Essentials For Your Home Cocktail Bar

Holly Shaw, ReserveBar Contributor

“A bartender is just a pharmacist with a limited inventory.” Albert Einstein

Remember the last time you met up with a rowdy group of pals at that cool new bar? Yeah, me neither. I miss my friends, but I also miss that bar! If there has ever been a time for a home bar, it’s now. I recently decided to upgrade my own bartending skills and tools so I’m the perfect host for happy hour at home.

Whether you are joining virtually or in person, let’s get you situated with everything you need to craft your own cocktails. Good bar tools, essential liquors, and glassware are the basics that are your key to boozy success. The modern bar doesn’t have to be intimidating. Whether you have a bar cart, a tray, or a kitted-out garage hosting happy hour in the driveway, a few basics will make you feel a little like those good ‘ole days when we used to meet for drinks at trendy hotspots.


Your essentials should be catered around what you like to drink. If you are an old fashioned drinker, a muddler is a must. Or do you fancy a martini? In that case, you need a shaker or a mixing glass. Of course, you could go crazy, but you don’t need ALL of the Williams Sonoma bar tools, although no one would blame you. You can pick up an essentials kit or buy individual items depending on your desired level of commitment.

The bartending basics include: a cocktail shaker, mixing glass, jigger, bottle opener, corkscrew, strainer, bar spoon, and ice bucket. You can create a more robust bar after securing these basics, which would include a serrated knife, citrus squeezer, absinthe spoon, citrus peeler, martini pitcher, stirrer, muddler, Hawthorne strainer, and julep strainer.


A shaker is a simple tool to use that crafts a perfectly cold cocktail without diluting the drink with melted ice. The Boston shaker favored by bartenders is a two-piece shaker that is easy to use and clean. It is a larger (26oz) and smaller (160z) glass or stainless cup, the smaller fits atop the larger for shaking, but if you want to strain your liquid, you’ll need a separate strainer, which isn’t expensive (I recommend a Hawthorne or julep strainer). 

The traditional “cobbler” shaker is what you are probably most familiar with. It’s all in one, usually stainless steel with a cup base for liquid and ice with a detachable top and a strainer built into the cap. Whichever one you choose, please pay homage to Tom Cruise in Cocktail as you shake, shake, shake away.


You only realize how important it is when you go to open a bottle, and don’t have one. Ideally, you don’t want to introduce your tailgating opener in as your bar piece. Invest in something nice that matches your new bar.


A bar spoon isn’t just a spoon from the drawer, it is specific to stirring cocktails. This special piece of marvelous equipment is long, usually at least 12”, with either a spiral or smooth texture. It’s also slim and weighted, for a couple reasons such as not breaking up the ice and quietly stirring the liquids. 

For more advanced users (you’ll get there!), this spoon can help “layer” liquids in the glass. Some spoons also have an incorporated muddler on the end for convenience. Lastly, a bar spoon is an actual measurement which translates To around ¼ ounce. 

The perfect cocktail is precise and harmonious. The jigger is a measuring tool that creates consistency in a cocktail. Typically, the two-sided jigger is 1.5 oz. (jigger shot), and the other side is 0.75 oz. (pony shot). There are various sizes and styles from functional to sleek, so choose your own adventure!


The mixing glass is for ‘stirred drinks’ like a Negroni. Typically, this is a pint glass around 16 oz. and some will have a spout on one side to pour the completed concoction into the desired glass. 

It is possible to also use your Boston Shaker for this task, or you can purchase the elegant Yari glass to really impress your friends. A mixing glass also minimizes dilution and spill over.


Do you really need the proper glassware to impress your friends? The simple answer is: No. A home bar does not need a wide variety of glasses. However, the importance of the highball, coupe, and old fashioned glass will help you understand why drinks don’t stand a chance in another glass.


The stemmed glass was designed to prevent your pesky fingers from warming the glass and the cocktail. If you hold the stem, the drink stays cold. The martini glass is perhaps the most recognized, but it is easy to tip over, so drink carefully. A slight variation is the coupe which was originally created for champagne, but bartenders often utilize this glass for martinis and other “up” drinks because it’s not as prone to spills. Coupes are sexy and impressive, so I recommend snagging a few of those and keeping them on display. 

Drink with: Martini, Manhattan, Daiquiris, Sidecar


Named after the famous cocktail served in this glass. What’s a double? A bigger glass. Serve “on the rocks” or neat.  

Drink with: Old Fashioned, Negroni, Mint Julep, Sazerac


Variation: Aka ‘Tom Collins’ or ‘The Delmonico.' Cocktails with lots of ice and easy to sip avec or sans straw are perfect for this glass.

Drink with: Tom Collins, Gimlet, Gin & Tonic 


The champagne flute is ideal for a sparkling wine for two reasons: 1.The design preserves bubbles, adding to the flavor and texture. 2. The stem keeps the drink from getting warm while sipping. 

Recommended for: Champagne or Champagne cocktails


A home bar can be on a cart, a tray or in a fancy box that only comes out once a week (or once a day). The key is to not overcrowd the space with everything you have, but to display a few chosen pieces, such as, bar tools, ice bucket, stylish bottles and a few glasses and/or decanter. Make yourself a wish list, start with a few recipes and start mixing it up. Before long, you will have your bartending groove and you just might serve up better cocktails than that bar you used to frequent. Good luck my friends! 

I leave you with one of my favorite drinks to open your bar with.


By Dale Degroff

  • 1 oz. Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • Orange Zest (Garnish)

Combine the whiskey, vermouth, and Campari in a double old-fashioned glass over ice and stir. Garnish with the orange zest.

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