Of all the dictionary definitions of “essential,” the one I like the best is “indispensable.” For home entertainers, there are a number essential items — those indispensable items that every hostess should have in her collection to make entertaining effortless. The great thing is, essentials can be collected over time; these aren’t things you have to dash out and get before your next party!
In this series of posts, I’ll break down the world of entertaining into its components: the bar, the pantry, utensils, tableware and glassware, serveware, the powder room and the guest room.
First up: the bar.
All parties need liquid refreshments. Whether your party includes spirituous liquor is up to you, but the essentials of setting up a good beverage station equally apply to all kinds of parties, from a baby shower punch to pre-theatre martinis.
First decide what type of beverages you will serve. Will it be a full bar? Will you feature one or two cocktails or punch? How about a wine tasting featuring one or two whites and reds? The trend in home entertaining is to plan one or two beverages—such as themed cocktails to set the mood for the party or a nice wine—plus water and a couple of soft drink choices. Limiting the beverage choices reduces the variety of glassware and bar equipment required. Punch is a perennial favorite for easily and continuously serving large groups of people for similar reasons. As a bonus, the grown-ups may add a shot of rum or brandy to a non-alcoholic punch if desired. Simply place a bottle of the liquor along with a shot glass on a pretty tray next to the punch bowl.
Next, decide how much fluid refreshments you’ll need. For pre-dinner cocktails, plan on one to two drinks per person. For a full-on party, figure three to four drinks per person.
Basic bar equipment
- Ice bucket and tongs
- Small cutting board and paring knife
- Cocktail shaker
- Bottle opener
- Shot glass (jigger)
- Long handled mixing spoon
- Absorbent towel (I swear by Williams-Sonoma’s bar mops)
- Cocktail napkins
- Glassware appropriate for planned beverages
Basic liquor supplies
For a full bar offering, start with these basics:
- 1 bottle dark rum
- 1 bottle whiskey
- 1 bottle gin
- 1 bottle vodka
- Club soda
- Tonic water
- Soft drink mixers
- Cranberry juice
Setting up a beverage station
One great piece of advice from my mom is to make sure the bar is set up before guests arrive; even if you’re running behind on dinner, guests will enjoy a drink and a nibble while you get caught up. Set up the beverage station as far away from the food preparation and service area as possible to avoid traffic jams and guests getting underfoot in the kitchen.
Set up the bar like you would a buffet: in logical order. Place the glasses on one end, followed by the beverages or liquor bottles and mixing equipment, then garnishes such as a small bowl of lemons and limes, and finally napkins and a couple bowls of nuts and party mix or a relish tray. I like to place the glasses on a serving tray to keep them corralled on the bar top. I place individual bottles of water in a cooler or party tub filled with ice, either on the floor under the bar area or on the bar itself if space allows.
Typically, the host or hostess mixes and serves drinks, or you may appoint a friend to tend to the beverages. After greeting a guest, the host or hostess should offer the guest a drink. In small or informal gatherings, the guests should serve themselves to subsequent beverages. For large parties, it is helpful to have someone making the drinks; your liquor will go further!
So, whether your celebration, dinner or party is for four or 40, assess the essentials you have on hand and plan your beverage choices in advance to get a jump start on your planning.