In this section, we will be going over barware: the tools your bartender(s) will need in order to perform his or her duties successfully. This covers everything from bar mats to cocktail mixers. Experienced bartenders will find little here that they don’t already know, though they are, of course, welcome to set us straight if we get it wrong or if they have a better way. We love being set straight.
A Note on the classic Bar Set: If you go online and do a search on “Bar Set,” you will find many of the items listed here bunched into a neat package in prices ranging from $15 to $180. These are good if you want to stock your home bar for weekend parties, but they are not really professional sets—regardless of how they advertise themselves. Most are simply not sturdy enough to handle the amount of abuse they will take in a professional setting. In addition, as those of you who have done any bartending can attest to, some types of tools work better in one type of bar than in another, so being able to individually chose the components of your barware can make all the difference.
The Absolute Basics: Bar Mats and Bottle Openers
Bar Mats: Bar mats are strips of rubber designed specifically to allow bartenders to put together drinks. They help to both keep the drinks from easily spilling as the bartender pours and mixes and they gather up spills so that keeping the bar clean is easier. They are indispensable to bartenders and the natural starting point for buying barware.
Service Mats: Similar to bar mats, service mats are used when you have waiters to run drinks out to customers. Your bartenders place the drinks on these mats both for stability and so that when spills inevitably occur during this transfer, cleaning up is easer.
Bottle Opener: Unless you are going to have all of your beer on tap and not serve any kinds of drinks that require any opening beyond a twist of the wrist or flip of the thumb, you will definitely need a bottle opener. In most cases a simple bottle opener will do. I was once at a dive bar where the bartenders wore bottle opener pendants on chains like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. This certainly made them easy to find. If you are the kind of place where you will be serving lots of beer bottles and that kind of thing, you might go with a wall mounted bottle opener that will not only let you open multiple bottle at once but that also catches the bottle tops in the same motion. Keeps the mess down.Corkscrew: You can sometimes get away with having a combined corkscrew and bottle opener but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. The simple looped bottle opener works best for a fast moving bar setting. If you are going to have just a few wine bottles every so often—as for example in a gastropub that specializes in craft beers, not wines—then your average corkscrew will do. If you are going to have a wine bar where you are going to open a lot of wine bottle in a night, you may want to invest in a wall mounted mechanical corkscrew to speed up the process. (Of course, in some cases, the opening of the bottle in front of the customers is part of the expected show, and in these cases, the old fashioned corkscrew and a well-trained wait staff is the way to go.)
Ice Bucket: A dedicated ice bucket is a must for replenishing your ice supply. Make sure only to use it for ice or you will ruin it—ice picks up smells and tastes amazingly well.
If you are going to serve mixed drinks, there are a handful of barware tools that you will need to invest in. Many bartenders will use their own versions of these, but you still should have the bar versions of the same so that if you have a sudden turn over in staff, or if your bartender calls in sick you can have these on hand.
Cocktail Shaker: The cocktail shaker is the stainless steel chamber that sort of looks like a thermos and that houses the ingredients when they are being mixed. The main variety used by bartenders is the Boston cocktail shaker, which will typically include a measuring glass and tin which can be used in combination for both mixing and pouring.
Cocktail Strainer: The Boston cocktail shaker usually doesn’t include a strainer (the traditional cocktail shaker has a cocktail strainer that fits right inside it) so you will have to buy it separately. Some fancy models of the Boston cocktail shaker, however, will have a perforated lip on the tin that acts as a cocktail strainer during pouring but many bartenders dislike this feature. Many bartenders use the Hawthorne strainer that looks a bit like handheld mirror with a metal slinky attached circling the edge of the flat surface.
Cocktail Pourer: A cocktail pourer is an attachment that you place atop a mixer so that you can pour out even shots of your cocktail mixes. If you have a very busy bar, and are going to make a lot of a particular kind of drink, you might consider getting a speed pourer to help keep up.
Jigger: A jigger is another measuring tool. It is a pair of measuring cups attached together at the middle in a way that makes it look somewhat like an hourglass. One side of the jigger is .5 ounces, while the other is 2.0 ounces.
Bar Spoon: A bar spoon is exactly what it sounds like. It is technically not a necessity—you could use a straw to stir mixed drinks but most bartenders prefer to have one.
Cutting Board: For cocktails with fresh garnishes, a cutting board is a must.
Muddler: A muddler is basically a pestle and is used to crush garnishes or cocktail ingredients.Garnish/Napkin/Straw Caddy: It is very useful to have a caddy to help organize garnishes and keep the napkins and straws handy. You can buy these as two separate items—one for garnishes, one for straws—but it is really much more logical to have them as an all-in-one deal to save on space and trouble.
Cocktail Rail: A cocktail rail, is metal tray that attaches to the edge of a bar and can hold the liquors used to make cocktails. It is not a necessity, but it does retain counter space and makes it easier to keep all the liquors in one spot so more than one bartender can mix drinks simultaneously without getting in each others’ hair as much.
Rimmer: A margarita rimmer is a must if you are going to be serving a lot of these kinds of drinks. The rimmer is just a circular device (looks like a extra large woman’s compact) that allows you to get the perfect rim of lime and salt on your margarita glasses quickly. If you have any other similar drinks, it can also be used for these.
Of course, you will also need things like hand towels to give things a wipe and that kind of thing, but with these basics most establishments will be ready for service.
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