I'm turning 23 soon, and to prevent the possibility of nobody liking me at this tempestuous age, I've decided to outfit my home with a proper bar so I can start hosting little cocktail parties and soirees and finally lift myself into high society (or something like it).
Keeping a thoughtful home bar is a hallmark of hospitality in certain circles. Plus, alcohol isn't even a required ingredient for home bartenders these days, what with mocktail recipes that are just as delicious and spirit-lifting as their traditional boozy counterparts.
As such, I stopped by Shelby House and Spirited Goods (220 Shelby St.,
216-0836), an event space and curated bar supply store, to chat with owner Liz Rees about what supplies (besides liquor and mixers) I'd need to get started. I also grabbed some tips for how to take it to the next level if you're already an experienced socialite.
For those just getting started, there are three fundamental pieces of equipment:
- A shaker
- A bitter
- A book
"You need a good, basic cocktail book of recipes," Rees says. "I know you can find a lot of this on the internet but it's just a pleasure to read and look at."
There are so many, too, from the classic and contemporary to the alcoholic and not, and Spirited Goods has a wide selection. Rees suggests The Craft Cocktail Compendium by Warren Bobrow ($12) as a good place to start, but also offers some advice: To see if a book might be a good fit, look up the recipes it offers for drinks you already know and like. You can grab bar books for $10-$30 depending on your budget and interests, and it'll open up a whole world of possibilities.
Otherwise, anyone who sees a shaker gracing a counter or bar will know the space is a center for libatory delights. Rees recommends starting with the Boston style, which is a big cup with a little cup that fits upside-down inside to create a seal. Stainless steel is a good choice, but copper and glass are common upgrades. A good shaker set will run $30-$50 and last a lifetime; Rees still uses one passed down by her dad.
Bitters, meanwhile, are strongly flavored alcohol-based botanical potions that round out the flavors of liquor or add a dimension to basic drinks like soda water. Angostura and Peychaud's are standard name-brand choices with a
4-ounce bottle of either running about $6. More broadly, there's a craft bitter movement that is otherwise greatly expanding the available options.
"Bitters are great fun and you can really experiment with them…they were originally medicinal," Rees explains. "If you're gonna pick one bitter today, it's probably gonna be orange."
A single bottle from one of Rees's faves, Portland, Oregon's The Bitter Housewife, retails for $20 at Spirited Goods, and a set of three classic flavors—orange, aromatic and cardamom—runs about $37. They're used sparingly, only a few drops per drink, so depending on how often you imbibe you can expect them to last for a year or longer.
For those looking to upgrade their supply, Bill York of Santa Fe's The Bitter End crafts exotic and spicy flavors like Jamaican Jerk, Memphis Barbecue and Thai, with bottles ranging from $20-$30. There are also alcohol-free and CBD bitters if you want your mocktails to be 100% alcohol-free, and Spirited Goods offers tastings so you won't have to invest in something you're not sure you'll like.
You'll still need spoons and cups from to stir and serve, but a set of glasses is the next prudent investment.
"There are glasses designed for certain drinks, and I think that's really nice and fun, but it depends on how much space you have," Rees explains. "I love it when I get things that have more than one purpose."
She shows me a set of Spanish wine glasses called bodega glasses, short and wide with straight sides that can be used for any sort of wine or cocktail, or to hold snacks or ice cream. A single glass can run from $10-$20, and you'll need at least four for a set.
Then there are more boutique items, like a folding multi-tool ($45) that looks like something a Scout would pack and includes a double-sided jigger (a measuring cup for portioning liquid), a citrus juicer, peel zester, cocktail strainer, knife, stirring spoon, corkscrew, bottle opener and muddler. These tools also come in standalone versions, and the sky's the limit in terms of how much you can spend. Spirited Goods carries vintage and novelty sets of tools, too, so, Rees says, "You can really express yourself through your bar," with animals and vehicle shapes or interesting patterns.
Whatever you might want or need, the time for picking up such items is now.
"I hate packing," says Rees with a smile, announcing that her shop is moving out of Shelby House for an as-yet undetermined new location. Everything is on sale forr 50-75% off until March 31 off, making it possible to start your bar or make upgrades for cheap. Rees says her new location, slated to open later this year, is set to offer an expanded line of bitters, more books and a wider supply of home goods.