Oookk, back in France, with a magnificient bartender certificate stating that yes, I can mix stuff in a shaker, in a good way.
Sooo... Time to set up a bar. What to buy ? Where ? How much of it ? Good questions.
Starting with material stuff, what you'll need is a shaker, of course, a bar spoon, a muddler and a strainer. That will get you started on the cocktails side. Of course, if you're a wine enthusiast, a wine opener or multi tool will be needed.
I'm guessing you just went on amazon and looked for all these, realizing that there's a shitload of different kind of everything. Yeah... Let's be more precise.
Your safe bet for the shaker would be the two part boston shaker, tin or glass is fine, the glass one allows you to see what you're doing, the tin one gets cold a bit faster and will need less shaking to chill the drink. I personally like the glass one as it's not that cold on your hand when shaking plus the glass part can double as a mixing cup.
This is what I'm talking about :
It will hold about a pint of beverage, making it good enough even if you're doing two martini at once or one big ass margarita.
Next is the bar spoon. It's a long metal spoon looking like this :
Some of them have a muddler at the top end, some doesn't, both are fine. You're going to use it to stir cocktails when shaking is not needed because your friends want to play James Bond. Also, I found that a bar spoon holds just enough vermouth for a nice dry martini, so it doubles up as a practical measuring tool.
Then, the muddler :
No. It's not a recycled sex toy. This is used to muddle mint leaves or limes for mojito like cocktails. Some of them are made of wood, other from metal, I would recommend the metal one as it's easier to clean and less likely to hold juice and oils from whatever you're muddling.
Last but not least, the strainer:
This is what you're looking for. It will retain the ice in the shaker while you're straining the delicious cocktail into the glass.
And that's pretty much it. You're all ready to go tackle the most important question : What do we put in the shaker ?
There's practically no end on a liqueur list at any shop, Creme de Menthe, Creme de cacao, schnapps made from every possible fruit, herbs, etc... So... what's essential ? Easy answer : what you drink. You love tequila ? Why would you buy scotch ? So as far as liquors are needed, you can go for the 6 basic bottles : Bourbon, Scotch, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vodka. This will cover the basics. Remember you'll get about 15 shots of alcohol out of every bottle, you already able to make close to a hundred drinks out of those. That should cover at least next Saturday, right ? Next ? The liqueurs. Triple sec is a basic, used in margaritas, cosmos, you can't pass on this one. Same goes for the vermouth. At least one dry vermouth for martinis, the sweet vermouth is a bit out of fashion but hey, I won't judge your drink.
Other widely used bottles, expecially in shooters are peach schnapps and peppermint schnapps. Those will make any cocktail reaaalllyy tasty. To complete those, Kalhua and Bailey's. Kalhua and Bailey's are the founding fathers of shooters. Blow job(KB + Crown royal), Mud slide (KB + Vodka), Orgasm(KB+Amaretto), Screaming Orgasm(KB+Amaretto+Vodka), B-52(KB+Grand Marnier), Rattlesnake(KB+peppermint schnapps)... Just add any ingredient to Kalhua and Bailey's and you'll get a good shooter.
On top of those, you'll need some mixes.
Sweet and sour mix : (Lemon juice+Lime juice) + simple syrup. Used in Collins drinks, Margaritas ... If you're hosting a margarita night, you'll get about 10 drinks out of a liter of mix.
Pina colada mix : Half pineapple juice, half coconut cream. Used in Pina Coladas (duh...), Chi Chis, Mounds, and pretty much every variation you can imagine. Also very good as a virgin drink.
Juices and sodas : Stock up some 7up, coke, tonic water, soda, cranberry juice, orange juice, pineapple juice.
With just those, you'll be able to make a lot of different drinks, improvise, and it won't cost you much. After covering this basic set you can add to it, mixing it with different kind of base liquors, different schnapps flavors, etc. There's no limit.
Quick recap : Buy what you drink. No need to stock up on bottles you'll use only twice a year. Variety will come with time.
We now have a shaker full of what should be a good cocktail, nice alcohol, good liqueur, fresh mix... Where do we put it ? In the right glass of course. Getting a nice glass for the drink will go a loooooonngggg way on the presentation side.
Here are two margaritas in a tropical glass. I know margaritas should be served in shells, but come on. Those glasses costed me 1$ each. Looks like something you would pay 12$ for huh ? Imagine the same thing in a college party red cup ? Bleh. Bottom line is, spend a bit on glassware. Not much is needed to add a lot of effect to your cocktails. 6 tropical glasses (like the one in the picture) 6 highball glass, 6 collins glass, 6 shooters glass, 6 beverage glasses and 6 martini glasses will set you back maybe 30-40$, but will pay off in effect on the very first round you'll use them.
Final recap : We have our six basic liquors, some liqueurs, a shaker, mixes and some nice glasses. Time to send invites for a cocktail party Ho and if you're looking for a place to buy everything, check out : http://www.barproducts.com/ . I'm not affiliated in any way, but you can get everything you need from them.