How to Create the Best Home Bar for the Holidays

It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when every interaction calls for a toast. Is your home bar up for the occasion? Here’s our guide to creating the perfect bar at home. Bonus: festive (yet easy) cocktail recipes by New York City bartenders.

 

Frank of America

Frank of America. (Photo: The Bennett)

When it comes to setting up a home bar for the holidays -be it for parties, dinners or in expectation of unexpected guests- the most important ingredient is you. Buy things you generally like and know how to prepare and every occasion will be merry and guests will think you’re bright. Love nebbiolo? Don’t buy zinfandel. Love Manhattans? That’s whiskey, vermouth and bitters. Negronis? That’s gin, vermouth, Campari. Whatever your favorite, build your bar with its base.

The second most important ingredient in your home bar is not-too-many ingredients. Try this: one red, one white, one sparkling, one brown, one clear, one vermouth, one fun like amaro or Campari (festive and bittersweet, like the season) and one dessert-y. That will satisfy everyone. Plus club soda, tonic, a citrus fruit, Angostura Bitters, and fancy soda (Spindrift is consistent across the line). That’ll suit drinkers and non-drinkers. Don’t forget ice. And beer. Pull out the beach cooler.

How much do you need? Figure two drinks per person in the first hour and one drink hourly after that; more if your apartment is hot. No matter what size your event consider a one cocktail theme, and make a batch. Why think and measure when you can simply pour? Note: If batching it’s ideal to add anything sparkling just before serving.

Let’s start with the single bottle simply pours: wine. Again, your favorites are best (avoiding extremely dry or sweet). If you’re looking to expand your range or alter price point, tell your local wine shop what you like and let them recommend. Few places do this better, with equal range, than Mister Wright Fine Wines and Spirits (1593 Third Ave., Manhattan).

If you see Domaine Collin’s Crémant de Limoux “Tradition” Brut NV, grab a bottle or a case. It’s a winning sparkler, with or without food, and can be used in cocktails (see below). Note: You likely pour 4 to 6 glasses out of each wine bottle. Know yourself and buy accordingly.

Wines are straightforward. Here’s a twist: 1921 Crema de Tequila. It sounds wrong but it’s so right, especially as an alternative to egg nog, which requires multiple bowls, separating eggs, washing mixer beaters three times, and is highly perishable. Sip Crema de Tequila chilled or on the rocks. It’s also a great add to coffee.

Speaking of hot cocktails, here are two to consider for gatherings and quiet evenings alike. Followed by four festive not-hot cocktails.

Cup O Tea

By Brett Hughes, Public (210 Elizabeth Street, Manhattan)

Cup O Tea

Cup O Tea. (Photo: AvroKO Hospitality Group)

 

3/4 oz. honey syrup

1.5 oz. gin (like Plymouth)

1 dash of lemon juice

Your favorite black or chai tea leaves

Boiling water

garnish: lemon peel, piece of star anise

honey syrup: bring one cup honey and one cup water to a boil. Remove from heat. Cool.

Put honey syrup, gin and lemon juice in a (preferably preheated) tea cup. Put tea leaves in a strainer over tea cup. Pour boiling water over tea to fill cup. Steep for 2 minutes. Remove strainer. Add garnish.

Babbo’s Toddy

By Erick Castro, Boilermaker (13 First Avenue, Manhattan)

Babbo's Toddy

Babbo’s Toddy. (Photo: Jenny Lederer)

¾ oz. cinnamon syrup

½ oz. Campari

½ oz. bourbon (like Wild Turkey)

1 oz. sweet vermouth

Boiling water

garnish: orange slice

Cinnamon syrup: bring 4 cinnamon sticks, one cup sugar and one cup water to a boil. Remove from heat. Cool.

Put cinnamon syrup, Campari, bourbon and vermouth in a (preferably preheated) mug. Add boiling water to fill cup. Add garnish.

Babbo means father, like Father Christmas, perhaps.

Holiday Fig Fling

By Tom Macy, Clover Club (210 Smith Street, Brooklyn)

Holiday Fig Fling

Holiday Fig Fling. (Photo: Tom Macy/Clover Club)

2 oz. bourbon (like Wild Turkey)

3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice

1/2 oz. maple syrup

Tablespoon fig jam

Dash of Angostura Bitters

garnish: lemon peel

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Add garnish.

SILENT SIREN

By Vincenzo Cangemi, Babbalucci  (331 Lenox Avenue, Manhattan)

Silent Siren

Silent Siren. (Photo: Bombay Sapphire)

¼ oz. Himalayan salty water

1.5 oz. gin (like Bombay Sapphire)

¾ oz. vermouth (like Martini Riserva)

½ oz. yuzu juice

Himalayan salty water: Fill ¼ of a 6-8oz glass with Himalayan salt. Add water to fill glass. Allow salt to dissolve (about 8 hours, will have slight remnants)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir and strain into a coupe.

FRANK OF AMERICA 

by Meaghan Dorman, The Bennett (134 West Broadway, Manhattan)

Frank of America

Frank of America. (Photo: The Bennett)

1 oz rye (like Bulleit)

½ oz byrrh

½ oz amaro (like Luxardo Abanao)

1 teaspoon maple syrup spiced with clove, cardamom, cinnamon

2 dashes Angostura bitters

garnish: orange twist

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe. Add garnish.

TINGLING AND TICKLISH

by Pam Wiznitzer, Seamstress (339 E. 75th Street, Manhattan)

Tingling and Ticklish

Tingling and Ticklish. (Photo: Seamstress)

1 oz 100% cranberry juice

1 oz ginger liqueur (like Domaine de Canton)

champagne or sparkling wine

garnish: cranberries

Add cranberry juice and ginger liqueur to a flute. Top with champagne or sparkling wine. Add garnish.

Tis a Gift

by Pam Wiznitzer, Seamstress (339 E. 75th Street, Manhattan)

¼ oz. honey syrup

¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

1 oz. cognac (like Louis Royer Force 53)

lambrusco or other sparkling wine

garnish: lemon twist

honey syrup: bring one cup honey and one half-cup water to a boil. Remove from heat. Cool.

Combine all ingredients in a champagne glass. Stir gently. Add garnish.

How to Create the Best Home Bar for the Holidays