in the span of just a few days i received two requests - nay, cries of help from the depths of impoverished abstemiousness - for advice on stocking a bar. hyperbole or not, i felt honored, since these two guys have greatly shaped my attitude towards cocktails. tony, in sf, who defines classy debauchery, made me my first ever mixed drink, and steven, in nyc, gives me field reports on (and occasionally entry into) the best bars in new york. and so, i was obliged.
let's set the constraint: $100 to stock a bar from scratch. thankfully, the simplest and most classic cocktails enjoy a large intersection, and can be made with a minimal set of ingredients. think the martini, the manhattan, a gimlet, a pegu club, or a julep. minus the cheap, background cost of fresh citrus and simple syrup, my initial list would be:
gin - $30 (plymouth, greylock, junipero, beefeater...)rye - $20 (rittenhouse, old overholt [sazerac for a bit more])french vermouth & italian vermouth - $30 (-not- martini & rossi - go for dolin or noilly prat)bitters - $10 (start with angostura)barspoon - $10 (try to seek out a nice one)
all the essentials are there - spirits, vermouths, bitters, and barware. i'm not trying to cover the gamut of base spirits, nor liqueurs. those can all come later. and don't forget about the barware. i'm assuming there's already a pint glass handy, but with each paycheck acquire, in order, a boston shaker metal tin, an oxo hawthorne strainer, an oxo 2 oz slanted measuring cup, and a citrus reamer.
above all, though, a bar should be stocked drink by drink. find a cocktail you like enough to make it regularly at home, then get the cointreau or benedictine or rum or even absinthe necessary to make it. put aside some money each month to get a new bottle to expand your repertoire. for instance, steven, with his penchant for last words and variants thereon, might consider splurging on some chartreuse and maraschino liqueur. and then last words will cost $3 instead of $12.
if only i had given my callow past self the same advice - then i wouldn't have that damn useless bottle of midori sitting around...