Updated: Sep 17
Here to serve up a shot of inspiration, Steve King — Managing Director of bespoke gift set company Bottled & Boxed — shares his top tips for creating a DIY cocktail station your guests are sure to love.
Building an at-home cocktail bar is a great way to step up your hosting game and delight your guests with something a little different. And, while the UK spent over £2 billion building our own bars post-lockdown, this unique, stylish addition to your home doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Read on to find out how you can recreate a luxury cocktail bar experience on a surprisingly affordable budget.
Do It Yourself
If you’re handy around the house, a great way of installing a home bar on a budget is to build one yourself. When figuring out the measurements, it’s worth noting that the standard height for a home bar is 42 inches, with at least 8 inches of overhang on the bar top to hold everyone’s drinks at a comfortable distance (Rock Solid Rustic). Most bar stools are around 30 inches tall, so if you can fit them into your designated space, details like this can help you get that authentic bar feel from home.
The material you choose may differ depending on where your bar will be. Popular spots for at-home bars tend to be the kitchen, living room, or dining room, but if you’re building a rustic wooden bar in your garden, this will need a strong roof made of corrugated metal or plastic to protect it from the elements. You could even use wooden pallets as your main building material, as they can often be sourced for very little money or even for free. Building your own structure gives you the ultimate flexibility, allowing you to transform a corner of your patio, garden, or even your home office into something special.
Upcycle existing furniture
If you’re a little daunted by the thought of building something from scratch, you can always repurpose and upcycle an existing piece of furniture and turn this into your home bar. For example, at vintage sales or second-hand furniture shops, you might find a great deal on things like solid wood cabinets, tables, or wheeled trolleys. These can all be turned into classy, compact home bars with just a few simple additions or a fresh coat of paint.
When repurposing a cabinet or trolley, start by giving it a thorough clean, especially if it’s an old piece of furniture you’ve taken out of storage or bought second-hand. Once it’s clean and all the drawers and compartments have been emptied, you can start thinking about the way you can use it and the possible modifications you’d like to make. Even though aesthetics might be the most enjoyable part of creating a home bar, it’s important to start with the practicalities first. Think about where you’ll store all the bottles, glasses, and garnishes, and test out whether there is enough counter space for your resident cocktail maestro to mix drinks on. If it feels like a bit of a squeeze, you may want to try some creative solutions like removing the drawers and turning them into extra shelves.
Think about the overall theme you want your bar to have, as this can determine what kind of pieces you upcycle or repurpose. For example, if you’re a music enthusiast, you could create your own mini bar from a vintage record table and display your favourite spirits and mixers on a Lazy Susan, to look like a classic turntable. To cater for film lovers, you could even remove the screen and internal components from a retro TV set and use this to display a selection of drinks, glasses, and cocktail garnishes in style.
Get creative with the decoration
Once you’ve figured out the practical elements of your home bar, you can start having fun with the décor. If you’re upcycling furniture, you may want to give your pre-loved pieces a new lease of life by repainting them. Try to opt for colours that compliment your existing interior design, as this can help your new cocktail station blend in more seamlessly with your home.
Before you get stuck in, don’t forget about any prep you may need to do. For instance, furniture that has already been painted or sealed will need sanding down before you apply a fresh coat of paint (to prevent it from peeling). However, anything you’ve built from raw, untreated wood can be painted straight away. Dark, timeless colours might work if you’re going for a classic, elegant home bar, but if you’ve got something a little different in mind, don’t be afraid to experiment with bright shades and fun patterns! The beauty of creating anything in your own home is that it can look and function however you want it to.
Other useful additions could be a small rail for tea towels, hooks to hang utensils and cutlery on, and a bottle rack that you can slot into your cabinet or trolley. Anything that keeps the counter space clear and tidy will make the world of difference to the usability of your home bar, especially if it’s a compact minibar.
Stock up your bar
Once you’ve built your dream bar, it’s time for the fun part: stocking it up! You may dedicate different shelves to spirits, wines, beers, and mixers, or go for more of an eclectic, ‘anything goes’ approach: however you organise it, give your new bar the star treatment it deserves with high-quality alcohol from reputable brands.
According to this video from Anders Erickson, Youtube video wizard on how to mix drinks at home, you need these 15 spirits to build your home bar.
Rye Whiskey, Bourbon, Scotch, Gin, Light Rum, Dark Rum, Brandy, Tequila/Mezcal, Vodka, Sweet Vermouth, Dry Vermouth, Orange Liqueur, Aperitif/Digestif, Absinthe/Pastis, and Bitters.
Especially when making cocktails and mixed drinks, investing in good quality spirits can make the world of difference — both in terms of taste and giving your guests the authentic bar experience from home. For instance, a premium whisky from the Scottish Highlands will make the best Old Fashioned, classic highball, or mint julep. Or, if you’re after something a little lighter or refreshing, make sure your bar has plenty of good Champagne or English sparkling wine. Don’t forget to lay out bowls of lemon slices, mint leaves, and sprigs of rosemary, as these garnishes will give your cocktails that final flourish.
An at-home bar can give your interiors an undeniable touch of luxury, but with these handy tips, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Don't forget, as fun as it is to mix drinks yourself for one or two friends, when you decide to have a party it's not as much fun being bartender for everyone. Hire one of our pro event bartenders to mix up the classics from £55 per hour.
For more helpful articles and updates on all things bartending and cocktails, be sure to check out our blog.