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At-Home Bar Essentials

At-Home Bar Essentials

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No one appreciates the comforts of a beautiful bar more than we do. After all, we’re firm supporters of playing bartender. Whether it’s whipping up the most refreshing frozen drinks or creating new riffs on traditional mint juleps, there’s nothing like entertaining in your own abode — and it all starts with a solid at home bar.

For an expert’s opinion, we turned to Paul McGee — mixologist and partner at Bub City, RPM Italian, and the upcoming Three Dots and a Dash — who gave us his rundown of the most important bar essentials, starting with the booze:

"I find the most versatile spirits to use at home are a London dry style gin (Beefeater or Tanqueray), a light rum (Eldorado three-year white), a blanco tequila (Siete Leguas), a high-proof rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 100 proof), and a sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula or Dolin Rouge)," he says. These spirits serve as the perfect building blocks for many classic cocktails — as well as the basis of a larger liquor collection. As you grow your bar, remember to keep your commonly used spirits front and center, he adds.

Next in line are the essential tools of the trade: A jigger for proper measuring — "balance is everything in a cocktail," he says, a Boston shaker, a Hawthorne strainer, a citrus reamer, a bar spoon for stirring cocktails, and a large ice bucket if your bar cart won’t be near the freezer. "I’d make sure the bar cart is where you are going to do the most drinking and entertaining," he says. "Your guests will want to see what's going on and maybe even make some of their own drinks."

Lastly, he offers a couple insider tips for all at-home bartenders to keep in mind, including keeping opened vermouth refrigerated and using fresh juices. "Stay away from the bottled stuff or the small plastic lemon or lime bottles with ‘real’ juice in them," he says.

But if you’re looking to really take it up a notch, follow this golden rule: Stir cocktails that are all spirit-based — like an old-fashioned, Manhattan, or negroni — and shake cocktails that contain juices — such as a daiquiri, Tom Collins, or margarita. This method ensures all of your drinks have the right texture and are incorporated properly, he explains.

With a little extra inspiration from McGee’s favorite resources — including PDT Cocktail Book, Food and Wine Cocktails 2013, and Imbibe magazine — now you’re all ready to get mixing.

Check out the LIfestyle Mirror gallery here for all your at home bar needs and check back regularly for cocktail ideas straight from our favorite bartenders around the country.

— Sasha Levine, Lifestyle Mirror

More From Lifestyle Mirror:

Infuse Your Own Spirits

Best Frozen Drinks

The Truth About Low Calorie Cocktails

14 Essentials for Every At-Home Bar + Poster Freebie

Each week this summer, our e-mail newsletter has been guiding you through the season with our essentials for summer style. This week, we’ve got your summer entertaining needs covered with a newsletter devoted to cocktails—from our five favorite summer drink recipes to an interview with some of our favorite “mixologists.” To get you in the booze-brewin’ mood, here are Design*Sponge’s 14 essentials for crafting your own at-home bar. The accompanying illustration by David Saracino will be available as a high-res download in this Friday’s newsletter (perfectly sized to fit an IKEA poster frame!), so be sure to sign up!Max

Rocks Glass – Sometimes all you want is some nice whiskey and ice. These glasses are perfect for that and cocktails like the tried-and-true old fashioned.

Wooden Muddler – Wooden muddlers are perfect for crushing herbs and mixing together cocktail ingredients. Don’t think about making a mojito without one!

Jigger – Measuring about 1.5 fluid ounces, a jigger is a surefire way to get your alcohol quantities right when making cocktails. Typically, one end of the jigger holds a standard shot, and the other side some fraction or multiple of that.

Paring Knife – If you want to get really fancy and add twists of fruit or citrus to your drinks, this is a must-have.

Bitters – An alcohol that is infused with herbs and known for its better flavor, bitters is an essential ingredient in a number of cocktails.

Three-piece Shaker – Used for shaking cocktail ingredients together and, if used with ice, quick cooling. A three-piece shaker contains a strainer and a cap that can be used as a measuring tool.

Mixing bar spoon – With a slender, extra long handle, bar spoons are a great way to combine ingredients in tall glasses. They also look a heck of a lot classier than the typical kitchen variety.

Mixing glass – A mixing glass can be used on its own or in combination with a shaker and oftentimes features drink measurements imprinted on its side.

Highball Glass – Most often used for a alcoholic spirits and non-alcoholic mixers, a highball glass typically contains 8-12 fluid ounces.

Assorted straws – Sometimes a straw is the finishing touch that your cocktail needs! Keep a number of different sized straws in your bar for various cocktails.

Cocktail Picks – Great for keeping a grip on martini olives, mini pickles, cherries, or any other cocktail garnish.

Coupe glass – Designed for the drinking of champagne in 1663, the coupe glass can also be used for daiquiris and Prohibition-era cocktails like Manhattans and Corpse Reviver No. 2s.

Ice Bucket – When making any sort of cocktail, ice is an absolute must. Have one of these on hand to avoid constant trips to the freezer.

Strainer – If you’re mixing a lot of solid ingredients that you don’t want ending up in your final cocktail, a strainer is a good tool to have on hand.

As you begin to explore the bar, you will come across a specialized vocabulary of words and phrases. Some of these are common sense and others may not be exactly what they seem, so a little explanation is necessary.


  • Triple Sec/Orange liqueur. The orange flavour is very versatile and is used to flavour many popular cocktails. Cointreau is a nice premium brand but we’ll be using this liqueur quite a lot so don’t be scared to go for something cheaper, like Bol’s or Giffard Triple Sec.
  • Maraschino liqueur – an Italian cherry liqueur, you might recognise the Luxardo bottle.
  • Coffee liqueur – Kahlua or Tia Maria are popular brands that should be easy enough to find.
  • Crème de Cassis – Blackcurrent liqueur, a cocktail brand like Bols or Marie Blizard will do.
  • Crème de Cacao – a light, cacao (chocolate) bean liqueur, less sweet than a straight chocolate liqueur such as Godiva or Mozart. Especially useful for late night ‘desert’ style cocktails. Bol’s is fine to start.

Sweet stuff out of the way, it’s time for vermouths and bitters (hint: once opened keep your vermouths in the fridge like you would with wine – they’ll last longer and taste much better).

Weck Canning Jar

The bar manager says that the most important part of crafting an at-home bar is ensuring that it will lead to fun and creative new experiences. He keeps a variety of 26-ounce jars—equivalent to a 750 mL bottle of liquor—to create infusions, and smaller mason jars for crafting homemade syrups.

"At the end of the day, it's all about having fun and making drinks to enjoy with good company," says Michalopoulos.

The bar manager of the iconic watering hole shares his best advice for building the perfect home bar setup.

The Weekly Covet: Long Weekend Essentials

White dresses are always elegant, effortless, and appropriate for most occasions. The Studio Bag from Ferragamo’s new Tuscan Wildflowers collection is the perfect size to fit a dress, caftan, sunglasses, sandals and toiletries.

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Gastropub Goodies: 10 Bar Food Recipes

Spicy jalapenos are stuffed with cheese, then rolled in cornmeal and deep-fried to make these addictive snacks.

A big plate of nachos offers lots of different flavors, so you can mix up a perfect bite of spicy, salty, and creamy.

Roast the beef for these cheesesteaks in advance, then assemble with caramelized onions, peppers, and melted provolone just before your guests arrive.

Red and green cabbage and bright orange carrots make this side dish a festive, colorful addition to any buffet.

Coconut, caramel, and nuts elevate plain popcorn into a perfect party snack.

Fried garbanzo beans add unexpected flavor and crunch to a chopped salad you can serve family style.

Caramelized onions and hot dogs are finger-food ready when wrapped in rich butter pastry.

This salad has everything you need for a delicious meal. It's simple and provides protein and servings of vegetables tossed together in one dish.

Crush one or two tortilla chips over this chili for a little crunch and wash it down with an ice-cold beer.

Spicy homemade mayonnaise adds an extra kick to these crowd-pleasing crab cake sliders.

How to Build the Ultimate Bloody Mary Bar

So, you&aposre throwing the brunch bash of the century? Well, here&aposs your guide to building the very best DIY Bloody Mary Bar. Cheers!

The Foundation

This classic eye-opener is pretty straightforward on the front end. It&aposs all about stocking the bar with the best possible quality ingredients:

  • Vodka
  • Tomato or vegetable juice (or Clamato, if you&aposre making the Canadian version, a Bloody Caesar)
  • Pepper Sauce such as Tabasco
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Ice
  • Garnish, see below

The Finishing Touches

Garnishing a Bloody has become an art form, with some bartenders adding crazy toppings like mini burgers on top. Go minimalist with the Old School stalk of celery or load the drink up with all sorts of pickled and briny bites. Hey, have a competition. Whoever builds the best-looking Bloody Mary gets a prize. The coveted Best Brunchworthy Bloody Mary trophy. Huzzah!

Elderflower Liqueur

The days of elderflower Martinis have come and gone, but the flavor of elderflower still has a place in the home bar. William Brawley, GM and beverage director at Billie Jean in Clayton, Missouri, recommends Bitter Truth Elderflower Liqueur from Germany, as Bitter Truth is a brand known for its well-made liqueurs and bitters. “Their Elderflower liqueur is no exception,” Brawley says. “Round, floral, rich, yet mellow, with a sweet-spice backbone — it deserves a place on every home bar.” It plays well in an Elderflower Spritz, in a gin & tonic, or any effervescent cocktail that could benefit from a dash of some floral sweetness. More commonly found, and quite delicious as well, St. Germain is another go-to elderflower liqueur worth considering.

How to Set up a Well-Stocked Home Bar

Maintaining a well-stocked bar can be an expensive endeavor. The good news is that spirits will last indefinitely, so you can build your collection gradually without any worry of spoilage. We&aposll show you how to stock your bar at home, including a variety of spirits, all kinds of sodas and other mixers, and garnishes to give your cocktails that finishing touch.

The Well-Appointed Home Bar

A well-stocked home bar includes:


  • Bourbon: used in Manhattans and old fashioned cocktails
  • Gin: for gin and tonics, Tom Collins, and of course, the original martini
  • Rum: stock both light and dark. Use in pi༚ coladas, mai tais, daiquiris
  • Scotch: for drinking on the rocks, or mixing in Rob Roys (Scotch Manhattans)
  • Single Malt Scotch: for sipping neat (without ice). There are many to try, with smoky, peaty, and caramel overtones. Experiment as your budget will allow
  • Tequila: for margaritas and tequila sunrises. Premium brands of aged tequila are good for sipping
  • Vodka: buy the 1.5-liter bottle this is a versatile spirit. Use in vodka martinis, vodka Collins, sea breeze, Cape Cod, vodka & tonic, White Russians, screwdrivers, etc.
  • Whiskey: enjoyed on the rocks or in whiskey sours and hot toddys
  • Sweet Vermouth: essential for Manhattans
  • Dry Vermouth: essential for martinis
  • Triple Sec or Cointreau: this orange liqueur is added to many cocktails, from margaritas to hurricanes to Long Island iced tea
  • Liqueur: With so many to choose from, this is an area where you can let your personal taste be your guide. You may want to buy liqueurs that you enjoy drinking and for cooking: Cointreau, Kahlua, and peppermint schnapps are delicious in chocolate desserts
  • Brandy or Cognac: generally enjoyed on its own
  • Port: this sweet fortified wine is generally served as a dessert wine
  • Sherry: dry sherry can be used in cooking or as an aperitif, while cream sherries are enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif
  • Beer: beer does have a shelf-life if you don&apost drink it yourself, only buy it when you&aposre having guests
  • Wine: you needn&apost be a collector to keep an assortment of wine on hand. Store a bottle or two of white wine in your refrigerator for impromptu guests

Related: Check out our complete collection of Cocktail Recipes.

Mixers and Garnishes

  • Carbonated mixers: including tonic water, soda water, and flavored sodas
  • Bitters: used in Manhattans and other cocktails
  • Olives: for dry martinis
  • Lemons and limes: for all manner of drinks
  • Maraschino or brandied cherries
  • Grenadine: this pomegranate-colored (and, traditionally, flavored) syrup is used in Shirley Temples, tequila sunrises, and layered drinks
  • Lime Juice: sweetened lime juice is available in the mixer aisle with grenadine
  • Sweet and Sour mix

Related: Get recipes and ideas for Cocktail Garnishes and Simple Syrup

4 Super-Simple Protein Bars You Can Make at Home

Protein bars are a convenient source of muscle-building nutrients, but they often come packed with unwanted ingredients. Some mass-market companies load their bars with chemicals to optimize shelf life and taste, says Men&rsquos Health nutrition advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D. &ldquoWhen you make your own, you can leave those things out in favor of healthy whole foods as ingredients.&rdquo

Here are four of Roussell&rsquos fast, easy recipes for at-home protein bars. Grab your favorite whey protein powder and make one at a time to taste, or cook up a whole batch to save for later.

Mounds of Joy

2 Tablespoons (Tbsp) coconut milk
1 1/2 scoops of protein powder
1 Tbsp flaxseed meal
Unsweetened cocoa powder, as needed

How to make it: Thoroughly combine all ingredients in a bowl. Lightly spray a piece of tin foil with non-stick cooking spray, and add the chocolate/flax mixture to the foil. Use the foil to form a bar shape. Remove the bar from tin foil mold, and lightly dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Calories: 262
Fat: 12 grams (g)
Carbs: 10g
Fiber: 4g
Protein: 32g

Cherry Almond Bar

5 scoops vanilla protein powder
½ cup egg beaters
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup sliced almonds
1 ½ cups of frozen dark sweet cherries
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp almond butter
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon (tsp) vanilla extract

How to make it: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dice up cherries and place them on two layers of paper towels in a bowl. Let them sit for 30 to 40 minutes, allowing the cherries to thaw and some of the water and juice to drain out. (This can be done ahead of time). Mix the cherries with the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Spray a baking pan with fat-free cooking spray. Pour protein bar mixture into the pan. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until cooked through do not overcook as the bars will be too dry.

Calories: 262
Fat: 11g
Carbs: 15g
Fiber: 4g
Protein: 28g

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

3 scoops chocolate protein powder
¼ cup flaxseed meal
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
1 Tbsp honey

How to make it: Thoroughly mix all the ingredients in a bowl. (Add a little water if necessary.) Use a Tablespoon to form half-spheres, and place the bites in the freezer for 2 hours before eating. (If time is an issue, you can eat them right away&mdashbut they taste better when they're frozen.)

Nutrition Information:
Calories: 271
Fat: 16g
Carbs: 15g
Fiber: 5g
Protein: 22g

Honey Oat Bars

2 cups oats
3 scoops vanilla protein powder
1/3 to 1/2 cup water
1/3 cup peanut butter
3 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

How to make it: Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. Add extra water if necessary to get the right consistency. Line a baking pan with tin foil. Add the oat mixture to the baking pan, and firmly press evenly until covering the bottom of the pan. Cut into 8 equal bars. Remove the bars from the baking pan by lifting out the tin foil.

Calories: 281
Fat: 12g
Carbs: 32g
Fiber: 4g
Protein: 13g