For me, part of being a grown-up is having a well-stocked bar always at the ready to entertain guests, whether planned or last minute. I fully recognize that there are many people who, for whatever reason, do not drink. This article is probably not for them, although I have several friends who are teetotalers yet still maintain a little bar of some kind in the spirit of hospitality. Whether one does or does not is a personal decision, but it is one that I gladly make as it involves a few of my favorite things: hosting and arranging things in an attractive manner.
As a child growing up in the Connecticut suburbs, the basement bar was a common sight. It generally involved knotty pine, some irreverent signage having to do with drinking, and, perhaps, a hanging Tiffany-style lamp or—far worse—a ’90s globe light displaying the words, “Bar is Open.” Our basement bar was a cross between a Tyrolean ski lodge and the set of Mad Men. The ceiling had rough-hewn beams, and the bar had a brown Naugahyde bumper but was also encircled by wonderful, round, mid-century modern barstools with hairpin legs. My fondest memory is that of my aunt and uncle’s rec room bar that sported mod graphic wallpaper with the phrase, “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” It was a time.
Today my bar is a decidedly scaled-down affair. My other half, Rich, and I live in a 1970s condo on the beach, which was built at a time when wet bars and card rooms were de rigueur for sophisticated snowbirds, along with mirrored walls and that classic feature of South Florida design: the illuminated kitchen ceiling. Now the only thing still in favor is the wet bar, and we love it. We did eliminate the sink, as it is steps from the kitchen. Instead, we used the plumbing in place for something we have always wanted: an ice machine. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill icemaker that comes with most fridges. I’m talking about a marvel that makes crystal clear, round cubes ’round the clock, like one would find down the hall at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge. It is our pride and joy.
A proper bar needs a tray. It’s a great way to confine and showcase your spirits. Ours is made of Lucite and is a piece I actually designed and enlisted a local fabricator to create. Then there needs to be an ice bucket for wine or Champagne as well as some pieces of barware—that evocative classification of stuff that includes a cocktail shaker, a strainer, a long stirring spoon, a corkscrew, and, for the more detail-oriented, little metal picks for olives, onions, and such.
Then there are glasses, which should be within easy reach on shelves or an adjacent server. There are crystal double old-fashioned glasses stacked in a way that exudes excess, classic martini glasses, all-purpose wine glasses, and Champagne flutes. I maintain that one of the best helpers in overcoming reluctance to entertain is having lots of matching glasses, in a quantity that will take you from drinks à deux to an impromptu gathering for a dozen or so.
On to the booze. Pare it down to the basics: vodka (hands down the most popular), gin, tequila, bourbon, scotch, dark rum, white wine, red wine, and Champagne or Prosecco. Then, aperitifs and digestifs such as vermouth (both dry and sweet), Campari, and, for the stylish, Aperol. Should you want to go further, also stock rye whiskey, brandy, and Angostura bitters. In the pantry, have a sparkling water such as Pellegrino or Perrier and tonic at the least, as well as cranberry juice and a smattering of sugar-free sodas. In the fridge, you will need lemons, limes, an orange, pimento-stuffed green olives, maraschino cherries, and cocktail onions.
I know this sounds like a lot, but much of this is a one-time purchase. Trust me, you will never run out of maraschino cherries or Angostura bitters. However, having a proper bar will turn you into an effortless entertainer, which if done with some ease and, more importantly, frequency, will result in others entertaining you. The reality is, if you want to get invited, you have to do some inviting. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?