10 Simple Tips for setting up your home bar for a holiday party.
Home bars do not have to be and, quite frankly, should not be complicated affairs. I mean, unless you’re a professional bartender, why go out and get all of those gadgets? Why stock bottles of alcohol and mixes that you don’t want or won’t use?
Twenty years in the restaurant business has taught me a thing or two about tending bar, but I keep all of my “tools” low and out of sight for parties. Okay – shot glasses and my wine opener are the exception, but do you know what happens if you put out those bartending gadgets on an “open” bar? They become an open invitation for one your guests to play bartender and start making complicated mixes (from memory). Likely as not, the drinks will be undrinkable and all you’ll have is a huge mess.
Years of experience has taught me that it pays to plan to make any party that much more enjoyable. Here are 10 simple rules for the bar to help you do just that:
- You simply do not want to ever run out of ice. There’s nothing that will kill the party mood faster than needing someone to make an “ice run”. The general rule is one 10-pound bag of ice per every 4 guests. You’re probably thinking, wow – that’s a lot of ice. But, remember ice melts.
- Assume 2 drinks per guest per hour for the first 2 hours and 1 drink every hour after that. This rule works exceptionally well for prepared drinks like punch, cider, or mulled wine. Then add bottled wine, beer and sparkling water on top of that. Don’t get too crazy with the variety – remember, keep it simple.
- Got wine? Great. Uncork only a few bottles at a time. Put chillable wine (like Longmeadow Ranch Sauvignon-Blanc which lives in my refrigerator), champagne (Gruet Brut Rosé is always welcome at my home), and beer in a tub with ice. Got vodka? At my house there’s always a bottle of Ciroc or Chopin vodka in my freezer – where they belong!
- Have a “house cocktail” ready at the door to greet your guests on arrival. It sets the mood for the evening and tells everyone it’s going to be a real party.
- A few days before the party, plan what silver pieces you will want to use at the bar, get them out and polish them to a perfect shine. Nobody wants to see tarnished silver – it just looks dirty! And, while you’re at it, make sure all the glasses you have out are sparkling clean too.
- Think about different ways to raise some bottles or glasses off the bar top. The different heights create visual interest. You can even use cake stands to display liquor bottles! Put out saucers or small bowls to place loose caps and corks. It keeps the “work area” clean and gives you a place for those caps and corks so they don’t get lost.
- Consider your friends’ favorite adult beverages. You don’t need each one but there will always a few who’ll love Maker’s Mark whisky, Don Julio tequila, or Bombay Sapphire I always have those favorites on hand – your friends will be so happy you remembered.
- Make sure you have plenty of cocktail napkins. I love the cotton ones that I found here on Amazon. Not only do they come in a ton of colors but they’re real 100% cotton and can be washed and reused up to 6 times!
- Have some sprigs of fresh herbs in glasses of water – they add quiet elegance to any party. Add the sprigs to your mixed drinks (like the house cocktail). Think mint, thyme, basil – it depends on the mood and flavor you want to set. It may sound like this isn’t keeping it “simple” but this one small touch will make all the difference.
- And, don’t forget non-alcoholic drinks for those who are driving or just don’t want alcohol – like hot cider, cocoa, or coffee. Try my favorites, the classic taste of Williams Sonoma’s Hot Chocolate (made from Guittard Chocolate) or any of the coffees from la Colombe. Have liquors around like Schnapps or Kahlua (et cetera) so that guests can add them to taste. Remember to have plenty of bottles of plain water on hand – at least one 16-oz. bottle per guest. Stay hydrated – one glass of water to one alcoholic beverage.
If you want to get very creative you can infuse a plain vodka with fruits in different clear bottles so that your guests can see the colors. They’re a fun way to add flavor. Place the bottles in buckets of ice and they become part of your décor!
Never be concerned if you don’t have enough glasses that match or are the “right” size or shape for what you are pouring. Unless your guests are serious wine snobs and will only drink certain grapes out of certain shaped glasses –all anyone wants at a party is to enjoy themselves and if that means drinking their favorite drink out of a juice glass they’ll be perfectly happy with what you have!
And, seriously, why have a party if having fun with your guests isn’t your goal. Right?