The Drinker's Guide

The Drinker’s Guide: How to Build a Home Bar

PRACTICE AT HOME: Mixologist Paul McGee and his wife, Shelby Allison McGee, show us how to build a bar cart that rivals their own in style and practicality.

Home bar

 

Mixologist Paul McGee and his wife, Shelby Allison McGee
Mixologist Paul McGee and his wife, Shelby Allison McGee
He likes Chicago Classic Cubes by Lang Ice Company. The one-and-a-half-inch ice cubes [1] melt—and dilute drinks—at an even rate.

He says: “This weighted three-piece cobbler shaker [2] from Japan is nice and sturdy—and won’t bend like the cheap stuff will.”

All looks, no booze, this vintage bottle [3] is just for show.

This crystal mixing glass [4], made by a Japanese barware company, is gorgeous and functional.

Use an empty pitcher [5] or Champagne bucket to give flowers a drink. And don’t be afraid to put your personality on display with decorative extras [6], such as this thirsty camel.

She says: “A glass’s shape does affect taste, but it mostly builds anticipation.” A coupe [7] is a clue you’re serving Champagne or a cocktail without ice.

She says: “If we have more than six people over, we make punch. This punch set [8] was a gift, but I’ve seen the same one at a thrift store.”

He says: “The mistake most people make in stocking home bars is with vermouth. As beautiful as it looks, it must be refrigerated once opened.” Other handsome spirits, [9] such as these from the McGees’ own bar, may be displayed.

He says: “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks was written in the 1930s by an attorney who was strict about how he liked his cocktails. The book [10] is still influential to American bartenders.”

Spoons [11] with hollow handles are also straws in disguise, and copper mugs [12] brighten a bar even when a Moscow mule isn’t on the menu.

 

 

The Essential Gear

You don’t need an elaborate bar to make tasty drinks. Four basic tools will get you there.

A craft cocktail at The Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.) is a layered affair that can have a dozen ingredients. But to re-create something like it at home—or make almost any standard cocktail, for that matter—all you need is a jigger, a shaker, a strainer, and a bar spoon. Some tools work harder than others. Paul McGee, who recently left The Whistler to head a new venture with restaurateurs R.J. and Jerrod Melman, explains why.

1. “I’m a big proponent of exactly following a recipe,” he says. “The OXO double jigger [$10 at Target; target.com] is the only one I’ve seen that has deep, carved lines on the inside rim for measurements.” This jigger can also measure volumes as small as a quarter of an ounce. “Instead of having a few jiggers, you can have one that does it all.”

2. If you plan to serve both shaken and stirred drinks, a Boston shaker—the utilitarian pairing of a pint glass and a stainless steel mixing cup [$30 at Williams-Sonoma; williams-sonoma.com]—“kills two birds with one stone.” Use the pint glass to stir a drink such as a Manhattan, or connect the two glasses (large end to large end) to form a shaker that can produce a frothy fizz. “Make sure the pint glass and mixing cup overlap by about an inch and a half to form a nice seal.”

3. The prongs on a Hawthorne strainer (from $12 at cocktailkingdom.com) fit perfectly over the rim of a mixing cup or glass to hold back ice. Perfectionists should strain twice before pouring the drink into a glass; the second pass, with a smaller mesh strainer, clears tiny ice chips and bits of garnish.

4. A trident bar spoon with a forked end (from $16 at cocktailkingdom.com) does double duty: “If you want to add a garnish, you just flip the spoon over to pick up your cherry or olive.”

 

The products: Where to buy and how much

Vintage bar cart, $2,800, at The Find, 1819 W. Grand Ave. Vintage bottle, McGees’ own. Ice bucket, $115, and tongs, $75, at P.O.S.H., 613 N. State St. Bitters bottle, $45, at williams-sonoma.com. Old-fashioned glass, $95, at Ralph Lauren, 750 N. Michigan Ave. Bar spoon, $10, at williams-sonoma.com. Mixing glass, $53, and strainer, $19 for similar, at cocktailkingdom.com. Double jigger, $4, at surlatable.com. Vintage seltzer bottle, $495 for similar, at Jayson Home, 1885 N. Clybourn Ave. Camel, $125, at The Find. Pitcher, $395, at Ralph Lauren. Cobbler shaker, $42, at cocktailkingdom.com. Books, from $10, at cocktailkingdom.com. Champagne bucket, $295, from P.O.S.H. Bottle opener, $110, at Jack Spade, 47 E. Oak St. Garnish cups, $24 each, at P.O.S.H. Moscow mule mugs, $15, and mixing tins, $9, at cocktailkingdom.com. Spoon straws, $4 each, at surlatable.com. Punch bowl and cups, McGees’ own. Decanter, $295, at Ralph Lauren. Champagne coupes, McGees’ own. Cynar artichoke liqueur, $27 for a liter, Peychaud’s bitters, $5 for 5 ounces, Willett Family Estate rye, $35 for 750 milliliters, and Carpano Antica vermouth, $35 for a liter, at binnys.com. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, $34 for 750 milliliters, at Vas Foremost Liquors, 2300 N. Milwaukee Ave. Buffalo Trace bourbon, $30 for 750 milliliters, at In Fine Spirits, 5420 N. Clark St. Rittenhouse 100 Proof rye, $23 for 750 milliliters, and Siete Leguas Blanco tequila, $40 for 750 milliliters, at binnys.com.

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