TOOLS & TIPS for the Bar

Maybe you just moved and you’re setting up a bar for the first time. Maybe you just want to improve the bar you’ve already got. Whatever the reason, here are some guidelines that will help you keep an organized bar so you’ll be ready for whatever your guests desire, or just ready to experiment and have fun. 

Having the right tool for the job makes a big difference. The right shaker, the right peeler, the right ice pick; all these things make a difference in the ease of making a drink and the quality of the end product.


If you want to make balanced, delicious cocktails that are consistent from one glass to the next and from one day to the next, you need to measure. A good jigger makes it a lot easier. They aren’t expensive, so it’s a good idea to get a couple of them, so that you have one with 1oz and 2oz measurements and another with 3/4oz and 1.5oz measurements. The classic, bell-shaped jigger design has really never been improved upon. I find that most of the novel jigger designs on the market are just gimmicks and tend to make a mess. Stick with the classics.



There are three kinds of shaker, the Boston shaker, the cobbler shaker and the French shaker. The Boston Shaker consists of a tall metal cup and a pint glass. I’m sure you’ve seen these used in bars. A cobbler shaker is the type more often seen in a home bar, and it is the type featured in the Glossop’s logo. Some people call it a martini shaker. Finally, a French shaker is similar to a cobbler shaker but without the integrated strainer.

I’m partial to the cobbler shaker. It’s the easiest one to use with the least likelihood of spillage or breakage. Make sure you buy a high quality shaker made from heavy gauge steel. Some lesser ones can bend or dent easily when banged around, and then the pieces become hard to take apart.

A mixing glass is one of those things you might not realize you need until you have it. Shaking a drink incorporates air into the liquid and creates a cloudy drink. If you’re making a clear drink like a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, or a Martini, you need a mixing glass. Get one with a wide bottom and straight sides so you have plenty of room for ice and booze and stirring is easy.


There are three types of cocktail strainer: the mesh strainer, the Julep strainer and the Hawthorne strainer. The Julep strainer was originally designed to stay in the glass while drinking the cocktail. It would keep muddled mint at the bottom of the cup. Now they are often used to strain from a mixing glass into a serving glass. A Hawthorne strainer generally works just as well for that purpose. It is also ideal when straining from a shaker. If you are straining a drink that has lots of fine pulp, mint leaves or other particles that would slip through a Hawthorne or Julep, a mesh strainer held over the serving glass catches the little pieces.

Strainers are pretty cheap, so I recommend having at least one of each. However, the only one that’s really a must-have is the Hawthorne.



A proper bar spoon is an essential tool for making a good cocktail. When dealing with shakers and mixing glasses, a teaspoon won’t reach the bottom of the vessel. Teaspoons are also difficult to rotate in your fingers. Because one of the key elements of a balanced cocktail is proper dilution, stirring is a very important step. The twisted grooves on a bar spoon help the handle rotate easily between you fingers so you can get a good steady rhythm going around the perimeter of a mixing glass. This gives you control over how many stirs and ultimately, how much contact the drink has with the ice. A good bar spoon is one of the keys to control and consistency.


Get a pairing knife that stays with your bar tools so you don’t have to go hunting around for one when you need it. It will come in handy for cutting fruit. Ideally find one that has a blade cover.


You’ll need a cutting surface for that paring knife. A small cutting board also serves as a work area where you can set wet items to minimize clean up.


You will often need the juice of just one or two pieces of fruit. There are several types of manual juicer, but the best for this type of job is a juicing dish. I’m talking about a small dish (sometimes made of steel) that has a reamer and a strainer incorporated in the design. It also has a pour spout so you can easily transfer the juice to a jigger or shaker.



A cheap bottle opener from the drug store will pop the top off a bottle of tonic just as well as a fancy one. Hell, even a lighter or the edge of the counter can get the job done. But I like the feel of a heavy bottle opener in my hand. Find a nice one that you like. It can turn popping a cap into one of those simple pleasures, and it can be a handsome addition to a bar.


Unless you have a deluxe set-up with an ice maker right there in your bar, you’ll need an ice bucket to avoid running back and forth to the kitchen freezer.


You’ll need a peeler for citrus garnishes. A couple companies, including Oxo, make peelers with serrated blades. This makes all the difference in getting a thick, broad, even piece of lemon or orange peel off the fruit.


A mixing glass is one of those things you might not realize you need until you have it. Shaking a drink incorporates air into the liquid and creates a cloudy drink. If you’re making a clear drink like a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, or a Martini, you need a mixing glass. Get one with a wide bottom and straight sides so you have plenty of room for ice and booze and stirring is easy.


If you’re making something that requires muddling fruit or herbs in the bottom of the mixing glass or shaker, you’ll need the right tool. Find a muddler that is thick, long-handled and made of wood or heavy gauge plastic. You don’t want something metal because it can crack the mixing glass.


When you put a lot of love and care into making your drinks, they deserve better than your kitchen glasses. Having the right glass really makes a drink feel like a special event. There are lots of great affordable cocktail glasses to be found at flea markets or online with cool shapes or funky designs. And many of the big housewares chains like Crate & Barrel have great selections of affordable glasses. The key glasses to have are Old Fashioneds, High Balls, Martinis, and Coupes. Most any cocktail served on ice or up will work well in one of these four glasses.



Cocktail onions and olives keep forever in the fridge. Even if you don’t use them often, keep some around. Cherries are also a must, but find some good quality ones that you like. There are enough good cherries on the market that there is no need to have any business with the neon red ones anymore. It’s even easy to make your own.

So many drinks benefit from a piece of lemon rind that it’s worth keeping a lemon on hand at all times. Oranges and limes are nice to keep on hand too, but not as essential.

One item you might not think to buy is Tomolives. These are little, pickled green tomatoes the size of an olive. They’re great in a Martini, or even just as a bar snack.

Lastly, grow some mint in a pot. Don’t grow it in the ground because it will spread like a weed. But it’s easy to grow and great to have around for the bar.


Bitters are a key ingredient to keep on hand for making cocktails. Any given cocktail with bitters will likely call for only a couple drops. This might seem like too little to make a difference, but you’d be mistaken. A couple drops of bitters can totally transform the way a cocktail tastes and the way the different flavors in that cocktail play together. Bitters won’t actually make your cocktail bitter (unless you add a ton), but rather it adds a background complexity and tends to marry different elements, like sweet and sour. If you aren’t very familiar with bitters, make a simple cocktail (perhaps a whiskey sour) and divide it into two glasses. Add a dash of bitters to the top of just one glass and taste the difference.

We are lucky to live in an era where there are countless bitters on the market by manufacturers big and small. I highly recommend you explore the possibilities. However, if you want to take the guesswork out of it, it’s simple. Buy a bottle of Angostura and a bottle of Peychaud’s.