastic cap on the end, the European bar spoon has a flat muddler/crusher, and the Japanese bar spoon is heavier, with a weighted teardrop shape opposite the bowl,” explains Joe Palminteri, the director of food and beverage at Hamilton Hotel’s Via Sophia and Society. None of our experts recommended specific American-style bar spoons, but Simó told us that one of his favorite Japanese-style spoons is this one made by bartender Tony Abou-Ganim’s Modern Mixologist brand. “It’s got a really nice, deep bowl to it, which means you’re able to measure a nice, level teaspoon” without searching through your drawers, according to him. Simó continues, “The little top part of it has a nice little weight to it, but it’s not too bulky. So it gives you a really nice balance as you’re moving the mixing spoon around,” making your job a little easier.
You don’t necessarily need a strainer if you’re using a cobbler shaker, since it’s already got a strainer built into the lid. But if you’re using a Boston-style shaker, you should get what’s called a Hawthorne strainer to make sure the ice you used to chill your drink doesn’t end up in your glass and dilute the cocktail. Three experts recommend this one, including Lynnette Marrero, the beverage director of Llama Inn and Llama-San and the co-founder of Speed Rack, who says it’s her absolute favorite because “it is light and easy to clutch and close correctly.” If you choose to buy this Hawthorne strainer, Simó also recommends getting “the replacement springs that Cocktail Kingdom sells,” telling us they’re a good way to give a worn-out strainer a face-lift. “They’re really, really nice and tight, and you can generally slip them into any Hawthorne strainer that you have.”A jigger is what you use to measure the liquor into the shaker or mixing glass. A hyperfunctional, albeit nontraditional-looking, option is the mini measuring wine decante from OXO. “I know some bartenders, including the ones at Drink in Boston, one of the best bars in the country, swear by those graduated OXO ones because they love the ability to read them from both the sides and the top,” explains Simó. “You can measure in tablespoons or ounces or milliliters, and it’s all on the same jigger.” Part-time bartender Jillian Norwick and Ward both love it too and keep the stainless steel version on hand (which looks a little nicer when left out). Noriwck adds that she’s in good company: “The peeps at Bon Appétit love it.”This fancy-looking jigger combines the functional appeal of the OXO measuring wine glass (it’s basically a cup that grows wider to accommodate different amounts of liquid) with the aesthetic appeal of a classic bar tool. It also makes measuring a snap: “This handy measuring bar table and stools is super-easy to use and enables the imbiber to essentially build all the ingredients of a drink in one go,” says Confrey.If you’re going for a more classic look but still want something practical, Simó recommends this double-sided metal jigger that has a one-ounce cup on one side and a two-ounce cup on the other. The one-ounce side on this strainer also has a half- and three-quarter-ounce lines etched into it to make it even more precise. “That gives you a lot of wiggle room” and will allow you to measure for most basic cocktails, Simó says. “From there, you really just have to learn what a quarter-ounce looks like in there, and you’re pretty much good to go.”