Food & Drink

Your Home Bar Sucks. America’s Best Bartenders Offer Tips to Fix It.

You may have all the amaros in the world, fresh citrus growing in your pantry, and an igloo-sized ice block, but unless you're an industry pro, odds are even the fanciest home bar could use some de-sucking. To help level up your liquor cabinet, we consulted some of the biggest names in bartending for tips on everything from glassware to spirits to ice-making. Read on for 16 ways to greatly improve your home bar.

Don't spend too much on high-end spirits

"I often see people spend too much of their budget on high-end spirits. This is great if you are doing a whiskey bar, but a cocktail bar? Most of your scratch should go toward fresh produce and alcoholic modifiers. There are several great cocktail spirits under the $15 mark that hold up nicely in a well-prepared libation." -- Daniel Marohnic, Commonwealth (Las Vegas, NV)
 

Buy small bottles of vermouth and many bottles of bitters

"Buy the smallest bottles of vermouth you think you need. Most brands come in 375mL or 500mL bottles, so if you only occasionally make Manhattans or martinis at home, you can avoid the 750mL or 1L bottlings. I always write the date I cracked open a bottle of vermouth on the label with a Sharpie, so I can tell how long it's been sitting there (usually, not very long).

"Bitters are the salt and pepper of cocktails. If you have to have a lot of any one item, get a few bitters you really like and then you can "season" your cocktails to your preference. With three to five bottles you can make a ton of variations on Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, martinis, etc., and really get to know your base spirits." -- Joaquín Simó, Pouring Ribbons (New York City, NY)
 

Buy what you drink

"Spirit-wise, a large selection of what you personally like to drink is best. If you’re a Scotch drinker, you should have at least six bottles of Scotch in your bar. Likewise, if you’re a vodka drinker, you should have at least one bottle of Scotch for those who prefer Scotch. Keep your bar broad, so that every spirit is covered." -- Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist
 

Don't buy a million modifiers

"Buy a few core base spirits (vodka, gin, bourbon/rye, Scotch/Irish, brandy, white rum/aged rum, tequila/mezcal) according to what you and the people who you invite into your home most enjoy drinking. Then do a little homework. Do you really like margaritas? Buy a good quality curaçao, and play with different daisy variations involving other spirits you already have (White Lady with gin, Sidecar with brandy, Cosmo with vodka, etc.) so you can offer guests a variety of drinks without needing dozens of bottles." -- Joaquín Simó

Anthony Humphreys/Thrillist (edited)

No ice, no party

“When entertaining, the biggest problem people always have is that they run out of ice. You'll stock up on everything and then run out of ice, so it's always important to have a decent amount of ice to work with. If you've got an ice ball mold, stock up. Build them up in a little container.” -- Jason Kosmas, The 86 Co. and Employees Only (New York City, NY)
 

Get fancy, but not complicated

"Alright, let's talk about ice. Ice is key to a great home bar, so here are two tips. Use muffin pans as ice cube tray to make large rocks. Or use a bread pan to freeze whole blocks of ice: from there you can break down the block for drinks or cut it in half for a punch." -- Billy Ray, 13-Stitches (Los Angeles, CA)

Laura Hayes/Thrillist (edited)

Don't buy big glasses

The glass that you choose is important. Get yourself a decent cocktail glass that isn't too big. You don't want something too big, because people will drink too much or the drinks will get cold. A stem glass that has a smaller bowl is great. -- Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff (West Hempstead, NY)
 

Get specific with your glass

"You want specific glassware for cocktails, some Old Fashioned glasses, some stemmed glasses, flutes, or martini glasses, depending on your styles. You can find sets at antique shops or vintage shops pretty cheaply, that's where bars get that stuff from for pennies.” -- Jason Kosmas

Anthony Humphreys/Thrillist (edited)

Have the basics

“You want to be able to stir drinks and shake drinks. Those are the necessities of any bar. You'll basically need a bar spoon, mixing glass, and a strainer. And a muddler for fresh fruits or Old Fashioneds." -- Jason Kosmas
 

Buy a speed pourer

"A speed pourer is crucial to have because people tend to over-pour at their houses, and are more inclined to get banged up without one.” -- John “JOD” O’Donnell, CRUSH (Las Vegas, NV)
 

Score a pro mixing glass

“In terms of proper tools, the Yarai mixing glass stands out the most. Not too many people that aren’t in the industry know about them, but once you get one, it is extremely difficult to go back to stirring drinks in a top-heavy pint glass that is sliding around your counter. Plus, you can make two drinks at once!” -- Kris Rizzato, Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant (San Diego, CA)
 

Get a real jigger

"Get yourself a jigger that has multiple measurements. It is the most vital thing you can have for your home bar. Drinks to me are all about balance and this will do that for you. And you can get them in gold and girls dig gold. Trust me... they really... really... dig gold." -- Billy Ray

A physical bar is key

"You can find things online for sure, but old furniture and antique shops are great resources for finding an old bar. Look for secretariats, those old hideaway desks. They're like the Murphy beds of desks and they're great to turn into a bar.” -- Jason Kosmas
 

Shop online to get geeky or save money

"If you're a geeky type, get on CocktailKingdom.com and outfit yourself. It'll cost a fortune, but you can buy all the Japanese bar spoons and beautiful jiggers and Hawthorne strainers. BarProducts.com is a lot cheaper, one-tenth the price, but basically the same tools." -- Dale DeGroff
 

Squeeze your own juice

"A handheld hinged clamshell one works wonders for smaller quantities, while a larger one will make juicing for bigger parties much easier. Fresh lemon and lime juice make an extraordinary difference in your drinks. Make sure to only use the juices on the day you pressed them. Both lemon and lime juice will oxidize rapidly overnight, so don't use old juice." -- Joaquín Simó 
 

Personality is a tool too

"Knowledge and personality win out every time. You can buy all the fancy tools you want, but it’s the function that is most important. I’ve been shaking drinks for 16 years now and if you muddled me an Old Fashioned with the butt of a screwdriver, flipped it over, and used the other end to stir, I’d think, 'BADASS!'" -- Daniel Marohnic

Dan Gentile is a writer at Thrillist. He generally doesn't invite tools to partake in his home bar, but he'll make an exception for a good clamshell. Follow him to measured jiggers @dannosphere.