How to Build a Home Bar - IMBOLDN
Go to Top

Back away from the T square and press pause on your Bob Villa impression. We’re talking about building your very own home bar, but not in the Home Depot, get-your-hands-dirty sense. No, this is all about how to assemble the perfect ingredients – edible and otherwise – necessary to become a master cocktail craftsman.

Part inspiration, part shopping list, this guide should serve as all the impetus you need to trade in that ready-made margarita mix (shudder…) for something a lot more impressive.

The Tools

A mixologist is only as good as his tools. While mixing up a martini in a mason jar may seem kitschy and hipster as hell, it’s also messy and ineffective, both of which will lose you serious cool points.

Set yourself up for success with a cache of simple-but-effective equipment that will see you through numerous home happy hours and holiday booze-athons:

Cocktail Shaker

Whether you’re going for classic stainless steel, or something a bit more luxe looking, like Crate&Barrel’s Fenton Graphite Cocktail Shaker, there are options at a wide variety of price points and styles.

Crate&Barrel Fenton Graphite Cocktail Shaker


In the past, the jigger was the sign of a novice bartender (or a stingy one). But with the rise of cocktail culture, it has become a mark of precision and the sign of a real pro.

Bar spoon

Mixing the perfect drink is much easier when you’ve got the right tools. A bar spoon is used to mix and layer drinks, and its length ensures that it can get to the bottom of whatever glass or container you’re working with.


If you ever plan on making a mojito or mint julep, you’ll need a muddler. As with most bar tools, you can go with something that’s purely functional, or one that focuses on form as well.

Handmade muddler crafted from dense tiger maple.

You’ll also need some glassware. Honestly, you can get away with a decent set of water glasses if you have to, but having a few pieces of specialty drinkware on hand is the key to next-level entertaining.

Stemmed wine glasses

Technically, there’s a dedicated type of glass for each wine varietal, but a basic piece of stemware is fine unless you’re a vino fiend (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

Rocks glasses

Because nobody looks cool drinking two fingers of bourbon out of a juice glass. The Vitreluxe Stump Cocktail Set is a good option if you’re looking for something unique.

The Vitreluxe Stump Cocktail Set

Tall glasses

These are what you’ll use for mixed drinks and specialty cocktails like a Tom Collins or Bloody Mary.

Martini glasses

Because you can’t channel your inner James Bond without one. You can go classic, or mix things up a bit (no pun intended) with a modern take on the martini glass, like these from Adamanini.

The Adamanini Martini glass weights a pound and is machined from a solid 25 pound billet of stainless steel

The Booze

You’re going to want to buy one of everything. Don’t. While most liquors won’t spoil, some might develop off-flavors and, more importantly, all those bottles of weird and wacky spirits take up a ton of space. Unless dusting is one of your favorite hobbies, do yourself a favor and put together a to-buy list that reflects what you like to drink – plus a few extras for those friends and family members who drop by on the regular.

Choose at least a couple bottles from the following:

– Vodka
– Whiskey/Bourbon
– Tequila
– Gin
– Light Rum

The first three are essential and the most widely consumed by the average drinker, while gin and rum are great for summer drinks – your G&Ts and Mai Tais, for instance. Of course, there are lots of subcategories for each liquor. There are dozens of brands of vodka available at the neighborhood grocery store, and each brand likely has a handful of variations ranging from pear-infused to crazy flavors like birthday cake. Be safe and keep things classic.

The top three beers ordered by Americans are Bud Light, Miller, and Corona, but choosing a brew is a highly personal decision.

Wondering about beer? This is where things get sticky. The top three beers ordered by Americans are Bud Light, Miller, and Corona, but choosing a brew is a highly personal decision. Love microbrews? Go local. Prefer dark beers? Guinness and oatmeal stout it is. Keep a few of your favorite six packs on hand (or a growler, if you’re fancy like that) and call it a day.

A growler of your favorite craft beer will definitely come in handy.

As for wine, keep a bottle of red (try one of these Cabernet suggestions), a bottle of white, and some Champagne or a bubbly alternative on hand just in case, but if you’re not a big wine drinker, feel free to skip ahead.

The Extras

Unless you’re a whiskey-straight-up kind of guy, you’ll want some mixers on hand. To complete a handful of basic cocktails, start with the following mixers:

– Regular and diet cola
– Club soda
– Tonic water
– Ginger beer (great for everything from Jameson & gingers to a Moscow Mule)
– A couple of your favorite juices (cranberry and orange are always a good bet)
– Fresh lemons and limes or bottles of real lemon/lime juice

You’ll also want some liqueurs (triple sec, for instance, especially if you’re planning on having margaritas for Taco Tuesday) and other flavorful additives such as Angostura bitters, simple syrup (it’s easy to whip up some at home), olive juice (for those days when nothing but a dirty martini will do).

Quick Tips

Now that you’ve assembled the essentials, here are a few industry tips on how to keep things fresh and create a balanced drink each and every time:

– Dream big, but start small. You don’t have to buy everything at once, and having a good foundation is far better than splashing out on a bunch of single-task specialty gizmos and faddish liquors you’ll only use once.
– Store liquor and wine in a cool spot with minimal light. Those fancy wine racks you see in home goods stores? They’re only as good as their surroundings.
– Pick a signature drink and perfect it. It doesn’t have to be something crazy special or original, just guests will learn to ask for whenever they drop by, like a Negroni, a Manhattan, or a basil and guava smash.
– If you have a green thumb, growing a pot of mint will make you look like the next coming of Martha Stewart.