Bar Essentials and Styling for Holiday Entertaining
I’ll ring in the New Year with my favorite Prosecco. I first became aware of the Prosecco house Bisol when I visited the winery earlier this year in Valdobbiadene for my birthday in the nearby Veneto region just an hour north of Venice. When I discovered it was the house Prosecco at the Gritti palace my good taste was reconfirmed. At my house, the glasses are vintage champagne coupes – a Christmas present from my mom several years ago. They aren’t the standard flute but rather champagne bowls and rumor has it (I don’t know if the story is true) that the shape of the round coupe is inspired by Marie Antoinette’s bosom! Along with my friend and co-host Steven Moore of the Antiques Roadshow who is visiting for the New Years celebrations I’ll be serving ‘cicchetti‘, small Venetian tapas-like hors-d’oeuvres, and of course, my Paris favorite: caviar on toast with a dollop of crème fraîche; served #DivaStyle from my antique 17th-century Spanish secretary which I’ve styled as a bar cart!
With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, the timing is perfect for Mimi Montgomery of Lolo French Antiques et More’s 3rd article in our series on holiday tablescapes and entertaining design inspiration! Here are Mimi’s tips on stocking the bar for holiday entertaining and how to style your bar cart with antiques – do NOT miss Mimi’s barmoire!
Felice anno nuovo!
Stocking the Bar for Holiday Entertaining
Photos by Eric Gray Photography
Nothing calls for celebrations and cocktails like the holidays. There’s no better way to make spirits bright than with a well-stocked bar and a well-mixed drink! Both are a must for anyone who enjoys entertaining at home. Read on to see how you can mix and a-mingle in the jinglin’ glass… and shake and stir your way through the holidaze with ease.
Stocking the bar can be both affordable and easy. There are several essential elements that need to be included for it to be considered a success. Since many of us may have limited space and/or limited funds, choosing wisely is very important. No matter your budget, the first rule of our guide, The Art of Stocking the Bar, is to buy quality ingredients. From bourbon to bubbly, the wines and spirits you choose to stock will set the tone for your bar and the type of cocktails you can concoct. You don’t have to go top shelf, and remember price doesn’t always mean quality. You do want to cover all your beverage bases, however, so we suggest you start with the following:
Wine & Spirits
- Champagne or Wine
Once you’ve taken stock of what you need to mix up some classic cocktails, like a French 75 or an Old Fashioned, add what you like to the above essentials. If it’s tequila, popular for shots and margaritas, you should definitely have a reposado and an añejo. If you’re a fan of whiskey, be sure to include a good Scotch whiskey, made from malted barley in Scotland, a bourbon, an essential American whiskey for the southern gentleman (that’s also great for sipping), and a classic rye from Canada. You may also want to add in some liqueurs like Cointreau, Campari, and both sweet and dry Vermouth, a key ingredient in iconic cocktails such as the Martini and the Manhattan.
Whether shaken or stirred, with a twist or with a chaser, all cocktails need mixers and garnishes. Which ones you decide to stock will depend on the drinks you want to make. When displayed in small glass bottles, mixers add a splash of color to your bar and make pouring a breeze. Garnishes, on the other hand, can take a boring French Blonde from oh to oh la la. They also give you something to nibble on while sipping your drink. These are our choices for basic mixers and garnishes:
- Club soda
- Tonic water
- Sodas – Coke, Sprite, 7-Up
- Ginger Ale
- Juices – orange, lemon, lime, cranberry, tomato, apple, pineapple
- Angostura Bitters (technically not a mixer — only a dash or two to add a bit of flavor to a drink)
- Simple Syrup (made by dissolving equal parts water and sugar over heat — will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator)
- Peels and Wedges – lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, grapefruit
- Fruits Soaked in Booze
- Spices – cinnamon, celery salt, clove, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper
- Veggies – pickled corn, asparagus, okra, beets, and cocktail onions; celery stalks
- Herbs – mint, rosemary, and basil
You have your booze, your bitters, and your bacon. When it comes to bar tools, only a few items are truly necessary to make a tasty toddy. Our favorite bar tools (and accouterments) include:
- Shaker, Mixing Glass, and Strainer
- Jigger – for all your measuring needs… try a 1 oz and 3/4 oz combo
- Bar Spoon – for all your stirring, mixing and layering needs
- Citrus Peeler and Handheld Citrus Press
- Ice Bucket and Tongs
You’ll also want to add your favorite cocktail recipe books, old or new. My favorite is The Coupe by our friend Brian Hart Hoffman. Brian has a fabulous coupe collection and offers tips for collecting coupes and styling a home bar, as well as drink recipes from some of our fave bars. We also keep monogrammed bar napkins and pretty hand towels readily available for spills and quick clean ups!
Next up… glassware. I love glasses like I do chairs — their different shapes and sizes, curves and angles. How you present your cocktails is almost as important as how you mix them. Having the proper glass for each cocktail isn’t a necessity, but it makes pouring and serving more fun. These glasses (and some red Solo cups) will see you through any soiree you might be planning:
- Coupe – our choice for serving cocktails that are shaken or stirred
- Champagne Flute – tall, slender, and fun… break out the bubbly
- Wine – white or red, and stemless — a real crowd pleaser, especially when serving batch cocktails
- Shot – that tequila isn’t going to shoot itself… and they’re fun to collect
- Highball – for any variety of liquor and mixer that your heart desires
- Rocks Glass – a short tumbler for making spirits bright… with ice or neat
Style and Location
Last, but definitely not least, is the style and location of your bar. We all want a home bar that’s welcoming and appealing to our guests, but make sure it’s fun and easy for you. Whether you mix Margaritas from a brass bar cart, or transform an antique placard into a barmoire — like we did — you can always personalize and elevate your cocktail hour.
Try these ideas for a stylish home bar that will shake things up a bit:
- Turn a console into a drinks station when space is limited. A pretty tray will keep a cocktail shaker, pitcher, and liquor bottles in one place, leaving plenty of room for setting up glassware. The tray also proves handy in keeping everything looking organized as well as making things easier to move around when needed.
- An antique chest or buffet makes an ideal bar. Place crystal glasses and decanters filled with your favorite aged liquors on an antique brass or silver tray to make spirits really shine. Add a lamp, artwork and flowers to bring color and height. You can store napkins, tools, extra glasses, and your favorite recipe books in the drawers or cabinets below.
An antique bar cabinet looks just as beautiful open as it does closed, especially when you set the bar high! That’s exactly what we did when we recently removed a built-in desk from our kitchen during a renovation and replaced it with a gorgeous Louis Philippe period placard that we had at our store. Originally a dark cherry wood, Laurent bleached it and added a lime wax before installing it. We turned the center section into a bar to store our collection of antique French ice buckets and antique and vintage glassware, and called on Santa’s elves at Barri Thompson Interiors once again to sip and style the day away just in time for the holidays! It was nothing less than magical, proving once again that mixing in antiques will always #raisethebar!
Antique and Vintage Glassware
Cheers to that!