Dinner Parties,Entertaining

How to set up a DIY cocktail bar for home parties

If you’re going to put in the time and effort of throwing a party, you might as well do it properly. The easy option for drinks is to just have beer and wine, but some people like spirits and cocktails too. It’s true, spirits are expensive, but if it’s for a special occasion, your guests are supplying their own, or you simply feel like getting a bit decadent, then having your own DIY bars at your next party is a great idea. You don’t need someone to make the cocktails at each station. Just some great quality ingredients, a few recipe cards to suggest a different spin on classic drinks, maybe some decorations to jazz the place up a bit, and have people experiment and make their drinks exactly how they want them.

Here are some classic cocktails and what you’ll need to pull off a basic one, as well as some surprising twists you could give them to make your drinks worthy of the finest bars around the world.


Before James Bond decided to switch to Heinekens, this was his drink, “shaken, not stirred.” The martini is a cocktail party staple, but also a great one to tweak and play around with. Here’s what you’ll need:

Alcohol: A classic martini traditionally consists of gin, but sometimes vodka, and dry vermouth. The ratio can vary as much as you like, as long as the gin/vodka is at the very least in equal proportions with the vermouth, as it is in a ‘perfect martini,’ while a ‘dry martini’ on the other hand is recommended to be 6:1 gin/vodka to vermouth. As an extra, adding a dash of bitters to any martini doesn’t hurt either.

Garnishes: Here’s where the fun starts. We’ve all seen martinis garnished with lemon peel or an olive or two, sometimes on a toothpick, even adding a splash of olive brine to make a ‘dirty martini.’ Using olives stuffed with blue cheese or anchovies is a delicious twist, but you don’t have to settle just for olives, pretty much any pickled vegetable can be used as a quirky alternative, adding a dash of the brine to make it ‘dirty.’ If you want to salt the rim of your glass, you could also think out of the box and use a flavoured salt, yuzu-flavoured salt being a perfect accompaniment to gin. Also, gin is derived from juniper berries and what suits Singapore’s climate better than fruit? Add a shot of simple syrup for a sweeter taste, a little lime juice and two or three shots of juice from your favourite berries, garnishing the drink with a couple more of the berries on a toothpick. You could even go completely crazy and use watermelon juice and stick a slice on the side of the glass, perhaps with a cucumber slice as well.

Be adventurous with your garnishes. Even if you’re just going with olives, experiment with different ones such as blue cheese stuffed olives or smoked salmon stuffed olives.

Glassware: Martinis are usually served out of a traditional cocktail glass, but if you’re going to be adding substantial amounts of fruit juice, you may require something larger such as a rocks glass, a highball glass, or possibly even a Collins glass. Also, while most will argue that a martini is better stirred, there will always be someone at the party who quotes James Bond and wants theirs shaken, so it is best to have a cocktail shaker nearby.

Decorating Your Martini Station: The martini conjures up images of a smokey, dimly-lit room in a Manhattan bar with a simple stone or wood-panel backing. An easy way to get the right ambience is a black tablecloth, some dark flowers in a vase, perhaps a blackboard with a white chalk menu, and wooden chopping board for preparing custom garnishes.


On the morning after a big night out, some people just want a coffee, others will reach for 100 Plus, and then there are those that will have a bloody mary. They aren’t just for brunch though, bloody marys are great to drink at night too, and the best thing is that you can put almost anything in them and they still taste brilliant.

Alcohol: Your basic bloody mary is three parts vodka, six parts tomato juice, and one part lemon juice served on the rocks, but that is just the beginning.

Garnishes: If you order a bloody mary in a bar or cafe, it will generally come with a celery stalk in it and perhaps a few dashes of Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce and some celery salt around the rim of the glass, but why stop there? One thing that goes perfectly with a combination of tomato, lemon, and chilli is seafood so you could provide garnishes such as peeled prawns to hang over the side of the glass, calamari rings on skewers or go all out and stick a lobster claw in the glass. The chilli can be fun to experiment with as well, such as squirt of Sriracha instead of Tabasco sauce or even a few pieces of kimchi on a toothpick with some of the brine added to the drink for good measure. On that note, kimchi is a fermented side dish, giving it a pickled taste so you might as well add some olives or pickled onions on a toothpick, perhaps some cornichons. Many of these ingredients are also eaten during a big breakfast fry-up so why not try sticking a rasher of maple-glazed bacon down the side of the glass while your at it or some mini breakfast sausages on a stick? The options are limitless.

Glassware: Highball glasses are the general go-to glassware for a bloody mary, but lets not forget that this a drink that’s often thrown together when horrendously hungover so anything will work. When that’s the case, mason jars or Bell jars make a great alternative.

Decorating Your Bloody Mary Station: When it comes to what is typically a recovery drink, it will often be drunk outside so a red chequered picnic tablecloth will be perfect, decked out with your vegetable and pickle garnish options. If you are going to have a huge selection of garnishes, you might want a multi-teir serving tray as well and a food processor also helps people who want to get a little more adventurous mixing their drink.


When it comes to mixing your own drinks, things don’t get much easier, or refreshing, than a good old G and T. It’s also quite an interesting drink because the two ingredients on their own are quite bitter, yet when you mix them together they combine to make a completely different taste, each masking the other’s own bitterness.

Alcohol: A gin and tonic is simply gin and tonic water served on the rocks. The amount of gin varies according to taste, but suggested ratios are between 1:1 and 1:3 gin to tonic water.

Garnishes: One factor that separates a gin and tonic from most other drinks is that it’s not just the quality of the alcohol that matters, but also the quality of the mixer. Tonic water started out as just carbonated water with some quinine dissolved in it to give that bitter taste, but now there is a vast range of boutique tonic waters available with subtle hints of ingredients such as rosemary, thyme, citrus, and elderflower to give your G and T a little extra pep. As for garnishes, gin and tonics generally come with a slice or wedge of lime, but as with many gin-based martinis, berries, particularly blueberries, go well in the drink, as does a mint leaf or two. As for the lime, grapefruit makes an excellent alternative, especially if you add two shots of grapefruit juice, a teaspoon of honey, but still a dash of lime juice as well.

Glassware: Your classic gin and tonic is usually served on ice in a highball or rocks glass for that classy look.

Decorating Your Gin and Tonic Station: A similar setup to the martini station would work perfectly, but the key to this one is having metal buckets of ice separating your variety of tonics and keeping them cool. Having dishes of different berries and wedges of citrus fruit around the table would go down a treat as well.


The drink of choice of Don Draper from Mad Men, the old fashioned has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years due mainly to the air of class that it exudes. That and the simple fact that they are delicious.

Alcohol: Two dashes of bitters and some water are used to dissolve a sugar cube in a glass before a shot of whiskey, either Bourbon or Rye, is added to make an old fashioned, however, brandy is becoming a popular option instead of whiskey as well.

Garnishes: Citrus rind, preferably from an orange, or a cocktail cherry are the usual garnishes and some people take it with both.The obvious way to make this cocktail your own is to substitute the fruit; again, berries make a great replacement for the cherry and roasted peach slices work well in place of citrus rind. When a drink requires bitters, most will reach straight for the Angostura, but there are a wide variety of bitters on the market that will lend your drink its own notes and flavours. A cinnamon stick accompanies this drink perfectly too.

Glassware: The only way to serve an old fashioned is in a rocks glass. How else do you think it also became known as the “old fashioned glass?”

Decorating Your Old Fashioned Station: If you’re serving a classy drink, you want your bar to have a classy appearance too. A black tablecloth and a metal serving tray is all you need, but a full metal serving station will give your old fashioned bar the traditional look it truly deserves.



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