There is nothing after a long day like getting dressed up, going out, doing some fist pumping and being crowded in with like minded individuals. Unless it’s one of those nights where that sounds like torture. Maybe all you feel like doing is dressing down (could be sweats or a smoking jacket and your tuxedo slippers), inviting over a few friends, or just one person you would like to make a drink for, and spending the evening in the comfortable confines of home. For these such occasions, having a great home bar can make you a warm host and potential legendary party thrower.
If you live in DC and are younger than 50, you likely have two challenges in having a great home bar – no space and no scratch. This should not mean that you give up! It is possible to have a bar that offers tons of interesting drink choices, doesn’t take up more than one cabinet (even studio dwellers should devote a whole cabinet to their libations – hell, especially studio dwellers!), costs less than $200, and will make your home a better bar than 95% of the bars in the city.
The first way that those 95% of bars suck is bad ice. Bad ice? You bet. To all of the super-premium vodka drinkers out there that mix it with 3 cent tonic from a gun and DC’s finest tap water melting like crazy in it, you may want to think through whether super-premium vodka is really making a difference in that drink. To that end, I suggest making your own ice. This is not some “Brooklyn-esque-16 hour-widdled-from-a-single-piece-of-wood” project – it is really simple. Buy a $1 jug of spring water, pour it in one of these silicone Tovolo trays, and you just made cubes that are as pure as your 15 times distilled vodka. Better yet, they won’t melt as fast, so you can actually taste and enjoy the purity of that vodka (if, in fact, you want to taste vodka – but this applies to any spirit). Buy two Tovolo trays and a jug of spring water, and you are set on the ice front for a night with 5 other friends.
Ok, you’ve spent $25 on water and ice cube trays – what about booze to put on them? Where big hunks of ice really shine is old school boozy cocktails or straight sipping rums, bourbons, scotches, and yes … even tequilas. They make it cold but don’t dilute a great product. Um … you said $200 … where does the great product come in? Here are a few high-quality products that are versatile and amazing values as well. As we continue building our $200 bar, these are great starters (all great for sipping or mixing):
Jim Beam Black (Bourbon): $20 – Straightforward bourbon with some clear characteristics of good aging. Sweet and spicy, and very mixable.
Bluecoat Gin: $25 – Striking blue bottle holds delicious citrus-forward gin made in Philly. A great way to change someone’s mind about what gin is.
Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey 100: $20 – This is an awesome value, full of flavor, spice, and 100 proof. Better than almost all of the $40+ ryes.
Tito’s Vodka: $20 – Every good host needs vodka, the quality is good, and it is US made. Russian Standard would be an equal sub for a traitor.
Cruzan Aged White Rum: $15 – Nice and authentic vanilla character without slipping into over-the-top “flavored” profile. Inexpensive enough to add coke.
Now that you have spent $125, I have a suggestion. Spend a Thursday night in. Light some candles. Pop some cubes out of your new trays and try your new spirits straight or with a little water. Be slightly pissed at me that you are drinking straight rum, alone, at home. But remember the smells and the tastes (perhaps a journal or Dragon Dictation would be helpful after this much drinking), because you’ll want those notes and memories when we start mixing cocktails in the next few weeks. In the next installment, we finish the bar with $75 worth of flavor adders, cocktail tools, and badass stuff made of steel and wood. Then, we make some serious drinks at home and get ready for company.