One way or another you are probably entertaining your friends in the coming weeks. Are you toasting one last sunset before Summer Fridays are no longer a thing? Or could you be like me, having already said goodbye to Summer and are now welcoming a few parents over to ring in the start of a new school year? Whatever your excuse is for having a gathering, it’s always good to have a few things in your pantry and/or bar ready and on hand to serve. A bar set-up is not hard but in true “Jane form”, with a few tips and tricks, things can easily be taken up a notch and made more fun.

With a Party larger than Ten…

Under ten, you can handle it all yourself and serve your guests by request (put on your mixologist cap), over 10 though there needs to be a bartender or a self-serve situation set up.) Remember, having a drink in hand -with or without alcohol- makes for a more comfortable feeling for your guest!

setting up a serving bar
By Patrick Brickman and Colin Grey Voigt for Charleston Home & Design

Simple Self Serve Set-up

*This is a full set-up, if you are overwhelmed, be inspired to tailor to you.

Back row
-White wine in a wine bucket (I also like to add one bottle of champagne too solely because it’s my drink of choice and how fun is a little bubbly? Everyday is a celebration in my opinion.)
-Red wine
-Tequila (The old guard would say to offer scotch, the new guard would say tequila…so tequila…sorry Mother)
-Rum- (Summer twist, especially if you are located somewhere hot—Father likes to say Rum makes you breathe easier)

Ginger ale (A classic stand-by is Schweppes but don’t hesitate to look for something more local—ie if I am in Birmingham, I love to throw in a little Buffalo Rock for some home town flare)

Front row

-Simple syrup (I like to make my own and put in a glass creamer but yes, you can buy already made in the store-You also can sub for with honey or my choice, agave syrup because it blends into drinks easier)
-Mint (left on the stalk, placed in large julep cup that people can pluck off at their desire— ie make a bouquet)
-Basil (completely unnecessary but one herb in the summer that is always full in the garden and makes for a refreshing flavor profile and something someone would say “Oh, well that’s different”, again just left on the stalk in a matching mint julep cup)
-Lemons & Lime wedges (and if feeling like you even want to take it that much further- add oranges to the mix)
-Cocktail napkins
-Ice (blocks (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? And then of course cubed as well)
-Mixing spoon/Swizzle sticks/straws (while my husband finds paper straws completely worthless, I do have to argue they come in some pretty cute stripes and colors for some fun flare…)

In cooler

-Fun non-alcoholic drink flavored sparkling water or lemonade. I go for a Fresca -no calories and when was the last time anyone ever drank a Fresca on their own? See! Fun! Maybe it will be a conversation starter. Remember when they use to serve it on the Airplane? Choose bottle options if wanting to go a little more polished.

Setting up a serving bar
Via Elle Design

Jane Tips

-Everything goes on a tray to protect your table or better yet use a tray AND put on a glass top table. Mother dearest would throw a linen napkin down too to not only have for protection but for color as well. The tray also contains the many bar ingredients from going in different directions. Use multiple if need be.

-This really applies to all spirits and bottles but especially when it comes to wine, if it’s not open, not every guest will feel comfortable opening, so before everyone gets there, open the bottles and softly re cork.

-Use an index card on the outside of the cooler to label what’s inside. No one wants to shift through ice without a goal.

-Is your party feeling a little more elevated? Throw some glass mugs in the freezer for your guests to drink their cold beer from a chilled glass.

-It’s always a good idea to have a bowl full of nibbles (like a cheese biscuit, pistachios, etc) nearby if not on the bar itself.

COVID brought a lot of time for some pretty cool small companies to prefect different syrups, mixes or pre-made cocktails. Here are some my favorites to check out that could bring a little elevated flare or create a great, easy signature cocktail. Cocktail & Sons (NOLA flavor proud), Food for the Southern Soul- Mr. Jimmie’s Yellow Tomato Golden Mary Mix, Wandering Barman (their pre-made, all you do is pour, Old Fashion is pretty unbelievable), Gris Gris Cocktail Magic Syrup (jalapeno margs are currently high on my list).

-Last but not least, word to the wise: whatever level you buy (wine, liquor….) is what level you will get stuck with at the end of the party. So because you will (should) buy enough to not let anyone go thirsty, buy accordingly.

Photography by Candace Chaney for Jane Allen Designs

With your above set up or variation there of, here are some pantry items always to have on hand as well as a few tools that might make your mixology gig a little easier. Also just for the record, all of these could make for some cute little hostess or housewarming gifts.

1. Davina Olives– A good neutral “friend” to all

2. Angostura Bitters– Father’s all around pick when it comes to bitters and also easy to find

3. Blue Agave Syrup -mixes better than honey, little different level of sweetness and makes me feel better than using tons of simple syrup

4. Fresh fruit—yes I did include because this is something you should always have on hand but sometimes not on every grocery list. I also love to take a basket of citrus with me for a little part of a hostess gift not only because it is always one of the “most likely to forget items” but who doesn’t like a bowl full of citrus on their kitchen countertop?

5. Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup– My total play to take things up a notch. Make a batch of frozen G&Ts and put them in the freezer just waiting to pull out for your guests to arrive. Jack Rudy also has a lot of other good, fun cocktail “treats”. Check out their full website to see more.

6. Luxardo Cherries– talk about Cherry goodness. While my daughter prefers the typical classic bright maraschino for her Shirley Temple, these dark beauties are the perfect finishing touch for your old fashion or soda & vodka.

7. Rose’s Lime Juice– completely necessary for any kind of gimlet.

8. Zing Zang – There are people who are very particular about their bloodies, this zing zang is an easy pleaser to all of those people. Hands down my favorite.

How to set up a serving bar

1. Ice Molds

2. Pantry Cocktails Book– such a fun hostess gift and talk about getting creative in the kitchen! The illustrations are just beautiful too.

3. Glassware from The Avenue– hands down my favorite go-to for glasses and all things table.

4. White Lacquer Tray– How can you miss? I would buy two so I can have placement options setting up the bar but there is also a larger size should that be more to your liking

5. Barware Set– Here is your full shebang minus your shaker.

6. Caspari Napkins-Hard to find a better paper cocktail napkin company out there

7. Wine Bucket– love the clean lines and size. Works with any kind of color/design palette. Perfect wedding gift as well!

8. Muddler– Hello Mojitos! Even if this mint goodness isn’t up your alley, this is such a great bar tool to have on hand! Berries, basil, citrus…options!

Happy Toasting!