There are several advantages to having your very own home bar. You don’t have to worry about driving or getting home, because you’re already there. You are in your own turf and you call the shots; you can play whatever music you want and not have to wait in line or rub shoulders with people you don’t like. (Aaah. Power is intoxicating, isn’t it?)

For the ladies, you no longer have to wear sexy yet painful shoes (unless it’s a theme of some sort: sadistic footwear night) and for parents, this allows you to still enjoy adult fun in the confines of your home while the children are asleep (your friends can no longer call you killjoys for not partying anymore). Also, if you have someone you’ve been eyeing, you can invite them to your party and it might be much easier to convince them to go home with you since you guys are already there (yay, efficiency). Kidding aside, drinking at home is definitely cheaper.

So whether you invite your friends over to pregame before heading to the clubs or have a full on holiday shindig, here are the basics you need to set up your home bar.


home bar

You need a place to hold your precious goods. If you have the space, a bar cart or trolley would look quite inviting. If you don’t want to spring for a new cart, you can find your own vintage piece at secondhand shops (the ones in Evangelista St. is a good start), or estate/garage sales. But if you have limited space and/or budget, you can just set it up on a tray on your kitchen counter, or a sturdy bookshelf, or on top of a console table.



You don’t need all the bells and whistles to craft a good cocktail at home. If you’re setting the foundation of your set, get the essentials: a jigger (the long ones are more precise than the wider ones), corkscrew, handheld citrus press, citrus peeler (for garnishes), bar spoon, muddler, Hawthorne strainer (the one that has the springs), a paring knife, and a cocktail shaker (there are several types, professionals prefer the 2-piece type, but three pcs. cobbler shakers are just as fine). Start with the basics and add on to it as you progress.



For your first set of glasses, maybe you can go for something more versatile and durable, like a set of rock glasses and highball glasses. People will still enjoy your concoctions regardless of whether or not it is served in the proper glass. You can use wacky glasses as well; this will make your cocktails more fun. Old jam jars, tin cans, old teacups, beakers, the list goes on and on. If you can afford it, by all means get some crystal stemware as well. Secondhand and vintage shops might also be a treasure-trove for one-of-a-kind glassware.



Garnishes are an important part of any drink. The basic garnishes are citrus (lemon, lime, calamansi, orange), mint and one of my favorites… the sexy cucumber. You can prep them ahead of time and store them in your fridge so that when it’s time to party, you’re good to go. You can go even a step further by showing off or presenting your fruit garnishes on a nice dish that can hold crushed ice and display them on top.

Since it’s the holiday season, you can also get garnishes for the holiday drinks you might want to make: like little candy canes you can find in the supermarket, or crush some peppermint candies and rim your glasses with them.



Mixers make all spirits more palatable, it enhances a cocktail and is always non-alcoholic. As for mixers, you can’t go wrong with club soda, tonic, water, cola, ginger ale and fresh juices.



If you’re feeling like you want to step this up, get some bitters. They are great at adding sex appeal to cocktails, even if it is just a drop. Bitters can transform a good drink into a great one. Angostura bitters is the most versatile. There are so many great brands and flavors, but hard to find in Manila. Bitter Truth is sometimes available. Check Booze Online.



You must add a sweetener or syrup in your drink. It helps with the texture and balances the taste of your cocktail (balance of sweet and sour), also enhances flavor. You can make your own simple syrup by dissolving equal parts of water and sugar over heat (it will keep for several weeks in the fridge). You can also do two parts sugar and one part water as well. Not to make the drinks sugar heavy, but to balance the sour ratios to their proper place and lessen added water. If you want to get fancy, you can flavor your syrups with vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. (This calls for another article just dedicated to this topic I know.)


home bar bottles

The most important part of any bar. This area will evolve with time so it’s best to start with the standards: vodka, rum, gin, whisky, bourbon. Tequila. Buy what you like to drink. It is your bar and you are its most frequent customer. Also, this is the opportunity for you to share what you enjoy and your personal tastes with your guests. You can master a particular cocktail and wow your guests. While a versatile bar with variety of spirits is impressive, you can build on that later on. Plus, if you throw more parties, you’ll receive more host/hostess gifts of liquor. Tell them… “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.” And the partying cycle continues!

You don’t have to go top shelf either. There are solid brands out there that won’t cost an arm and a leg that will suit your home entertaining needs. Just remember premium spirits give you less hangovers.

alcohol book

I would also recommend getting a book to help you out. Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book is a classic book that features 750 of the most popular recipes from The American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel and still influences today’s cocktail menus. My other favorite cocktail books, vintage and modern: PDT, Imbibe, How to Mix Drinks, The Joy of Mixology. There are so many, pick what engages you most.

My main advice is to start small and build up gradually. Setting up a home bar is more of a marathon than a sprint. Get quality ingredients for the drinks you enjoy and can make well. When you’re more experienced, you can expand to make new cocktails. The most important thing is to have fun. You’ll find that having happy hour at home can be as satisfying and enjoyable as your favorite bar.

Read our feature on Tools of the Trade to learn more about bar tools and where to get them 

Restaurateur, expert drinker, creative proprietor of steam punk bar Hooch, SMITH Butcher and Grill Room, Ebeneezers, Poulet Manille, and Ampersand. She wrote The Standard newspaper’s Tipple Tales cocktail and spirits column and co-hosted the Manila episode of the Travel Channel show Booze Traveler with cocktail connoisseur Jack Maxwell. She is DrinkManila’s resident mixology expert.

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