Life Eat & Drink How to set up the ultimate home bar for under $500

How to set up the ultimate home bar for under $500

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Want to start you own bar at home? Tim Philips, co-owner of the Australian Cocktail Bar of the Year, Bulletin Place in Sydney, says $500 is plenty to get you started.

The secret he says, is to choose spirits that are malleable so they mix with most flavours. He recommends the following must haves in every bar.

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Bulletin Place in Sydney.
Bulletin Place in Sydney.


When it comes to gin, a mid-price range one such as Tanqueray for $40 is good value.


Rum is another one to have as it goes with a range of flavours. Choose one with a little bit of age, such as Havana Club 3 year old which costs around $42. If you’re after something with more flavour, Bundaberg Small Batch rum is a little more expensive at $59.


Johnny Walker Black is light, refreshing, and one of the best-valued whiskies at $45.



Tequila is a good party starter and at $35 is a must have in your selection because it goes well with citrus. Try a reposado or rested Tequila for around $70.

“This rounds up your basic bar,” says Mr Philips, although he has omitted vodka. “It tends to be too overpowering in cocktails. Spirits should accentuate other flavours, not drown them out. Vodka tends to flatten other flavours.”


With money still in the kitty, move on to some of the peripheral alcohol.

“A great staple is Campari. It enhances flavours and mixes with anything, such as orange juice or soda and sells for $32,” he says. “Add a fortified wine, such as sweet vermouth. The Australian, Regal Rouge Rosso at $40 mixes well with drinks. If you have any change left, add a bitters such as Angora, and a single malt whisky such as Caol Ila for $100, is bloody delicious!”

The gear

Take a look at any reputable high turn-over cocktail bar and you’ll see that no one is using fancy cocktail shakers, adds Mr Philips. Most use industrial equipment, much like a kitchen in a restaurant.

Sam Byrgrave from Australian Bartender.
Sam Byrgrave from Australian Bartender.

“While these may not look the prettiest they will stand the test of time. They’re efficient and do not break down. These can be sourced from industry websites. For cocktail shakers, also known as a tin on tin shaker, the cost is $20. A good brand named strainer is Bonzer, at $25.”

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Finally, ice is one of the most important ingredients to a cocktail. Mr Philips recommends using two or three takeaway containers, filling them with water and place them in the freezer. The idea behind this, is the ice will not be as dense as using an ice cube tray; which tends to water down drinks. Crush the ice using a small rubber mallet and chisel.

Sam Bygrave from Australian Bartender magazine says invest wisely in bar equipment. Choose simple, hardy and reliable tools, such as metal spoons and strainers.

“Quality tools should sit well in your hands and you’ll feel like you’re making drinks the right way. Don’t get carried away with spending a lot of money on things you don’t really need,” he says. “Every professional bar set-up in the country keeps things simple. Purchase hospitality grade supplies and shop where the bartenders do.”

Do not fall into the trap of having several types of cocktail shakers he says.

“You only need two; one small, one large for making more than one drink at a time. Just as a chef wouldn’t use multiple knifes working on one dish, he has his trusty chef knife.”

With glassware stick to the traditional, highball long Collins glass, a regular glass and a martini or cocktail style glass.

“One rule with martini glasses,” he adds. “Is steer clear from the large martini glass; essentially, you’ll have three or four drinks worth in one large glass. The drink will go warm; a martini must be ice cold. If you are going to spend money; spend money on the booze and not the equipment; spend it on something that you’re going to taste and enjoy.”

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