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Simple suggestions for a great home bar
There are few sounds as beautiful as the clink of ice into a clean Zwiesel glass or the rhythmic whirl of a cocktail being shaken. Too often, the subtle joys of a finely mixed cocktail are drowned out by the aural assault that comes from the bar's aggressively awful house music or by a gaggle of “bro's” rejoicing in their ability to throw shots of Jager down their gullets fast enough to bypass tastebuds and self respect. To avoid the unpleasantries of the local watering hole and relish the satisfaction of entertaining at home, or to simply enjoy your favorite cocktail ensconced in the soothing cocoon of your own castle, a well-stocked home bar is a must.
A well-mixed drink can lubricate a business deal, romance a date, and impress your cocktail-impaired friends. Personally, when I'm mixing drinks at home for friends and family it makes me feel like Dean Martin pouring cocktails in his den after a bawdy roast of Phyllis Diller (hopefully I don't actually look like Glen Quagmire-giggidy).
Setting up your own home bar may seem daunting, but with a bit of thought and planning it can be simple, reasonably affordable and a great investment in your social future.
Start small. Unless you are independently wealthy or are trying to replicate the bar you saw in Vegas last year, start small and grow gradually. Think of stocking a home bar as a marathon rather than a sprint. Start out simple, with just the ingredients you need to make cocktails you enjoy and know how to make well. Is a dry martini your go-to drink? Pick up some gin and vermouth. Like Manhattans too? Add some whiskey and bitters to your list.
Once you start to feel more comfortable mixing drinks, expand your menu to include other favorites. When I entertain at my palatial East Ridge penthouse, I find out in advance what my guests’ favorite cocktails are, pick up the needed ingredients and practice during the week. It's difficult R&D but someone has to do it.
It's important to keep in mind that although you’ll use your home bar for entertaining, this bar’s primary customer—its “Norm,” so to speak—is you. When you mix yourself a drink to elegantly sip as you lounge on your rooftop deck and mindlessly stroke your white Persian cat, you want to enjoy it. Henrietta Pussycat could not care less what brand your favorite whiskey is or if you like to have a Midori Sour when no one is looking. Be sure to stock your bar for its main customer first and foremost.
Gin. You can't do a decent James Bond impression or make a true dry martini without it, so definitely keep plenty on hand. There are four varieties of gin: London Dry, Plymouth, Old Tom and Genever. I suggest starting with a London Dry gin, then maybe add a Plymouth gin to the mix as the need or desire arises.
Vodka. Since vodka doesn’t have a strong color, taste, or aroma, it makes a perfect mixing liquor and is the preferred drink for doing shots with singing babushkas. The main difference between vodka brands is in what they’re distilled from (potatoes, grains, sugar cane) and their mouthfeel. Some have a smooth, almost silky texture (such as Absolut), while others have a thinner, slightly medicinal finish (like Stolichnaya). Grey Goose is a nice, clean, can't-go-wrong vodka that mixes nicely with just about anything.
I recommend staying away from flavored vodkas. The internet is overflowing with instructions on how to make any herb- or fruit-infused vodka that you need, because let's face it, cotton candy- or salted caramel-flavored vodka are an affront to all that is good in the world.