10 tips on how to set up a home bar

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | August 24, 2015

Having the perfect in-home bar where you can practice your mixology skills and serve your guests' favorite libations can make you their favorite host.

Being a stellar host also means making sure your guests don't get hurt. You could be held responsible for them injuring others on your premises or on their way home while under the influence of alcohol consumed at your party. Before the booze flows, check your state's current laws concerning social host DUI liability to be certain you're compliant. Take special care no one serves alcohol to underage guests. Most states have laws specifically concerning social host liability and minors.

While you may have to limit your generosity when pouring drinks, don't restrict your design ideas when you brainstorm how to set up an in-home bar. Let your imagination run free while planning your perfect in-home bar.

10 tips to choose the perfect bar design for your home

Home bar ideas

Keeping in mind the amount of space and the desired location of your in-home bar, you can choose from freestanding bar styles or create elaborate built-ins. Here's what you need to know to choose your bar:

  1. Bells and whistles. A built-in bar can sport amenities galore, like ample counter space with a sink, wine cooler, and beer taps, and separate storage for bottles, glassware, and accessories, either under or behind the bar.
  2. Space constraints. The compact nature of a freestanding bar, on the other hand, means you can probably make room for it in a home as small as a studio apartment.
  3. Out of the way. Mobile or stationary, freestanding bars can be tucked out of the way in nooks or corners, but they can also command a more prominent place in an intimate setting.
  4. Lock up the liquor. Cabinet styles can keep your liquor under lock and key or simply out of sight.
  5. For the minimalist. Integrate a few bottles and accessories into a larger piece of furniture such as open-back shelving, an armoire, or a room divider.
  6. DIYers with purpose. Repurpose a piano, roll-top or drop-front desk, cabinets, and even dressers to create a bar that's a unique conversation piece.
  7. IKEA hacks. Modify modular pieces of furniture to build your perfect in-home bar.
  8. Mobility. In a tight spot space-wise? A small bar cart or repurposed tea cart can live out of the way, like off to the side in the dining room. You can move it into the entertaining area for parties.
  9. Got ample space? Add a built-in bar to your patio room, the finished basement, man-cave, family room, or great room. Popular themes include sports bars featuring team memorabilia, and entire pub- and Western-style bar rooms complete with pool tables, dart boards, and an assortment of other board and electronic games.
  10. Built-in wet bars. You may not need a lot of space. You can scale down a wet bar to fit a corner of the living room, a small niche or closet, or - installed with a sink, countertop, upper cabinets, or shelves and lower cabinets - against a short wall.

Don't forget the bar stools, shelves for glassware, or racks for stemware. Whether you choose a freestanding or built-in bar, you may need places to store liquor bottles, wine bottles, beer kegs, or other options like a blender, coffee maker, or espresso machine. You'll need a place for prepping, mixing, and setting up your drinks. Don't overlook task lighting, which can include pendants, rope lights, cans, and track lighting. Decorative lights on shelving behind the bar and an interesting or reflective wall covering can highlight your liquor selection.

Once you have the bar, you're ready to stock it with some basic supplies.

How to set up your in-home bar

Bar tools

For new home mixologists, Lorenzo DeVincenzi, bartender at Chapel Tavern in Reno, Nev., suggests stocking the following supplies.

  • Bases or spirits. Have at least one of each type of spirit you plan to serve your guests, for example vodka, tequila, whiskey, gin, bourbon, rum.
  • Simple syrup. Easy to make, simple syrup requires only sugar and water in a ratio of 1:1. Bring to a boil, stirring and simmering until the sugar dissolves - that is, when the mixture turns clear. Allow it to cool, and keep it refrigerated in a glass jar for up to a month.
  • Accents. These include fresh lemons and limes, cocktail olives, aromatic bitters like Peychaud's, and sweet and dry vermouth. Refrigerate the vermouth after opening. You can stock a few liqueurs, too, for drinks you like.
  • Mixers and ice. In addition to cola, seltzer, and tonic, make sure you never run out of fresh ice, preferably made from filtered water. You can make it and put it in plastic zip bags ahead of time. Keep a stash close to the bar come party time.

DeVincenzi recommends these bar accessories:

  • Measure, pony/jigger 1 oz./1 1/2 oz.
  • Hawthorne or julep cocktail strainer
  • Muddler
  • Long-handled, cocktail mixing spoon
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Zester, for creating twists
  • Boston shaker or metal shaker
  • Mixing glass
  • Two small bowls - one for sugar, one for salt - to rim glasses
  • Hand-held citrus squeezer

No bar would be complete without glassware. There are more than a dozen kinds of glasses, but TV cooking show host, Alton Brown, recommends at most using only two types of stemware and two types of non-stemmed glassware:

  • Stemmed glasses are for drinks that are served chilled and "straight up." They keep the warmth of your hands from heating up the drink. Cocktail glasses (also called martini glasses) and champagne flutes cover most occasions.
  • Non-stemmed glasses are for drinks served "on the rocks," like a Bloody Mary or a Collins-style drink. Two basic glasses are the shorter "old-fashioned" glass and the taller "high-ball" or Collins glass.

If you're concerned about DUI liability, you don't need to buy the taller, non-stemmed glasses. Brown suggests that with no regrets, you can stock only the 6-ounce old-fashioned glasses for all of your on-the-rocks drink needs. Shorter drinks can mean less worries about your home parties and DUIs -- because the whole point of having an in-home bar is to create a safe place to hang out and celebrate with friends and family.

All photo credits to Iris Price

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.