How to set up the bar for your holiday party

By Rosemary Ellis

Now that the holidays are in full swing, entertaining is on everyone’s minds. Here, Rosemary Ellis of Good Housekeeping magazine shares tips for being the hostess with the mostest, by preparing a smashing drinks station.

Decide on your bar location.

  • Rearrange furniture so the drink station is a destination: not in the middle of everything, not right at the entrance, and not a dead end from which guests can't mingle once they've filled their glasses.
  • Envision the space with a crowd in it. Walk through it with arms outstretched so you take up more space, to see if it will be cozy or cramped.

Gather your gear. Festive drinks don't make themselves, but displaying the right tools will make it easy for guests to self-serve:

  • An ice bucket: Fill it with ice to cover the bodies of the bottles, leaving necks exposed for grabbing. Have a separate bucket or bowl for the ice people will use in drinks.
  • An ice scoop: If you use a glass and it breaks, you'll have to toss out the whole batch of ice. Scoops cost as little as $2; or use a large spoon or tongs.
  • A bottle opener: Use a winged corkscrew (it's more foolproof), like the Pedrini Wine & Bar 7-Inch Soft Grip Corkscrew, $10.
  • Glass identifiers: Invite guests to wrap their glasses with colorful rubber bands, tie sterns with pre-snipped ribbon, or use labels like this set from Drink Flair ($5 for 12).
  • Drink stirrers: Stirrers make it easy for guests to help themselves. (While a shaker is a great tool if you have a dedicated bartender).
  • Garnish tools: Encourage guests to deck out their drinks by offering cocktail sticks and fresh-cut fruit; set out a nutmeg grater so they can add spice with a flourish.

Be stain-ready. Here’s what to have on-hand:

  • Absorbent cloths for when drinks are overturned
  • A small spritz bottle of water for dampening drips before blotting
  • On-the-spot stain remover, like Tide to Go, to de-splotch machine-washable tablecloths

Stock up. No need to buy out the liquor store, just keep it simple with these staples and let guests mix and match:

  • Liquors and mixers: one liter of liquor makes about 20 drinks. Get twice as many bottles of mixers (juice, soda, etc.) as of liquor.
  • Beer and wine only: Buy a couple of types of each: one light and one dark brew, a white and a red wine (a bottle yields five to six glasses).
  • A specialty cocktail: Make it even easier and premix one drink to serve in a pitcher, punch bowl or heated vessel. You can also serve a nonalcoholic cider or cocoa and let guests add zip with holiday-inspired liquors (schnapps, flavored vodka, etc.).