What if your favorite watering hole wasn’t an Uber ride away – but in the next room? Building a home bar isn’t complicated, and it doesn’t need to break your budget. At its most basic, a home bar is simply a bottle of alcohol and a glass to put it in. But to truly reap the benefits of a home bar, you’ll want to choose a few simple, affordable tools and essentials.

By making your own drinks, you still have the pleasure of unwinding after a long day of work without the hefty bar tab. Once you have the basics, you’re always ready to entertain friends for a dinner party or a happy hour at home. You can have the home bar setup you love without breaking the bank — and often for less than the cost of a couple of nights out.

Bar Carts, Bar Shelves, or Bar Cabinets?

Should you get a bar cart, a bar shelf, or a bar cabinet?

Bar carts are best for small spaces; they tend to be tiered rolling carts that will hold a few bottles of liquor or wine and some glasses. They are often cheaper, making them an ideal budget option.

Bar cabinets tend to be larger, sturdier pieces of furniture, and are typically made of wood. They also usually come with extensive storage space. Consider a bar cabinet as you would any major furniture investment.

Finally, bar shelves are a happy middle group. They’re typically a series of shelves that either stand alone or can be attached to the wall. They range in price, but it’s easy to find affordable options. To start your search, we’ve got some affordable and budget-friendly options below.

Contemporary Modern Bar Shelf and Table by Mango Steam

Modern bar table with shelves by Mango Steam.

This simple, elegant table includes three levels to store your liquor, wine, and glassware. The lower shelves are perfect for storing bottles, while the top surface provides ample space for mixing your drink. You can easily tuck it in a corner or place it a few feet from the wall so you can face guests while you make a cocktail. Front guards on the two bottom levels will prevent you from accidentally knocking over a bottle.

Customers gave this bar setup 4.5 stars, and they raved about the modern design. One reviewer found the curved shape useful because she could turn it around to serve guests as a bartender would. Even better, it takes less than an hour to assemble.

Love it? Click here to buy.

Metal Rolling Bar Cart by Homury

Rolling metal bar cart by Homury.

Not sure if you want a drink in the living room or in the kitchen? This black metal bar cart can be wheeled through the house or out on the patio (but make sure you store it inside). With two tiers, it can hold a few glasses and bottles. It’s a great starter bar cart for apartments and small spaces. It also includes a bottle holder to steady your wine or liquor bottles.

Most buyers found it easy to assemble, though a few people noted that the instructions were difficult to understand.

To learn more, click here.

Some Essential Tools to Get Started

A professional bartender’s toolbox contains many items, but you can start bartending at home with just a few simple and affordable tools. A basic toolkit can elevate your drinks from simple highballs to more impressive cocktails. As you craft more cocktails and learn what you enjoy, you’ll get a sense for what tools will come in handy. To get you started, check out these great basic essentials:

Professional Cocktail Shaker Set by Barvivo

Professional cocktail shaker by Barvivo with built in strainer.

Do you really need a cocktail shaker? If you want to move beyond vodka sodas, the answer is yes. Shaking your cocktail is the most efficient way to quickly chill your drink and integrate all the ingredients, giving you a smooth, cold cocktail to pour into the glass. The packaging is sleek and stylish, making it a perfect gift set for the cocktail-lover in your life.

This shaker includes a built-in strainer that fits onto the shaker tin, and the set also includes a jigger for measuring and two speed pourers to make pouring your liquor cleaner.

Most people overwhelmingly gave this set five stars; they were impressed with the quality of the shaker and thought it was a professional piece at an affordable price. Most also noted that it didn’t leak or rust.

To see pricing, click here.

Craft Spirits Assorted Glassware, Set of Six by Libbey

Set of six assorted glassware for sipping spirits by Libbey.

Spirit glasses optimize the smell and flavor of different cocktails or drinks. This set includes six different glasses for a range of spirits and cocktails: a 9.5 ounce tequila glass, a 12 ounce Scotch glass, a 12-ounce Cognac glass, a 8.5 ounce bourbon glass, a 9.8 oz whiskey glass, and a 9 ounce rye glass.

These glasses are ideal for tasting spirits directly — consider investing in a set of rocks glasses or collins glasses for serving mixed drinks in. That said, several of these glasses can easily be used for martinis or Old Fashions.

Customers loved this variety set of glasses for sipping and tasting different liquors. Most people used these for sipping spirits neat (without ice) or on the rocks (with a few ice cubes), and noted that they used larger glasses for mixed drinks with more volume.

To read the latest reviews, click here.

Party Cocktail Toothpicks by Blulu

Fun cocktail toothpicks by Blulu.

Who said bartending needs to be serious? These cocktail toothpicks are fun and funky. Each set includes 200 bamboo toothpicks with a selection of flamingos, cacti, leaves, and pineapples on the end. Use them to spear a few pieces of fruit as a garnish for a sweet drink or a few olives for a martini.

And they’re not just limited to drinks; several people used them for making spears to serve from a fruit tray.

Ready to buy? Click here.

Liquors and Spirits: The Basics

Understand the basics of liquors and spirits.

Because there are an infinite number of spirits to choose from, it might be overwhelming to know where to start. But here are the basic categories to know. Stocking a home bar can seem expensive, but remember that each bottle of liquor will last much longer than a six pack of beer — 1.5 ounces of whiskey has about as much alcohol as 12 ounces of beer. In addition, as long as they’re kept with the cork or cap on and stored out of direct sunlight, spirits will last indefinitely.

  • Gin: Gin is a spirit infused with juniper, giving it that distinctive “Christmas tree” flavor. Although all gin must have juniper, different types are infused with additional herbs, spices, and citruses for a variety of interesting flavors. New Amsterdam or Tanquery are both budget-friendly options. People who aren’t huge fans of the juniper flavor might opt for a brand like Hendrick’s, which traditionally uses less juniper than most. Gin is a go-to for simple drinks like gin and tonics or gin and ginger, or if you’re experimenting with classic cocktails, opt for a French 75, a Negroni, or a gin martini.
  • Vodka: Everyone needs a bottle of vodka on their shelf. Vodka, by definition, doesn’t have any bold flavor; the better the vodka, the less you’ll taste it. It’s typically used to mix into drinks without adding additional flavor. This makes it the perfect option for punches and highballs. Sveda is an affordable option for mixed drinks, or, if you’re a fan of a strong drink like a vodka martini, consider investing in a bottle of Ketel One.
  • Whiskey: Whiskey is a spirit distilled from grain. It’s aged in oak barrels to add flavor and that beautiful amber color. You can add almost any whiskey to coke or ginger ale, but it’s also the base for many classic cocktails. There are several categories of whiskey to choose from – here are the most common.
    • Rye: As per its name, this whiskey is distilled from rye grain. It tends to taste spicy and a little peppery. Rye has grown in popularity in America in recent years, and it’s the perfect whiskey for an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, or a Sazerac.
    • Bourbon: Bourbon is the true made-in-America whiskey. It’s always distilled in the United States. Distilled from a majority of corn and aged in new barrels, it tends to boast bold flavors with an undercurrent of sweetness. Many bourbon cocktails can use a rye whiskey instead if you’re cautious about budget, but if you’re looking to invest, splurge on a high quality bourbon for sipping. Use in an Old Fashioned, a whiskey smash, or your favorite whiskey highball.
    • Irish Whiskey: Irish Whiskey is always made in Ireland and follows several regulations around how it’s distilled. The result is a spirit that’s typically smooth and sweet. Irish Whiskey is a go-to for whiskey and ginger ale or it works well in a whiskey sour. Jameson and Tullamore Dew are common brands used for mixing or shooting.
    • Scotch: Scotch is always made in Scotland with a majority of malted barley, and it’s often smoky or peaty. Sip it neat or use it in any classic Scotch cocktail. Just be aware that it can be a little harder to adapt to a variety of drinks. Depending on your crowd, you might enjoy having a finer Scotch on your shelf that guests can sip neat.
  • Rum: Rum is a spirit made from sugarcane or a sugarcane product, like molasses. Some rums are spiced, others are aged, and some are bottled without aging or spicing. A bottle or two of rum is a must-have for punches, easy mixed drinks, or classic cocktails like daiquiris, mojitos, and caipirinhas.
  • Tequila: Tequila is made in certain regions of Mexico and distilled from agave. Tequila is a popular drink for shooting or in classic cocktails like palomas and tequila sours. You can even use it instead of vodka in a Bloody Mary or Moscow Mule.
  • Brandy: Brandy is a spirit distilled from wine or another fermented fruit base. It’s a classic spirit to sip after dinner or at the end of the night, but it’s also a must for more complex, classic cocktails. 
  • Curacao or triple sec: Curacao and triple sec are types of liqueur — distilled spirits that are typically sweet and less strong than liquor. Both curacao and triple sec have a strong orange flavor, and they’re use for mixing rather than sipping neat. Throwing a party? You can often buy curacao in bright colors if you want to serve colorful, festive drinks.

Other Alcoholic Ingredients to Keep on Hand

Essential ingredients to have for your home bar.
  • Vermouth: Martini lovers, unite! Many cocktails rely on this fortified wine to add depth and flavor. Sweet vermouth, as per the name, has more sugar than dry vermouth, but don’t be surprised if your sweet vermouth still tastes earthy and deep. Vermouths are essential if you’re into classic cocktails — negronis, martinis, Negronis, and Manhattans are just a few cocktails that rely on vermouth. Because it’s a fortified wine, it will go bad after you’ve opened it, so buy half bottles if you’re only using it occasionally.
  • Bitters: Bitters are highly concentrated spirits infused with herbs, roots, or citrus. You don’t serve them by themselves — rather, a few dashes in a drink adds an enormous amount of flavor. If you’re making whiskey cocktails and don’t want to purchase a range of bitters, opt for Angostorua. You can buy a variety of herbal and fruity bitters too; just a few dashes of lavender bitters will brighten your lemonade, for example.

Where To Keep Your Home Bar

Where should you keep a home bar?

Where you keep your home bar depends on the layout of your home, the type of bar you opt for, and where you drink the most. Kitchens often have built-in shelves, making them a go-to option for storing a few bottles. But if you’re investing in a bar cart or cabinet, many people choose to build their bar in their living or dining room to make dinner parties easier.

If you spend much of your time on your deck or patio, consider an outdoor home bar. Some families may opt for a bar cabinet with doors, allowing you to keep your liquor discreet or, for families with very young children, locked away.

To Sum it Up…

It’s possible to build the perfect bar in the comfort of your own home. Whether you’re unwinding after a long day or throwing a dinner party, a home bar setup offers variety and flexibility. Although bottles of liquor might seem pricey upfront, you’re ultimately saving yourself the cost of several drinks out.

Don’t worry about stocking your entire bar today if you’re on a budget — choose a few cocktails you’re interested in, purchase the necessary spirits, and expand your tools and liquor when you need to. It’s easy to start small with your home bar and expand. With the right setup, you can bring the bar home, giving you and your guests the gift of a well-made drink.