If stocking a bar feels expensive and intimidating, fear not.  With a few common liquors, mixers and tools, you can make a grander variety of drinks than will likely ever be required of you.  Whether you're hosting the whole family for the holidays, friends for an intimate dinner party, or simply imbibing to relax on a weeknight, a well-stocked bar will ensure you're ready for wherever the evening takes you.


Start with the basics (below) and add others as your preferences (or guests) dictate.  There are many brands and price points of each to choose from, which is why it's hard to get a consensus on what's "best," so do a little taste testing and drink what you like.  

bar essentials  /  vodka
bar essentials  /  bourbon + rye
bar essentials  /  gin
bar essentials  /  rum
bar essentials  /  tequila
bar essentials  /  wine

Vodka  /  Vodka does much of a bar's heavy lifting.  It's a key component to many favorites, including Martinis, Moscow Mules, Gimlets, Screwdrivers and fruit-based punches.  

Whiskey  /  Great on the rocks.  Also essential for Manhattans, Whiskey Sours, Old Fashioneds, Hot Toddies, and Mint Juleps.  If you get confused like we do, remember: Scotch is (malted barley) Whiskey from Scotland, Bourbon is (corn) Whiskey from Kentucky.  

Gin  /  Resist your temptation to leave it off your list - Gin is the bar's unsung hero.  Many amazing drinks make gin the star, including French 75s, Gin and Tonics, Martinis, Negronis, South Sides, fizzes and spritzers.  

Rum  /  No beach chair setup is complete without a Rum drink!  Which is why it's great that there are so many options... would you like a Pina Colada, Rum Punch, Mojito, Daiquiri, Hurricane, Dark and Stormy, or Mai Tai to go with your paradise dream?

Tequila  /  There are so many ways to mix a Margarita, why bother with any other tequila-based cocktail?  One word: Paloma.  Trust us.

Wine  /  It's a great idea to have both red and white on-hand as guests may prefer one over the other.  The most popular whites include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay; for reds try a Pinot Noir, Malbec, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.  



These little dandies - alcoholic or not - will turn the liquors above into a proper mixed drink.  Time to say goodbye to flavored sodas.  Elevate your game and treat yo self.  

bar essentials  /  mixers, tonic and soda
bar essentials  /  sweet + dry vermouth
bar essentials  /  bitters
bar essentials  /  ginger beer
bar essentials  /  cointreau
bar essentials  /  fruit juice
bar essentials  /  fruit + herbs

Fruit & Herbs  /  Recipes call for all sorts of garnishes and mix-ins; these are some common ones that are easy to keep on-hand.  Orange, lime and lemon will put the finishing touch on everything from beers to spritzers.  Cherries top off Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Whiskey Sours.  And mint is essential for a good mojito.

Seltzer & Tonic Water  /  Add fizz without sugar.  Seltzer Water (often used interchangeably with Club Soda and Mineral Water) is virtually flavorless, while Tonic Water has a bitter taste and is well-suited for Gin.

Cointreau  /  Notice we did not say "orange flavored liquor."  This is one occasion where it's worth ponying up a little extra dough for the good stuff.  It's worth it.   Essential for the Sidecar and a delicious addition to Margaritas, Sangria and even Martinis.

Sweet & Dry Vermouth  /  Vermouth is central to many classic cocktails. Martinis call for Dry Vermouth, while Manhattans and Negronis both use sweet. 

Bitters  /  A "botanically-infused alcoholic mixture" (source) used in Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Brandy Sours.

Fruit Juice  /  Orange and cranberry juice are most common, but peach, pear and pineapple are useful for specialty mimosas and fruity concoctions, as well.  Opt for fresh, no-sugar-added juice when available.

Ginger Beer  /  It's surrounded by misconceptions, so let's set the record straight: Ginger Beer is a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage "produced by the natural fermentation of prepared ginger spice, yeast and sugar."  (Source.)  Essential for both the Dark and Stormy and Moscow Mule.  


Start with highballs, double old fashioneds and one type of wine glass.  Round out your cabinet with red wine, martini and champagne glasses as your budget allows.  The glasses below are our favorites for style and size, but we'll admit: they're not the cheapest.  If you're on a budget or simply don't want to fret over broken glasses, head to IKEA.  They have wonderful options at gang-busters prices.

Highball + Double Old Fashioned

The uses for these glasses are limitless.  Tall drinks, whiskey sipping... even (gasp!) water.   

Kate Spade, Macy's, Set of Two, $50


No explanation needed, right?  Second to water glasses, there's none more important.  We love the swanky shape of these, in particular.

White and Red Wine Glasses, Pottery Barn, Set of Six, $67


Sure, there are cheaper options, but look at the stem on this beauty.  Flawless.  A must-have for martinis, cosmos and more.  

Zwiesel 1872 Enoteca Martini Glass, Sur La Table, $40


We're absolutely obsessed with shape of this flute.  From brunch-time mimosas to bubbly with birthday cake, these will fit the bill. Cel-e-brate good times, come on!  

Schott Zwiesel Pure Champagne Flutes, Williams Sonoma, Set of Six, $84


Let's be clear: you can absolutely jerry rig your way to a great cocktail without the help of any of these gadgets and accessories.  But as is the case with much in life, making drinks is easier when you have the right tools.  These are the best.


In addition to mixing and straining, shakers are also useful when you need to quickly cool a beverage.  Simply add ice before shaking.  

Open Kitchen Cocktail Shaker, Williams Sonoma, $20


Function, meet form.  Rabbit Corkscrews have a great rep for a reason - they work and last. Worth a little extra.  Plus, this one's easy on the eyes.  

Rabbit RBT Winged Corkscrew, Crate & Barrel, $50

Basic Set

Knock it all out at once...  stir spoon, strainer, ice tongs, bottle opener, and jigger are all (perhaps more than) you need to whip up a drink.  Strainers help keep organic matter (mint leaves, for example) out of the final product.  And using a jigger to measure is a great idea... especially after you've had one too many.  

Basic Bar Tools Set, Williams Sonoma, $99


Paring Knife

The perfect size for cutting lemons, limes and trimming garnishes.  

Henckels 4" Pro Paring Knife, Williams Sonoma, $49

Cutting & Serving Board

This beauty is practical and pretty.  Use it to stack up all the fresh fruit and mint your beverages call for.

Marble Cutting Board, Urban Outfitters, $49


Party buckets are the answer if you don't care to play waitress all night.  Fill 'er with ice and bottles... let your guests do the rest.  

Harrison Party Bucket, Pottery Barn, $149


When you want to mash organic matter in the bottom of a shaker to add flavor (mint and sugar for a mojito, for example), you'll need a muddler.  

W & P Walnut Muddler, Williams Sonoma, $20

Juice Press

If you've ever made a margarita from scratch, you know that pressing limes takes foreeeevvveeer.  Get that drink to your lips faster with a little help from this workhorse.  

Chef 'n Citrus Juicer, Williams Sonoma, $24


Give your concoctions a little personality and wow guests with twists of this and that.  A peeler makes the work easy.  

Rösle Horizontal Peeler, Sur La Table, $28

Cocktail Picks

Load up the olives, cherries or wacky Bloody Mary accoutrements.  Cocktail picks will help your drink keep it all together when you can't.  

Cocktail Picks, Set of 6, Crate & Barrel, $7


Crate and Barrel has an amazing array of beautiful art-like decanters.  Use them for wine and liquors alike.  

Tino Decanter, Crate & Barrel, $45

Whiskey Rocks

These clever cubes that can be frozen or heated to keep your drink at the perfect temperature without watering it down.

Whiskey Rocks, Set of Two, Crate & Barrel, $17


Perfect for salts and sugars, this rimmer is aptly sized for a variety of glasses.  

Cocktail Rimmer, Williams Sonoma, $13

Ice Bucket

If you don't have an ice bucket, a bowl or other vessel will certainly do.  But if your budget allows, take the plunge.  Ice buckets keep ice on hand while mixing drinks and wine chilled when it's table-side.  

Hammered Nickel Ice Bucket, Pottery Barn, $69


Never hurts to have a little guidance from the pros.  Welcome to "Delicious-Cocktail-Making-101."  We're glad you're here.  

Cocktails, Anthropologie, $22

Cocktail Napkins

We're sold on these 'cause they're witty little ice breakers.

 Cocktails on Me Napkins, Chico's $5  

Have an idea to share with us about this topic?  We'd love to hear from you.  Contact us.