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Set the bar high: how to create the perfect DIY bar

From impromptu get-togethers to full-blown parties, a guest-friendly bar setup is key for effortless at-home hosting.

This content is powered by: VinePairWords by: Sara Watson
Photography by
Jeff Brown
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Whether you’re the designated “party house” or only an occasional entertainer, a well-stocked bar takes at-home hosting to the next level. Far beyond just mulling over what spirits and mixers you’ll have on hand, creating a comprehensive home bar experience includes thoughtful considerations like easily accessible spirits and mixers, proper glassware and pre-cut garnishes. We’ve thought out every last detail, so all you have to do is add your guests.  

Think theme

Consider the type of event or get-together you’re hosting before you stock the bar. Perhaps the occasion inspires the drink — a Cinco de Mayo party lends itself well to a margarita drink menu, while a brunch party might narrow your home-bar needs to a mimosa or Bloody Mary bar. With a little strategic planning, you can host just about any type of event, no matter how impromptu, such as a happy hour after work or a nightcap with friends. 

Table with corn glassware and don julio tequila

Prep your space

Where in your home will the party take place? Will your DIY bar be on a table or at the counter? Indoors or out? Broadly, and depending on your theme, size and location, you’ll want to prep your space by choosing a surface that cleans easily — if you already have a built-in bar or own a bar cart, you’re ahead of the game, but if your only flat surface is an antique table or a specialty marble countertop, consider tablecloths, mats and coasters to help keep things clean. You can even put mats or rugs underneath if you’re concerned about the floors. The goal is for you to let your guests truly enjoy their night without worrying about spills. Go ahead, let their cups runneth over!  

You’ve got spirit (and mixers)

Armed with a loose idea of what you want to serve, now you’ll need to stock up on spirits. Base liquors like gin, rum, whiskey, vodka and tequila are nice-to-haves for any home bar and provide a myriad of opportunities to mix up a specialty cocktail. Planning how much you’ll need takes a little math: A fifth (750 milliliters) makes about 16 drinks, and you can reasonably expect guests to imbibe about one drink per hour. If you’re inviting about 20 people over and figure your guests will linger for about four hours, you’d need five 750 mL bottles of liquor. 


Expand your bar arsenal by adding in liqueur for coffee or dessert cocktails, flavored and unflavored club sodas and soft drinks. Non-alcoholic options are a practical and considerate addition to keep on hand so all of your guests — designated drivers included — can enjoy a drink. 

table with salad flowers and Tanqueray and Don Julio bottles

Stay chill

Unless you’re serving a hot cider, you’re going to want plenty of ice; no one wants a warm martini. We recommend planning for about one pound of ice per guest. There are even handy ice calculators available online that factor in the type of event and whether you’re holding it indoors or out, so you always pick up the perfect amount.  

Glass class

Your glassware strategy will likely depend on how many guests you’re hosting. For small, intimate events, you probably already have enough glassware, as long as it fits the type of drinks you’re planning to serve (as a general rule, coupes or martini glasses, highballs, rocks glasses and wine glasses should have you covered). If you’re hosting a larger party of 15 guests or more, you may need to purchase additional glassware — The Bar has a great selection of classic and novelty glasses — or you can even rent some or purchase recyclable cups and wares for larger events.  

coupe glasses with ice bucket

Save time (and stress)

Seasoned bartenders don’t cut or skewer their garnishes one at a time; they do it before the bar even opens. Think like a bartender and carve out (literally) some prep time to cut garnishes and lay out any cocktail décor. When your guests arrive, whether you make them a drink or let them DIY, they’ll know exactly how to top it off. You’ll also want to create a space for used glassware so as not to crowd the bar area. Empty the dishwasher if you have one (load it up as guests party away), or clear out the sink ahead of time. Have a pint-sized kitchen? No problem. Purchase a plastic dishwashing bin for used glasses. Bonus: You can use it for storage later on. 

Be ready for restocks

Running around for a refill of a spirit or mixer doesn’t sound fun, right? Make sure your re-ups are ready to go and stored in a convenient, easily accessible spot. We’ve outlined rough estimates for how much liquor you’ll need, but when it comes to mixer math, count on about one liter of mixer for every three guests. 


Home bar restock table with jugs of mixer and soda waters

With a little planning and plentiful supplies, it’s easy to create a comprehensive, easy-to-use home bar. Friends and family will be sure to appreciate your eye for detail — and taste for a delicious cocktail. Cheers!  

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