Highballs Come Home

Stir up an intoxicating bash with old-fashioned bar carts and cool tools

September 28, 2012

You can’t walk — or stumble — more than a few blocks in downtown D.C. without finding a Prohibition-style speakeasy (Columbia Room, The Gibson) specializing in artisanal, old-timey cocktails. Add to that a handful of local distilleries, such as Blackwater in Maryland and Catoctin Creek in Loudoun County, and you have what amounts to a highball revolution. It’s a trend that wannabe Don Drapers or Thin Men can also shake up at home.

Duane Sylvestre, bartender at Bourbon Steak, thinks many home bars are impractical. “They’ll have no place for ice and no dedicated work area or place where you can spill,” he says. His home setup includes a floor drain, refrigerator and three-compartment sink, but you don’t have to go that far.

An old-school bar cart brings Gatsby-esque style — try Shopsocietysocial.com for mid-century style ones in wood or metal, or CB2.com, where the round, metal Ernest model packs contempo style for $149. Or, you can also employ furniture you already have. “Use a side table, a buffet or even an old vanity,” says Victoria Vergason, owner of barware shop the Hour (1015 King St., Alexandria; 703-224-4687). In her Old Town home, she uses a 19th-century butler’s desk.

Stock your bar with what you’d order at happy hour. “Buy liquor you like to drink or think is interesting,” says Sylvestre, who suggests starting with gin, rum and bourbon.“You can stir martinis with a chopstick, shake daiquiris in a sippy cup and serve gin and tonics in a Solo cup, but you can’t do any of the above without ingredients,” says Jim Meehan, owner of Manhattan’s hip Please Don’t Tell club.

The tools barkeeps use also work at home. “All you need is a shaker, a jigger for measuring and glasses,” says Vergason, who recommends highball and rocks glasses plus champagne coupes as basics. Meehan favors a three-piece cobbler shaker such as OXO’s steel version ($30, Home Rule, 1807 14th St. NW; 202-797-5544), which is easy for newbies to maneuver because of its built-in strainer. Other mixing musts: a wooden muddler, Japanese knives and a strainer (Cocktailkingdom.com).

Though you can outfit a bar at such spots as Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, antiques shops and thrift stores offer a more interesting mix of wares. D.C.’s Van Bloys, who blogs about style and cocktails with pal Lauren Wynns at Necessary-and-proper.com, suggests Christ Child Opportunity Shop (1427 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-6635), where he picks up retro glasses for his hunting-themed home bar. “Sticking to a motif organizes a collection so it doesn’t look like an episode of ‘Hoarders,’ ” Bloys says. He uses a wheeled chrome cart from Restoration Hardware in his Logan Circle apartment.

“I don’t just stock my bar — I try to add color and personality to it” says Georgetown resident Kate Connolly, 27, who accessorizes her rolling number (scored at Target) with pink and green vases and a circus-y striped tray. Interesting table lamps, small statues and vintage bartending guides could also keep your cocktail zone away from “let’s go on a bender” territory.

In the end, rolling out a bar cart chez you is less about slurping down Manhattans than about sharing time with friends. “The interest in cocktails centered on engaging in conversation,” says the Hour’s Vergason. “When you make someone a special drink in a nice glass, you have to put down your smartphone and actually talk to each other.”

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