Your Own Bar
by Sheila Swerling-Puritt
Bars have iconic status in Western society. Think about it. Classical Greek and ancient Roman texts are awash in references to taverns, as are the works of Shakespeare and dozens of other authors and playwrights over the centuries. Movies and television picked up the literary tradition and placed some of their most compelling action in bars from Rick's in Casablanca to Moe's in Springfield. Bars aren't just places to drink. They're social centres, each with its own character customized to suit its own clientele.
If you enjoy sharing drinks with family and friends, you almost certainly harbour fantasies of owning a bar of your own. Sadly, most of us can't afford to buy and operate our favourite local watering hole, let alone the American Bar at the Savoy in London. The good news is that it's possible to set up your own private bar at home for less than the cost of a well-optioned car. The key is knowing what you intend to do with your bar. Do you want a showpiece with perfect crystal, chrome accessories and your own siphons for soda and draft beer? Would you prefer the sophisticated elegance of the Duke's Hotel, another London monument, with its overstuffed leather chairs and fireplaces? Whatever your tastes, you'll need some space. In my apartment, I use a small coat cupboard that extends into my living room. I mirrored the walls and installed shelving so my crystal glasses would reflect and make the space look larger. Weeping tiles hold my bottles, and the whole bar can disappear behind the cupboard doors. Friends with spacious rec rooms in their basement have spread their bar over much larger spaces. The choice is yours, and I recommend that you make it before you write any cheques.
Once you've determined the feel, tone, size and location of your bar, you'll need to equip it. The range and quality of equipment you buy must fit your preferences and budget. Any bar demands a number of "must have" items. For starters, there's glassware, the Martini or Manhattan cocktail glass in a large-enough size (4+ oz.) to hold a reasonable drink and avoid spills. Tumbler-like highball glasses work for a number of drinks and make the narrower, taller Collins glass redundant. The Old Fashioned or Rocks glass is a shorter, wider vessel perfect for... well, Old Fashioned... and spirits on the rocks.
For wine, you'll need one shape of glass for whites. The best have an 8 to 14 oz. tulip-shaped cup atop a longish stem. For reds, choose a wider, larger cup with a shorter stem. For sparkling wines, avoid the flat open coupe and go for a 6 oz. fluted glass with a thin body and narrow mouth to keep in those lovely bubbles. Some inverted-cone Pilsner beer glasses 10 to 20 oz. and small 3 oz. brandy snifters should fill the rest of your glassware needs.
Now comes the fun part: you'll need some nifty machinery to mix, blend and pulverize your mixed drinks. Start with a blender, and choose a heavy-duty example capable of crushing ice cubes, frozen juices and solid fruits. This gizmo will enable you to create Bellinis or milk and fruit shakes. For less vigorous smashing and bashing, a cocktail shaker is a must. The Boston shaker uses a large metal mixing cup and a glass bottom. The classic Martini shaker has a metal cup and cap. Snug them together, shake, and "break." Then pour your drink through your next piece of equipment: a wire strainer. Cocktail shakers have one built in to the cap. Boston shakers require a separate unit. Don't forget an ice bucket with tongs.
For manual mixing, get a long-handled stirring spoon. A muddler essentially a long-handled pestle will help you gently squash fruit and spices for your more exotic cocktails.
Now that you can mix, you must measure. Beyond the jigger, an hourglass-shaped metal device which usually has a 1½ oz. measure on one end and a 1 oz. on the other, your bar will need a set of measuring cups and spoons. With luck, they're already in your kitchen, as is a nice glass pitcher, a grater (for nutmeg, citrus zest etc.), knives (a paring knife for lemons and limes and a larger knife for pineapples and other large fruit), a citrus stripper or zester, coasters, cutting boards and straws. While you're checking out the kitchen drawers, make sure you have an opener for cans and crown-capped bottles (the reliable "church key" is just fine) and a corkscrew (I like the "waiter's friend." Newbie cork-pullers might prefer a "Screwpull" type device.) Buy yourself a good bartender's guide to assist with the basic recipes.
Finally, you'll need some drinking material to justify all that equipment. You can get by with nine wines: three whites, three reds, a sparkler, and two fortified wines (say, one fino Sherry and one Port).
Your spirits should include two whiskies (one Scotch or Irish, the other Bourbon or Canadian), a Cognac or Armagnac, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and a fruit brandy. Several liqueurs are essential for mixing: Triple Sec or Cointreau, Kahlúa and of course those two new fabulous additions that give you those hot coloured drinks, Pama Pomegranate Liqueur and Hpnotiq, which is Vodka based. Round out the collection with vermouth and aperitifs like Dubonnet or Campari. By the way, I keep my gin and vodka in the freezer so they are ready to go at a moment's notice, and always after opening and serving the sherry and vermouth I pop them back into the refrigerator so they can have a much longer shelf life.
Your mixers should at least match the quality of your alcoholic beverages. Start with good water as well as simple syrup, which I make and store in the refrigerator and it lasts ages. When possible, fresh squeeze your lemon, lime and orange juice. Colas, soda water and ginger ale in cans are great, and tomato (or for Caesar fans, Clamato) juice and cranberry juice will also see wide use in your mixed drinks. Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, mint, salt, olives (Olive and More comes in 19 varieties) and cocktail onions will hold up the savoury side, while Maraschino cherries are still a winning garnish for your favourite cocktails, summer or winter.
When all the initial equipping and stocking is done, sit in your bar alone, with your beloved, or with your best buddies. Lay out some delicious bar snacks, pour yourself a favourite, and dream. Whether you're waiting for Ingrid Bergman or Homer Simpson, you can relax. It's your bar think of all the things you can add to it.
Basics for Brunch
- 2 oz. Pravda Vodka
- 8 oz. Tomato Juice
- 2 grinds of black pepper
- 2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
- squeeze of fresh lemon juice to taste
- 1 barspoon horseradish sauce
- 1 celery stick to garnish
- Add all the ingredients to a shaker filled with ice.
- Shake the mixture and strain into a highball glass filled with ice.
- Garnish with leafy celery stick.
- Fresh orange juice
- Champagne or dry sparkling wine
- Half fill a champagne flute with chilled champagne.
- Top up with orange juice, gently stir.
If you have an audience, you may wish to try the following cocktail.
- 2 oz. Absolut Citron Vodka
- 1 oz. triple sec
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- 1 oz. cranberry juice
- 2 thin ginger slices
- Strip of flaming orange zest to garnish
- Add all the ingredients to a shaker filled with ice.
- Shake the mixture well and strain into a chilled martini glass.
- Take a thick slice of zest from an orange and hold it between your thumb and forefinger, skin side down, over the drink. Squeeze the zest so that the oils pass through a naked flame onto the drink's surface. Add the zest.
For more information, you can contact Sheila at firstname.lastname@example.org.