Raise the bar: It's not just a liquor cabinet

Story highlights

  • Modern entertaining, even at the modern home bar, is casual
  • Mix old and new glassware for an eclectic and practical set
  • Specialty drinks, napkins are all the holiday decor a bar needs

As holiday parties get into full swing, most hosts already know that their guests will end up in the kitchen. Yes, yes, the kitchen is where the action is, the star of the show.

But for many homeowners, it's not the kitchen that stirs their pride. It's the bar, said Jennifer Kopf, home editor for Southern Living magazine. After all, December 5 marks 80 years since the end of of Prohibition, and Americans have learned to enjoy that legal tipple at home.

When people move into a new home, especially in the South, she said, "The first question is, where are we going to put the bar?"

It's not just a liquor cabinet, but a symbol of hospitality. Many Southerners habitually ask their guests, "Can I get you something to drink?" Kopf said.

The image of a host mixing a quick drink for a guest might smack of last-century formality, but the way Americans entertain in their homes has experienced nothing short of a revolution. No longer is there an expectation of a separate wet bar or game room, or even a set of specific cocktail glasses.

"We are entertaining (in) and using all parts of our house," Kopf said, "so this setup of the bar cart or the bar tray is in the different areas of the house where we're actually spending the most of our time.

"You might even have a couple of bar setups in your house. If you entertain outside you might have a more casual setup on your deck or screened porch."

    Yesteryear's cachet of having a separate room for a bar, like a basement or game room, is now an inconvenience to the modern host or hostess, she said. Rather, modern lifestyles incorporate a kind of home base for the bar, like a niche butler's pantry or piece of furniture. With a sturdy tray or a cart, the bar -- and the party -- goes anywhere guests want to go.

    And instead of being a status symbol, the modern bar space is a reflection of the homeowners, Kopf said. The eclectic collection of glassware, alcohol bottles and mixing tools housed in a modern home bar is a visual narrative of a homeowner's personality and style.

    "What the selection of books on your bookshelf (says about you), your bar cart kind of says the same thing," she said.

    So what belongs on a home bar? Steva Casey, the bar manager for the Veranda on Highland in Birmingham, Alabama, said there's no need to fret over having the correct cocktail glasses or even an exhaustive collection of liquors or flavored vodkas.

    She uses an antique sideboard as the bar in her loft space home. Atop it are the bottles of alcohol she enjoys using most. "I'm a whiskey drinker," she said. "I deal in booze for a living. I always joke that I don't buy dresses, I buy scotch."

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    She arranges the bottles according to the color of the alcohol. Casey finds the amber tones of bourbons and whiskeys complement the warm color scheme of the rest of her loft.

    And although she is a confessed glassware junkie, -- "Don't take me to a thrift store and leave me to my own devices," she said -- this bartender endorses only four shapes of glasses for the modern home bar. (Hint: The midcentury, conical martini glass isn't one of them.)

    "You need old-fashioned glasses or tumblers, you need high ball glasses or collins glasses and then a coupe glass...and a flute."

    As inexpensive as glassware is, said Southern Living's Kopf, it's easy to collect glasses for the specific cocktails you prefer.

    "Instead of worrying about having eight martini glasses and eight champagne flutes, eight shot glasses, you can just invest in different styles of glasses," she said.

    The home bar is also a great place to display many inherited heirlooms. Grandmother's silver Julep cups look beautiful next to new, etched monogram tumblers. Cobalt, cranberry or burnt umber celebration glasses or tiny cordial glasses from collections that have ended up in thrift stores add historic and practical interest to the modern bar, Casey said.

    "You pick up that piece of glass and it's rich. I have a feeling about it because of the richness of that color," she said.

    "My favorite thing in the world is someone's story," she said. "Someone held that glass and told a story about the best pot roast they ever had. Booze and food are hand in hand in the South,and everyone's got a story about one or the other."

    Oh, and about the holidays: Keep the tinsel and glitter on the tree or the mantle, Kopf said. A humble arrangement of cut greens or a planted amaryllis can at the holiday without claiming too much real estate.

    And all you need to make your home bar festive this season is a punch bowl, some plaid fabric cocktail napkins and a beautiful cranberry-based drink ready to go in a pitcher.

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