A home bar, whether it’s built-in or the always popular, and ever-versatile, bar cart, can expand home entertainment options exponentially. Whichever one you have, if it’s a recent acquisition, experts say to start small and slow, and build your bar space gradually and pragmatically.
We spoke with Lindsey Spearman, of L Spearman Interior Design, about how to set up and stock a bar. Spearman said there are several things to think about before making a final decision.
“When considering bar carts, it’s important to keep in mind the size of the room as you consider the size of the bar cart,” she explained. “Make sure the height of the shelves works for the height of the bottles you wish to display.”
A bar cart, she said, provides a great way to bring different materials, textures and colors into a living space.
Lighting is also an important part of the criteria for designing a home bar, especially one that is built in.
“When considering the lighting for a bar cart, you’ll want to make sure the area of the room does have good natural light or an ample amount of overhead light,” Spearman said.
The placement of the bar is also important. Spearman has several ideas about how to optimize a home bar’s location.
“When placing a bar cart, I like for it to make sense and help a room function,” she said. “A dining room or great room are both used to entertain, and a bar cart certainly helps you entertain your guests.”
People shouldn’t limit a bar’s location to those two rooms, she added.
“Another space that isn’t always utilized is an office,” Spearman said. “Although you are not entertaining large parties in a home office, you may want to unwind with a cocktail after the workday, or offer a drink to a guest.”
Each type of home bar – portable vs. stationery – has its advantages and disadvantages, Spearman said.
Storage is the biggest advantage of a built-in bar.
“A built-in bar has cabinets and plenty of shelves to display different types of alcohol and glasses,” she said. “You can always hide some of your entertaining items, such as napkins, straws, wine openers, etc., in a drawer.”
The bar cart has a different set of advantages, the cost being at the top of the list.
“You can find many choices for various budgets,” Spearman said. “It’s also accessible and can easily move room-to-room, depending on where you entertain.”
A disadvantage of the bar cart is its lack of storage.
“There aren’t any drawers or cabinets to hide items,” she said. “You need to be mindful of what you display, as you do not want it to appear cluttered.”
Once the type of bar is chosen, the real fun – stocking the bar and entertaining guests – begins.
Spearman recommends stocking a bar cart with the essentials.
“Any gadgets or extra glasses can easily be stored in a kitchen cabinet,” she said. “I like to display some alcohol, some seasonal fruit, some glassware and maybe a few mixers.”
The same goes for bar tools. Spearman recommends having tools for measuring, muddling and stirring with ease.
Basic barware includes a shaker, serrated knife, cutting board, jigger, corkscrew or wine key, bottle opener and muddler.
Finding the right glassware is next on the list. Spearman again says to start small and build.
“I think it’s great to have all the various types of glassware,” she said. “When investing in it though, I would stick with the glassware you gravitate to. Think about the beverages you purchase and keep on hand, and make sure you have plenty of glassware to accommodate the drinks you serve the most.”
People just getting started should make sure they have pint glasses, which can be used for beer or cocktails; red wine glasses – because serving white wine in a red wine glass is OK, but the opposite is not and lowball glasses for single-shot cocktails and liquors served “neat.”
Later, one’s collection can be expanded to include coup glasses, for Champagne and craft cocktails; martini glasses, copper mugs, highball glasses and finally, a punch bowl.
A basic selection of liquor, including whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, scotch and rum, along with bottles of red and white wine, and a simple lager beer, will get most people started. The crucial thing is to stock your bar with drinks you enjoy. Mixers and garnishes are also important to have on hand. Spearman enjoys fresh additions to her beverages.
“I love incorporating fresh fruit and creating cocktails by the season,” she said.
Basic mixers for the home bar include juices such as grapefruit, cranberry and orange, club soda, tonic, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda and cola. And although bitters aren’t technically a mixer, some should be on hand, because they’re used in an array of cocktails. And don’t forget sugar and a container of margarita salt.
Finally, decorating the bar cart so it’s an attractive part of a room, as well as a functional one, is the final step.
Spearman likes to display beautiful glasses and a decanter.
“It’s a great place to display fresh fruit in a bowl, or any beautiful trays you may have,” she said. “Fresh-cut flowers are also a great addition to any bar cart or bar. Each season you can change out some of the alcohol or décor.”
Now that you have your home bar all set up, you’re ready to dazzle your friends with magical concoctions, all perfect for the holiday season. Local bartenders have shared some of their favorite recipes, along with advice about things every bar needs, and should have.
Christopher “Maxie” Maxwell
Halyard Restaurant Group | 55 Cinema Lane, SSI
Holiday Gin Fizz
• 1 oz. rosemary and cardamom-infused simple syrup (combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2 rosemary sprigs and 6 cardamom pods)
• 1-1/2 oz. Simple Man Gullah Geechee Gin
• 2 oz. grapefruit juice
Shake and strain over ice. Top with prosecco and garnish with rosemary and grapefruit peel.
Every bar needs: Stainless steel shaker set, Hawthorne strainer, wooden muddler, bar spoon, Japanese jigger, paring knife, cutting board and bar towel.
Every bar wants: “Aperol. Aperol is an Italian bitter aperitif made with gentian, rhubarb and cinchona. Add to soda water with orange slice or use instead of Campari in a Negroni or Boulevardier. Also a great addition to the holiday gin fizz.”
1200 Glynn Ave, Brunswick
• 1 oz. Bailey’s Irish Cream
• 1 oz. vodka
• 1/2 oz. Kahlua
• 1/2 oz. gingerbread syrup
• Spoonful of softened vanilla ice cream
Combine in shaker with ice. Strain and pour into chilled martini glass. Top with whipped cream and sprinkles of gingerbread crumbs.
Every bar needs: Wine opener. Every bar wants: “Round ice cube maker or molds for those fireside nights listening to Chris Stapleton’s new album.”
Rod "RB" Brown
Sago at Sea Palms Resort
515 N. Windward Drive, SSI
Holly Berry Mistletoe
• 1 oz. vodka
• 1 oz. cranberry juice
• 1/2 oz. St. Germaine
• 1/2 oz. peach schnapps
Serve on rocks with three cranberries
and a sprig of mint leaf.
Every bar needs: A really good shaker. Every bar wants: “Wish I could have a microphone coming from the ceiling for when a good song comes on so I could get the bar singing along.”
Georgia Sea Grill | 407 Mallery St., SSI
• 4 oz. white wine
• 2 oz. sangria mixture
(Mostly white cranberry juice with fresh-squeezed Satsuma and lime juice)
• 1/2 oz. ginger liqueur
Mix and top with a nice splash of prosecco and garnish with cranberries and lime.
Every bar needs: A combo shaker and muddler. Every bar wants: “ Something you probably have in your kitchen but don’t think about using in your home bar … a zester! With the obvious uses of lemons, limes and oranges in holiday season, you can use it to garnish your festive drinks with cinnamon or nutmeg.”
The TreeBar at Bennie’s Red Barn
5514 Frederica Rd., SSI
• 4 oz. prosecco or Champagne, chilled
• 2 oz. cranberry juice, chilled
• Orange slices, cinnamon, sugar, rosemary sprigs and fresh cranberries
Wet the rim of a martini glass with an orange, and then dip the glass in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Combine chilled prosecco and cranberry juice; garnish with cranberries and rosemary sprigs
Every bar needs: Tito’s Vodka and Jack Daniels.