It used to be that the mark of a well-appointed home was its bar, stocked with a shiny cocktail shaker or two, an ice bucket glistening with condensation, and an array of hi-ball and martini glasses that would make a restaurant-supply salesman weep with joy. Happily, that same-old-used-to-be is still with us, and more popular than ever, as millions are rediscovering the sublime pleasures of sipping a frosty cocktail, prepared from scratch, in the comfort of their homes.
The key ingredients of a home bar are those aforementioned shakers, that bucket, and the glasses, as well as bar tools such as shot glasses or jiggers, stirrers or bar spoons, strainers, ice tongs, corkscrews, bottle openers, a small cutting board, a paring knife, and swizzle sticks (glass or plastic). Paper umbrellas can add a tropical touch to certain types of rum-based drinks, but are generally looked upon with disdain by the bourbon- or scotch-only crowds.
Also essential (if anything having to do with drinking alcohol for recreational purposes can be described as “essential”) is the bar itself. It does not have to be a stand-alone model, although molded-plywood bars shaped like the prows of small yachts and varnished bamboo bars in Tiki themes have been going in and out of style since the 1950s. The important thing is that one devote at least a portion of one’s home to the mixing of drinks—pushing aside your children’s lunch boxes or bowls of fresh fruit to make way for martinis simply will not do.
Shakers take two basic forms—those with two parts and those with more. The simplest two-piece cocktail shaker is the Boston shaker, which consists of a standard pint glass and a slighter larger stainless-steel vessel of roughly the same shape, resembling a canister a soda jerk might insert into a milkshake machine. Typically, the ingredients, including ice, are poured and scooped into the metal vessel, which is then covered by the glass. Importantly, the glass is always positioned at an angle to create a seal and make it easy to separate the two halves, and while the whole apparatus is designed to be shaken briskly, a good bartender knows not to do so endlessly, lest the ice melt too much and dilute the drink. Because Boston shakers lack a strainer, the drink must be strained by hand when it is poured from the metal container into an awaiting, chilled glass.
The cobbler shaker takes its name from an English mixed drink that frankly sounds dreadful (sherry, lemon juice, sugar) and features a built-in strainer as well as a cap—depending on its size, the cap can also be used to measure shots. Some Cobbler-style shakers are made entirely of metal, be it stainless steel, aluminum, chrome, or silverplate, while others feature a small, metal, domed lid that’s pierced by a narrow spout, with a glass body below. Popular during the Depression, the glass parts of these shakers in various colors and designs (from pink elephants to multicolored stripes) were manufactured by Hazel Atlas, Imperial, and Heisey, among others.
Metal shakers that are tall and cylindrical are often called skyscrapers, although tall shakers with glass bases are also known by this term. Other cocktail shakers resemble lighthouses, zeppelins balanced on their tail fins, golf bags, and a woman’s calf, ankle, and foot strapped to a high-heel base.
Some of the most beautiful shakers were designed during the Art Deco era. In 1935, Danish modern designer Folke Arstrom re-imagined the cocktail shaker as a streamlined Thermos in nickel- and silver-plated brass. A couple of years later, in 1937, industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes conceived his chrome-plated “Manhattan” cocktail set for Revere—that alcohol accessory is now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, among other institutions. And in the 1950s, Mid-Century Modern designer Jens Quistgaard, working for the popular housewares firm Dansk, brought his modernist Scandinavian eye to the lowly ice bucket, fashioning a handled vessel of plastic-lined teak in a sophisticated update of Japanese ceramics from the 18th and 19th centuries.