Ask the Bartender: What Tools Do I Really Need for My Home Bar?

As a kitchen gadget freak, I’m often tempted by the bar accessory packages I see at home stores. As an experienced bartender, my common sense steps in and reminds me that most home bars will never use most of those gadgets.

I’ve worked in every kind of bar imaginable from the small-town dive to an exclusive nightclub. It’s nice to dream of having all the fancy equipment but you just don’t need it. Some of the items might already be in your kitchen.

Here’s a list of things you need for your home bar and why you don’t need some of the other gadgets.

You don’t need Tom Cruise’s bartender moves to make a drink, but a cocktail shaker and strainer come in handy for homemade margaritas. Since 1986, I’ve never been able to get the coordination required to crack open a shaker/glass combo to strain the contents into a glass without the ice ending up all over the bar. The strainer fits nicely and I can do that move with one hand.

I will admit that I only use my long-handled steel muddling spoon for making Mint Juleps and Mojitos at home. Yes, you could use a long handled wooden or plastic spoon but the metal version won’t absorb odors.

Most craft beers don’t come with a twist-off cap. Even if you are drinking a major label bottled beer, save your hand with a flat bottle opener. Would you like to see the scars on my hand from one day of opening 3,000 beers for Ohio State football fans?

As my wine opener screws into the cork, the gears raise the side levers making it easy to slide out the most difficult of wine corks. We’ve even had to use it to open some stubborn bottle-conditioned Belgian ales.

I’ve lost my jigger somewhere along the way but you really should measure the liquor going into the drinks. Over-poured drinks really don’t taste better and you’ll be a better host by pouring responsibly. If you’ve also lost your jigger, a one-ounce shot glass works fine.

One of the easiest-to-make and most overpriced home bar supplies is simple syrup. I don’t use commercial mixes at all and keep a bottle of homemade simple syrup in the liquor cabinet. Bring one cup of water to a boil and gradually stir in two cups of granulated sugar. Continue to boil until the sugar is dissolved, skimming any foam from the top. When it cools, pour it into a clean bottle. There’s no need to refrigerate because of the high sugar content.

Here’s some things you just don’t need for your home bar:

If you’re already using coarse Kosher or sea salt in your kitchen, you don’t need to spend $3 on a plastic container of margarita salt.

Speaking of margaritas, you do not need one of those plastic rimming contraptions for your home bar. Two shallow bowls or plates will hold the lime juice and the salt and be much easier to clean after the drinking ends.

If you already own a blender for your kitchen it can serve double-duty if you have a desire for frozen daiquiris. At least half of the bars I’ve worked in didn’t have blenders – no frozen fru-fru drinks.

While I’m very attached to my Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide, it’s out of nostalgia not necessity. The average home bar isn’t going to be called upon to make a Green Hornet or a Kiss the Boys Goodbye. If your friends are asking for these drinks, I’d love to come to your next party.

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The Indiana Wine Trail in Southeast Indiana