Stocking an impressive home bar is a bit like—bear with us—dropping a blower into a coupe: looks cool, but if you’re not gonna race it, there isn’t much point. All those beautiful bottles don’t an operational bar make if you haven’t got the right tools. Which is trickier than it sounds. Home furnishing stores sell bartending “kits” that look swank but offer poor functionality (clunky, long-handled bottle openers), and that would be useless in a working bar (jiggers on sticks, stirrers instead of bar spoons). Much better, we think, to find out where your favorite bar buys their equipment—most often a cluttered restaurant supply store—and do your shopping there, a la carte. Here’s what you’re going to need:
Boston Shaker (with Mixing Glass)
Another argument for avoiding bartending kits: the inelegant 3-piece shaker; you can’t see what you’re doing when you make drinks in it. Plus, there’s the little top, which you’ll lose after approximately two rounds. Also, after approximately two rounds, you’re liable to forget you lost the little top in the first place, and douse yourself with pomegranate martini (we speak from experience). A Boston shaker (the origins of the name are lost to history), paired with a sturdy pint glass is the way to go.
Get hold of a 4-pronged Hawthorne strainer (with the miniature slinky around the front), which should fit perfectly over the mouth of your shaker. In a pinch, it can work with the mixing glass, too (when you’re stirring and not shaking), but that’s not ideal, and can make for a messy pour. A Julep strainer (so-called because, pre-straw, it was served with a julep, allowing the customer to quaff without swallowing a mouthful of crushed ice and mint) will do the trick, and completes your straining arsenal. And if you favor boozy cocktails, where no shaking is required, you’ll use it more than the Hawthorne.
An old-school bar spoon is very versatile. Primarily used for stirring, it’s also a measuring device, great for ladling horseradish into a Bloody Mary, and just the thing when a vintage recipe calls for a “bar spoon of maraschino liqueur.” We knew a guy who could pour a controlled stream of grenadine down the grooves of the spoon’s stem and into a drink. (A fun parlor trick, if problematic, since it resulted in a cocktail fouled with grenadine).
Many bar patrons (not you, of course) still think they’re dealing with a cheapskate when the jigger comes out. But a barber doesn’t eyeball his fades with unguarded clippers, and a barman shouldn’t guess on his Manhattans—especially when working without speed pours, at home. One double-sided jigger (1 oz, ¼ oz) is all you really need. But a good one-two combo (1¼ oz, ¾ oz; 1 oz, ½ oz) will come in mighty handy, too.
Lime wedges and fat lemon twists don’t cut themselves. Any small blade makes a good fruit knife—just designate it as such, keep it at the bar, so it won’t be languishing with the dirty dishes when you need it. You want it sharp; a dull knife costs you (the host) valuable face time. And a lime that’s half-pulped by the time you’re done sawing at it really flattens a gin-and-tonic.
Still our preferred method for opening wine. Or for cutting the jagged foil off of a bottle of Grey Goose. Or popping the top off of a Peroni. The waiter’s corkscrew is the Swiss Army Knife of bar tools. Once you’re comfortable with it, you won’t need any other contraption for opening bottles, whether of grape or grain.
Extras (not required, fun to have):
Purge the word “sour-mix” from your vocabulary (and from your bar). Fresh-squeezed limes and lemons leavened with simple syrup (sugar water) are incomparably better. A citrus squeeze will make juice preparation much easier, and you’ll extract more liquid with it than you would barehanded.
Preferably wooden, not too big, with a wide muddling end. But, fair warning: once you bring it out, they’ll never stop with the Mojitos. Seriously. It’s some sort of bartender law.
Small Cutting Board
We’re talking real small, like the dimensions of a square shower tile. Won’t clutter your bar, just right for prepping garnishes.
Mamba, or Speed Opener
Fits cleanly in your back pocket, saves a ½ second over the waiter’s corkscrew for every beer opened.
Because grating fresh nutmeg over your bespoke Hot Toddies beats using those little McCormick containers.