Scroll to the bottom for a downloadable checklist so you can assess your home bar needs.
People were really intent on wishing me good luck in quarantine when I hopped off the plane from Sydney via Vancouver on March 21st, 2020. The meaning behind these well wishes was two-fold; a message to stay physically well, no doubt. But the sarcastic inflection was a clear message to me: don't lose your damn mind during lockdown.
"Haha, thanks!" was often my response, audible nervousness included, but more so to make this well-wisher think that I was just as nervous as them. Truthfully, I was ready and eager to hunker down in my cozy apartment for the next two weeks (months? years??)
An avid planner who often prepares for the worst (read: my whole job) I was actually shockingly lax about preparing for a pandemic. So much so that I was on the opposite side of the planet from my home when everything went down. But, what I had in spades was booze.
(A quick aside to thank the friends and family who provided me with the actual essentials like my best friend Emma who grocery shopped for me so that I could come home to quarantine with a stocked fridge and my mom who would drop off flowers and baked goods on her way to and from work. Without you all, I would be hungover and sad every day!!!)
Soon, I became known as the Keeper of Cocktail Knowledge amongst my circles and was dispensing my (actually pretty limited) liquor advice more and more often. See the thing is, I'm no expert and definitely no bartender. My boyfriend (the real bartender) sighs in noticeable anguish each time I swirl a Negroni in the glass with an ice cube, instead of feverishly (and properly) whipping it in a mixing glass ("Less dishes to wash!" I retort.)
Questionable methods aside, I've actually become pretty adept when it comes to throwing together a quick drink. And while I'm definitely not winning any mixology awards for my liquid experiments, I've been able to narrow down a list of absolute basics you need to have on hand.
What follows is a list of essentials so you can always be party ready, whether it be for a solo soiree or your first post-COVID dinner party.
1. Your bar space
Take time to carve out a space for your drink supplies. I'm so proud of the glassware and books and bitters we've collected and having them all tucked away in their home is such a nice feeling. Being able to see what you have all in one place will help you keep track of inventory and hopefully spark some recipe creativity. It could be a single shelf in the pantry or a full on shrine to (responsible) consumption, but whatever it is, keep your bar stuff consolidated.
2. An assortment of glassware (how extra you choose to be about it is fully up to you.)
To ring in (what I thought would be) the blessed year of 2020, some gal pals and I held a champagne celebration at a friend's house; fancy house party where we decked out in our fineries and each person had to bring at least one bottle of bubbly. On December 31st, my friend Emma and I cleared the Value Village shelves of anything resembling a champagne coupe or flute. For about $40, we walked away with a dozen pieces of vintage glassware fit for a mini Gatsby-esque shindig. I've kept those glasses and used them to serve fun looking drinks whenever friends stop by.
The bare minimum requirements in my opinion are as follows:
But having extras is always fun :)
Check out your local thrift shop and look for glasses with classic, elegant styles. Try to get at least two of each glass though so there's some sense of cohesion.
Taking walks through your neighbourhood (depending on where you live) can also be a great source of treasure. I know in my area of downtown Toronto, a lot of people are using this time in lockdown to do their spring/summer cleaning and have been leaving goods out on their lawns for people to take for free. You may be able to score some sweet finds (just bring some wet wipes and wash your hands obviously).
3. A wine bottle rack
Not to nitpick but wine bottles with corks should really be stored on their sides, especially if they're bottles that you're holding onto for a while. Having at least one unopened bottle on hand at one time suits me best so I'm always ready to pop open a bottle in case of an impromptu guest.
I got my wine rack from Amazon ages ago, but in case Amazon is currently doing something bad and you are mad at them, here are a few other inexpensive options.
4. A jigger
I mean technically, yes, you can use that obnoxiously cute and dumb shot glass you bought on vacay in the Dominican to measure your liquors, but having a stainless steel jigger is a touch more pleasing to the eye. $3.89 here or at your local Dollarama.
5. A shaker and strainer
Choose one metal colour for your tools and stick with it throughout. Or don’t... but it will look better if you do. The default choice is obviously silver, but there are lots of sets and single tools that come in gold and rose gold as well.
6. Bottle openers and stoppers
The first night I lived in Montreal, I wandered down to the dep and bought myself a bottle of pinot noir because I was 18 years old, living on campus, and nobody could tell me what to do. When I got back to my dorm, I realized my horrific mistake: I didn’t have a corkscrew and this bottle had a big ol' cork.
After about 30 minutes of manipulation using a shoe and a serrated knife (that’s a story for another time) I was able to finally get to what was in that bottle (and drank it out of a mason jar.) I bought a corkscrew the very next morning.
Learn from my mistakes.
While you’re at it, grabbing some bottle stoppers would really class up the joint. If you are responsible, unlike me and my friends, chances are there may be some wine left in your bottle after a drink sesh. A stopper will keep oxygen from making that grapey goodness a vinegary mess.
7. A citrus juicer
Soooo many cocktail recipes call for citrus. Get yourself a little juicer so you can make the most of those lemons and limes without those pesky seeds.
8. Glass jars or small carafes with tight seals
This may not seem intuitive, but here's a tip: save your old jam jars for simple syrups. A lot of cocktails will call for a small amount of simple syrup (literally just sugar and water.) Make a batch ahead of time and store it for a month or so in a sterilized, sealed glass jar in your fridge. Get the basic recipe here.
Once you get comfortable making simple syrup, try adding essential oils, teas, or herbs to the sugar water while it's boiling to make some original flavour infusions.
Have some respect for your furniture (or books or floor or wherever you leave your ice cold drink which will undoubtedly leave behind condensation rings.) Use a coaster. I also love that each coaster is a little piece of art, so switching them up every now and then can really be a cheap and subtle yet effective way to update your decor.
So, were you taking notes? I know, I promised you a summary so here it is. Download this list and use it to help you build the base of your new entertainment station.
Are there any items I may have left out that are essential to you? Comment below and let me know!