How to Set Up a Home Bar for a Party

When planning a party, one of the first things you must consider is the food and drinks you plan on serving. Setting up a home bar is a fun addition for your next Super Bowl party or holiday bash. Whether you have your own bar in the basement or simply a countertop in the kitchen, serving the right drinks at your party can liven up the event. Before the party begins, there’s a bit of planning that you need to do in order to ensure that there are enough drinks for everyone. This article will help you make sure your home bar is stocked and ready for guests.

Planning for the Party

Checking off list

The first step of any party is planning the guest list, once you have a list of everyone you plan to invite you can determine how much liquor you will need. When it comes to cocktail parties, a good rule of thumb is to assume that every guest will have 3 drinks during the first 2 hours and then 1 drink every hour after that.

Another aspect to consider is your budget. A full bar certainly adds to the party experience, but it can get a bit pricey. Fortunately, there are a few ways to reduce costs while still having a fun time. Most bar services at events or parties fall into one of two categories, a full bar with wine, beer, and spirits or a simplified option with beer and wine. A wine and beer bar is a less expensive and simpler way to serve alcohol at your party without stocking a full bar. In fact, this is a popular option for weddings. Choose at least three wine bottles for your wine rack or wine fridge (having a few white and red options is a good way to ensure variety) and fill a cooler with at least three different types of beer.

Another fun way to save money is to have a signature drink for your party. Choose a unique drink that complements the theme of your party. Not only does it lend a unique flair to your party, but it also ensures that you only need to get enough supplies to make that specific drink.

Finally, when choosing alcohol tailor your drink menu to the preferences of your guests. For example, if you know that there are not going to be many gin and tonic drinkers at your party, you can probably cross gin off your shopping list or get by with only one bottle.

No matter what option you choose, ALWAYS drink responsibility and do not allow any of your guests to drink and drive.

Stocking the Bar

Alcohol bottles

Once you have decided which bar service option you want for your party, it’s time to stock the bar. If you plan to offer a full bar with wine, beer, and liquor, it is good to offer a variety of alcohol types. Some types of liquor are more popular and versatile than others so it is important to ensure that you have enough. For a well-stocked bar, pick up 1 bottle each of the following liquors for every 25 guests:

  • Brandy
  • Gin
  • Bourbon
  • Scotch
  • Vermouth

For the same amount of people, you might need more bottles for alcohols that are commonly used in a variety of cocktails. To account for this, pick up 2 or 3 bottles of each for the following liquors:

  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Whiskey
  • Vodka

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, there is a wide range of prices and quality. For a party where you are planning to serve multiple drinks to a variety of people, it is not necessary to have top-shelf liquor for every option, especially if you are offering a full bar and plan on serving a lot of mixed drinks. Choose the best options your budget can allow and take your guests’ preferences into consideration when choosing the specific brands for your party.

In addition to alcohol, you may also need a supply of mixers. Mixers are non-alcoholic beverages that are served with other liquors to create mixed drinks. Below is a list of commonly used mixers that are good to have on hand:

  • Cola (diet or regular)
  • Lemon lime soda
  • Grenadine
  • Fruit juices (orange, cranberry, lime and/or lemon)
  • Ginger ale
  • Simple syrups
  • Sour or margarita mix
  • Seltzer

Not only will having these mixers make it easier to make a variety of types of drinks, but they will also provide materials to create “mocktails” (non-alcoholic beverages designed to resemble the taste of traditional cocktails) or can be served on their own for guests who do not drink alcohol. 

Tools and Glasses

Cocktail glasses

In addition to the drink ingredients, you must also ensure that you have the right tools to create your favorite drinks. It’s useful to keep the following items on hand:

  • Bottle opener
  • Tongs
  • Corkscrew
  • Shaker
  • Jiggers
The type of glasses that you will need will depend on what drinks you plan on serving and the formality of the occasion. Plastic cups (especially red ones) are a legendary party staple for casual gatherings like sports events or summer get-togethers. Plus, having a pack on hand allows guests to get a new glass for each drink and easily throw them away with no washing or drying required. However convenient they are, plastic cups might look a bit out of place at a formal wedding or other black tie affair. If you plan on using traditional glassware, you might need to take a break to gather the glasses and wash them if you start to run low. There are several types of glasses available that are designed for serving specific drinks. Depending on which drinks you plan on offering, you should consider having a few of the following for serving:
  • Wine glasses
  • Martini glasses
  • Highball glasses
  • Shot glasses
  • Rocks glasses
  • Champagne flutes

Setting Up the Bar Area

Woman pouring drinks in kitchen

If you have a basement or patio bar, you probably already have designated places for your liquor mixers, and tools making set up pretty easy. Just make sure the bar is well stocked and ensure that there are enough bar stools for your guests to sit comfortably. However, if you don’t have a home bar, you might be required to improvise. Find a designated area to serve as your “bar”, a kitchen counter, sideboard, kitchen island, or sturdy table are all good options. Look for a location that is easily accessible and a good distance away from the food being served at the party to ensure a convenient flow. A bar cabinet or bar cart is also a useful way to store your alcohol or tools. If you plan on hiring a bartender or simply fulfilling the role yourself, make sure there is enough room for them to move and easily access the ingredients needed for drinks. Keeping a trash can near the bar is also useful for disposing of empty bottles, used plastic cups, and straws.

Garnishes and Ice

Bucket of ice and drink with fruit garnishes

The last thing you should do before guests arrive is prepare the garnishes and ensure that you have enough ice. Some popular garnish options include:

  • Sliced fruit like lemons, limes, and oranges
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Margarita salt
  • Olives

To save time and make sure the garnishes are fresh for the party, slice any fruit about an hour before the party begins. It’s also important to make sure there is enough ice for the party. It’s always better to be overstocked than understocked, this is true for ice as well. For a 2-hour party, plan on having one pound of ice per person and continue restocking an ice bucket or cooler.

With a little preparation, you are sure to throw a cocktail party that people will be talking about for a long time. The right drinks will help your guests relax and enjoy the party.

Indoor living

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