At a cocktail party, drinks should be simple and delicious. For easy preparation and mixing, choose a small repertoire of classic cocktails that have only a few ingredients. Consider drinks with different base liquors for variety. To counter expectations of a full bar, include the set cocktail menu on your invitations and mention that beer and wine will be available, too. Watch our video with Manny Hinojosa – master mixologist – on how to set up your basic bar.
Mise-en-place (the French culinary concept of having your ingredients in order) is as important for bar setup as it is in your kitchen. Cut all of your fruit and garnishes in advance, store in covered containers and group together with the other ingredients in each drink at your bar station.
Put pouring spouts on all liquor and mixer bottles. Designate one cocktail shaker for each drink recipe that requires one.
For a casual gathering, print drink recipes on 4 x 6″ cardstock and display in frames at your bar station. That way, guests can mix their own cocktails once the party is in full swing.
Rather than pouring beer and wine yourself, set up a station with red and white wine glasses, beer glasses, champagne flutes and ice buckets. Uncork white wine and champagne, plug with decorative stoppers and place in wine buckets with ice. Decant red wine. Put bottles of beer in a larger beverage bucket with ice. Be sure to set out wine keys and bottle openers. The table can be a decorative focal point where guests can easily serve themselves.
Set up several water stations with pitchers of ice-water and goblets for easy self-service.
Create a music playlist ahead of time that will help set the mood during the party – or, borrow from ours!
Use small bouquets of flowers, votive candles and low background music to add comfort and warmth to your gathering.
Make sure you have a copy of the definitive book on the subject – Sips & Apps – by celebrity chef and mixologist, Kathy Casey. This essential guide to the craft of the cocktail will teach you to make delicious, memorable drinks, with more than 100 recipes.
Highballs and Double Old-Fashioneds – Ideal glassware for a wide variety of mixed drinks, especially those served on the rocks.
Margarita Glasses – These large-bowled glasses are essential for enjoying the true margarita experience.
Martini Glasses – This angular stemware is traditionally used for serving a classic martini, but it’s also ideal for a cosmopolitan – even shrimp cocktail or sorbet.
Pitchers – Used for large batches of mixed drinks.
Cocktail Shaker – An essential tool with a built-in strainer for mixing many classic drinks, used to blend and chill ingredients before pouring into a glass.
Jigger – Used for measuring liquor for beverages.
Muddler – Used to crush seasonings in the glass.
Ice Bucket – Keep plenty of ice at hand for shaken drinks and those served on the rocks.
Salt Dipper – Run a lime wedge around the rim, then dip in kosher salt and pour margarita.
Garnish Bowls – Add the final touch of a fresh lime wedge, strawberry or other garnish to your beverage. Have bowls stocked with enough garnishes to go around.
Juicer – Used to extract fresh juice from citrus fruit.
Plates and Napkins – Have stacks of cocktail plates and napkins available for appetizers.