The Tools You Need To Create A World-Class Bar At Home

"Apartment Bartender" Elliott Clark shares a small and well-curated list that'll help wow guests (and yourself).
Elliott Clark, aka Apartment Bartender, is the perfect person to guide you as you set up your home bar.
Elliott Clark, aka Apartment Bartender, is the perfect person to guide you as you set up your home bar.

When pandemic closures made it impossible for cocktail enthusiasts to enjoy expertly crafted beverages at their favorite local watering holes, many chose to roll up their sleeves and give amateur bartending a whirl at their own bar carts and kitchen counters. DIY cocktail making took some of the mystery away from the process, bringing a new level of accessibility (and possibility) to the art known as mixology.

Cocktail expert and beloved Instagram influencer Elliott Clark of Apartment Bartender passionately believes that beverage creation is for everyone, and he tells us that “learning how to create a great drink experience in the comfort of your own home is very doable, very rewarding, and you don’t need a lot to get started.”

A small and well-curated list of “the right tools, the right spirits and a few good recipes” will give you everything you need to wow your friends, your family, and yourself with beautifully balanced libations. Read on for Clark’s roundup of the must-have items for the aspiring home bartender, all of which will fit handily into even the smallest studio apartment. “Be cautioned, though,” Clark says, ”Knowing how to make great drinks at home will turn your place into the cool place to hang out.”

Below are his picks.5

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Viski bar tools
When we asked Clark for a short list of essentials, he recommended a cocktail shaker, a bar spoon, a jigger (a small tool designed to measure liquids), a strainer (Clark prefers a Hawthorne strainer, which includes a coiled spring that can catch shards of glass, pieces of fruit zest or other solids), and a muddler (a pestle-like device used to mash herbs and fruit). He particularly favors the versions made by Viski, a bar tool purveyor that supplies many professional bartenders and offers its reliable equipment at reasonable prices.

Get the bar tools from Viski.
A True Cubes ice tray
Would it be the worst thing in the world to use your existing ice cube tray (or your fridge’s ice maker) to make ice for your cocktail? No, you’ve obviously got to work with what you have. But if you’d like to take your drinks to the next level, then take Clark’s advice and invest in an excellent ice mold. “Having a good ice mold makes a big difference. If you’re taking the time to make a good cocktail at home, be sure to use quality ice, which helps both with the taste and the presentation of the cocktail,” Clark said. If you’re dealing with a small amount of freezer storage, then try the True Cubes Ice Tray, which Clark describes as “one of the best ice molds on the market, and it doesn’t take up too much space in the freezer.”

Get the Trube Cubes Ice Tray for $39.87.
Crate & Barrel glassware
Crate & Barrel
“You can’t make great cocktails without the right kind of glassware,” Clark insists, effectively tossing cold water on the idea of serving a well-made beverage in a coffee mug or a Solo cup. In the category of gently priced but high-quality glassware, Clark says that he’s “a big fan of glassware from Crate & Barrel.” The specific versions that Clark suggests include “a rocks glass [a low tumbler sometimes known as an ‘Old Fashioned glass’], a coupe glass [a stemmed glass with a shallow, saucer-like bowl] and a Collins glass [a tall glass tumbler].”

Get the Natala Faceted Rocks Glass for $14.95.
A great decanter
Decanters have a bit of a fussy reputation, but Clark tells us that these glass (or crystal) containers provide both practical and aesthetic benefits. “Having a nice decanter and set of rocks glasses is a must. It’s great for styling a bar cart or countertop, and it’s perfect for those days when you just need a neat pour of something after a long day,” Clark explained. He gives a particular shoutout to the beautiful blown-glass Mountain Decanter from Huckberry, which he calls “one of my favorite decanters on the market.”

Get the Huckberry Mountain Decanter for $95.
A Beast Blender
According to Clark, a powerful blender offers the home bartender plenty of options beyond just “mixing up a frozen margarita.” For instance, it can also be used “to juice fruit for the purpose of making homemade syrups for your cocktails.” For drink-related blending, Clark prefers the Beast Blender, a sleek and effective machine designed for smoothies (so it achieves a smooth, lump-free, consistent blend without much effort required).

Get the Beast Blender for $155.
A set of Death & Co. cocktail books
Just as fledgling home cooks are encouraged to check out cookbooks and online collections to find tasty recipes to try, at-home bartenders should familiarize themselves with a few basic cocktail formulas (and, if they’re up for it, some with more ambitious instructions). “Having a few cocktail books on hand is a must. Not only do they help with cocktail recipe inspiration and the technique of making drinks at home, but they also look great on a bar cart or coffee table,” Clark said. He calls “Cocktail Codex” and “Modern Classic Cocktails,” a pair of books penned by the team behind famous NYC cocktail lounge Death & Co., “must-have books for the home bar.”

Get “Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails” for $21.49.
Get “Cocktail Codex” for $21.49.
Bottles and bitters
Of course, all of the bar tools and gadgets in the world won’t do you much good until you collect the spirits, bitters, mixers and other ingredients necessary to craft the cocktails of your dreams. Not sure where to start? Clark says you shouldn’t hesitate to “start small. When it comes to purchasing a few bottles for the home bar, think about what you like to drink (examples: Gin and Tonics or Old Fashioneds) and pick up what you’ll need for those particular drinks.”

If you don’t have a specific cocktail in mind but want to lay down a good home-bar-supply foundation, Clark recommends grabbing an “aged spirit like bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, cognac or aged rum. Then, pick up a light spirit like a gin, vodka or blanco tequila. This way, you’ll be able to mix up a number of classic cocktails, or variations on classics [using] what you have on hand.”

Once you’ve got your core spirits covered, Clark urges you to “add a bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters to the cart, as well. These help to balance out a cocktail and are necessary to classic cocktails like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.”

Ultimately, though, your bar cart collection should reflect your personal tastes. Think about the flavor profiles that most appeal to you and seek out the ingredients you’ll need to achieve those tastes, and always feel free to experiment, substitute, and otherwise get creative. You can buy spirits and cocktail elements at any number of local in-person liquor stores, but if you’d prefer to get everything in one go on a single convenient platform, Clark says that “Drizly is a great place to order spirits from.”

Order all your ingredients locally from Drizly.
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Before You Go

"A Spot at the Bar: Welcome to the Everleigh: The Art of Good Drinking in Three Hundred Recipes"

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