Whether you have invited friends to a dinner party, a drop-in, or an intimate get-together, chances are their first stop in your home will be the bar. This year impress them with a setup that is as functional as it is stylish.
The Ice Bucket — An ice bucket has a single job: to keep cubes solid, preferably without allowing condensation to transform the bar into a swampy mess. Although your loyal Coleman or Yeti stands ready and waiting to perform this vital task, save it for backup. You’ll need it. Experts suggest you’ll need a pound or two of ice per guest. The perfect ice bucket will hold three to four liters of ice — large enough to handle the first round of cocktails without taking up all the real estate on your counter. Although crystal is elegant, it won’t keep things cold; instead, opt for lidded, double-walled stainless steel. This will go with most decors, keep the bar dry, the ice frozen, and has the benefit of being unbreakable.
Wine Coasters — Red wine spills may be tough to clean, but they make themselves known; white wine, on the other hand, is sneaky. Invisible dribbles and splashes can turn into unattractive brown spots. Protect table linens, natural stone surfaces, and wood from both with a wine coaster.
The Wine Opener — About as many corkscrew styles are available as varieties of wine, from the sleek waiter’s tool to battery-operated pullers, counter-mounted openers, and everything in between. For parties, a handheld, non-mechanical opener is your best bet; look for a heavy, non-wobbly piece from a company like Pulltex, which manufactures corkscrews in a variety of colors and finishes. To facilitate easy turning, make sure the auger (the spiral that burrows into the cork) is coated with graphite or another non-stick material. You could also go with the handheld gas-operated variety that doesn’t even have a corkscrew — simply stab the cork with the needle, press the top, and presto!
Cocktail Shakers — Cocktail shakers are available in two types, including the Boston style, which is essentially two matching vessels that fit together, and the cobbler style, a three-piece set comprised of a larger container to hold the drink, a domed strainer that fits on top, and a lid. Though Bostons better lend themselves to dramatic spins and shakes, cobblers are a safer bet for a party; they come in a variety of sizes, too. It might be tempting to look for an insulated shaker, but resist. The tiny bit of ice melt that occurs during the shakeup both cools and balances the drink. Stainless steel makes cleanup a breeze, but nothing is more elegant on the bar than an antique sterling silver shaker.
Mixing Beakers — A straight-sided beaker is the perfect shape for gently stirring a cocktail to peak temperature without clouding the drink; the spout makes it easy to pour the cocktail into a chilled glass. Beakers are also useful for making drinks in bulk. Guests can pour a pre-made, unchilled martini or Manhattan over ice or into a shaker. The crystal mixing beaker from Modern Mixologist is perfectly sized for a small crowd and can be monogrammed. Don’t forget to add a long bar spoon, which will let you stir with style.
Fancy Ice — Want to make your on-the-rocks drinkers feel extra special? Invest in a special ice mold from Wintersmiths, Glacio, or Alchemy Bar Goods, which turns out crystal-clear spheres every time. You will need a good bit of freezer space — the molds sit within a special container that pushes the air out of the water before it freezes — but the dramatic results are worth it.
Wine Preservers — Liquor in capped bottles will last almost indefinitely, but anyone who has poured a glass of leftover wine only to find that it’s turned to vinegar knows that is not the case with this libation. For less than the cost of a bottle of wine, the ArT Wine Preserver will keep that open bottle fresher longer. To keep sparkling wines lively, pick up an old-fashioned metal bouchon, or stopper, which resembles a bottle top with wings. Simply push the stopper all the way and secure it in place with the wings. Low tech, and it works every time.