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Raising the (Home) Bar

Create the perfect watering hole in just five steps

Sometimes, you wanna go where everybody knows your name—and where there’s never a line for the bathroom and drinks are always on the house. That’s why the top tavern is the one you build. Follow these five steps to home bar bliss.

Step 1: Begin with the Basics

A bar is more than the bottles it pours. That means bye-bye kitchen cabinet (or the fridge crisper) and hello dedicated bar space. Whether you’re transforming an entire room or just a nook (they don’t call it a corner pub for nothin’!), start with sturdy, dark wood cabinetry for a true tavern feel. Plan for closed cabinetry below (liquor and sunlight don’t mix), and use the upper storage for glassware.

Skip the high-maintenance wood bar-top in favor of stone or composite counters that wipe easy and won’t have you on constant coaster watch. Install a bar sink and a faucet such as Delta’s Cassidy Single Handle Bar/Prep Faucet so you’re not stuck running glasses to the kitchen. And be sure to save space on one side of the sink for a small drying rack. When water droplets fester inside glassware, bacteria can grow and affect the taste of your next cocktail.

Step 2: Solve the Seating Sitch

To make sure your crowd stays for a second round, give them a comfy place to sit. For a small space, add two plush lounge chairs and a coffee table big enough to hold a couple of glasses and a game of checkers. For a larger home bar with a counter, bring in high-backed stools. If your stools don’t have footrests, consider installing one beneath the bar (dangling legs can make guests feel fidgety).

Step 3: Stock the Right Supplies

Only master mixologists need an arsenal of gizmos. You just need the essentials:

  • Cocktail shaker (look for one with a built-in strainer)
  • Muddler (mojitos, anyone?)
  • Jigger (measuring makes perfect!)
  • Bar spoon (for a martini stirred, not shaken)
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener combo (nothing fancy) 

Step 4: Get the Good Stuff

A dozen different vodkas doesn’t guarantee delicious drinks. Think quality, not quantity, as you stock your bar. To make most classic drinks—even for a crowd—you need 10 basic bottles. Start with these seven staples ...

1. Gin (for martinis and G&Ts)

2. Tequila (margaritas and sunrises)

3. Bourbon (old-fashioneds and Manhattans)

4. Cognac (sazeracs and sidecars)

5. Rum (Cuba Libres)

6. A high-end aged whiskey (for sipping)

7. Vodka (for practically everything else; get the best you can afford)

… Then add three mixers: citrusy Cointreau, floral vermouth and herbal bitters like Campari.

Now, select a single red and white as your house wines—and it’s your house, so choose what you like, although merlot and pinot grigio are mild, everybody-drinks-them choices. Finally, stock a trio of beers. Choose something bitter and hoppy (look for pale ales and IPAs), something citrus-sweet (grab a wheat beer or hefeweizen), and something dark and roasty (a porter or stout).

Step 5: Make It Your Own

Think about how you’ll spend time in the space, then personalize it. Evoke a classic pub with vintage beer posters, neon signs and logo towels. Or go for a wine lounge vibe with sleek, contemporary artwork and a speaker system oozing smooth jazz. Wanna watch the game? Install a TV. Or be the game: Hang a dartboard, haul in a pool table or plug in a pinball machine.