You’ve got about a dozen derelict drinkers on the way over to your place for your annual New Year’s Eve bash. That means fun drinks—and lots of ’em— are definitely on the menu. But between spirits and mixers and everything else you’ll need, how do you prep a home bar without blowing a week’s pay at the local store? Here’s our ideal plan of attack.
“You always want to overbuy a little when you hit the liquor store,” says Dave Plate, co-founder of The Randolph at Broome in New York City. “There’s nothing worse than running low during a party.” His advice: Stick to the basics, like these popular holiday drinks, and don’t try to be all things to all people.
Don’t buy multiples of the same family of liquor and limit what you do buy to about $25 to $35 per bottle, max. “If you don’t, the guys who know what the good stuff is will go for it right away just because it’s free,” he says.
2. Winning Mixers
Even if you pare down on spirits, don’t skimp in the mixer department. That’s where every good cocktail is won or lost.
“Get plenty of soda water—it goes with everything,” Plate says. “You also need tonic, cranberry juice, OJ, soda, and diet soda, and a bunch of lemons and limes.” (Branch out with blood oranges for a bit of holiday flair.) Round out your arsenal with a bottle of bitters plus fresh mint, cinnamon sticks, maraschino cherries, olives, and a jar of star anise. (This licorice-flavored seed is an ideal cocktail addition.)
Even in the winter, it’s amazing how fast ice will go. Most experts recommend a pound per party guest, minimum. “Whatever you think you need, double it,” cautions Plate. And remember, that’s just for the cocktails. Any ice you need on hand to keep beer or soda cold is additional.
Need a quick makeshift cooler that isn’t your bathtub? Try filling your washing machine with cubes instead. It’ll create a second drink station in your pad, and as the ice melts, it automatically drains away for quick cleanup the next day.
4. Themed Ingredients
Select two or three specialty cocktails you can make in advance and serve as needed. Themed ingredients are another great option, says Tom Macy, co-owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn, NY.
Consider the apple: All you need is cider and apple brandy and you’re set. “Apple brandy sounds sweet, but it’s a full-proof barrel-aged spirit, kind of like whiskey,” he says. “Both are excellent two-ingredient cocktail options. You can pair either with any brown spirit—whiskey, rum, even each other.”