Rock Your Holiday Bar This Festive Party Season!

The festive season is fast approaching!  The first little hint of fall is in the air.  The leaves are beginning to change colours and it’s time to get out the cozy sweaters and look forward to the winter entertaining season.  The busy holiday season will sneak up on us before we know it!  Everyone looks forward to opportunities for family festivities, business cocktail events, parties and good times with friends and family alike, whether casual or more formal.

Party food, hors d’oeuvres, etc. are important, but let’s face it – the real star of a holiday party is the bar!  This is where everyone heads straight to upon arriving and seems to be the place where people congregate.  So if you are planning a holiday party, while you do need to give attention to the menu, make sure that you also give thought to the bar instead of having it as merely an afterthought to the food.

We spend so much time planning the perfect menu – and that’s great!  It’s very important to make sure that there are adequate amounts of food on hand when you are planning to serve alcoholic beverages as well as having non-alcoholic choices available.  But let’s just take the focus off the food for a moment and plan a memorable party experience centred on the bar.

Here are a few great ideas to host a “knock your socks off” holiday bar and some tips to make the planning and execution stress free.

Centre your holiday party theme on the bar.  Here are a few suggestions:

“The Red Bar” features an assortment of all red drinks:  Caesars, cosmopolitans – served from a tall glass florists’ cylinder, jello shooters lined up on the bar, etc. You can take the red bar theme a little further to create a “Mistletoe Bar” – decorate the bar with mistletoe balls – hang mistletoe above the centre of the bar – (you can guess what happens here!) “Snowman Bar” (serve blue and white drinks maybe?)  “Rustic Holiday Bar” – a little evergreen or holly boughs to decorate the bar, drinks served in mason jars; “Santa’s Bar” another variation – how about some candy canes and some peppermint martinis?  Don’t forget some candles for the bar so you can dim the lights and have a lovely ambience.  Clear glass containers with tea lights work best.  Remember, a little décor goes a long way!  You still need work space on the bar!

One central “themed” drink makes life easy for the guest.  Make up a punch bowl or large pitcher at a time or serve it in a glass lemonade server with spout.  This is also a great way to serve a non-alcoholic beverage so there is always an option readily available to your guests.  Now that you have a theme and bar “menu” in mind, don’t forget planning the basics!


Use a folding 6 or 8’ table for your bar.  To raise it to bar height, try this simple caterer’s trick!  At the hardware store, buy a length of 3” diameter black PVC plumbing pipe and cut it into four 16” lengths.  Slip one onto each leg of the table and voila!  You have a bar-height serving table.  Cover the bar with an oversized table linen.  Red, black or green velvet would be great.  Check your local rental company for options.

While you are at it, rent glasses…..its ok to use disposable glasses but there is nothing like using real glasses to make your guests feel extra special.  The rental company will take them back dirty (just drain any liquids) so no washing up glasses after the party for you!  You should plan on renting at least 3 glasses per guest.  People will lose track of their drink and need another glass!  Rental glasses cost between .35 and .50 each.  Well worth the cost, I think!  If you do use real china and glasses at your party it is highly recommended that you hire one or two people to clear away dirty plates and glasses during the party.  A bartender makes life easier too!  Your local catering company may be able to supply bartenders and waiters for your party or servers may be available from a staffing agency in your area.

Make sure to have plenty of ice in two large coolers (hide them under the bar).  Use one cooler to chill beer and white wine.  Use the other for a fresh supply of ice for guest’s glasses.  Keep an ice bucket with a scoop on the bar so guests can self serve.

Have on hand shot glasses, martini shakers, and swizzle sticks (check your local party store for some great selections!) to make mixing and serving drinks easier.

Garnish and Bar Snacks: 

Keep a small bowl of spiced nuts, pretzels or chips on the bar so guests can nibble while getting their drinks.  Display a few small glass containers (wide drink glasses or glass cubes) with ready-to-use garnishes such as lemon and lime wedges, maraschino cherries, olives, celery stalks, etc..

Do ahead!  You can make decorative or flavoured ice cubes!  Crazy ice cube trays are available at your local dollar store or party shop!  You can make funky ice cubes in advance, store them in bags in the freezer until ready to serve.  Add a mint leaf, blueberry, lemon zest or edible flower petals to the ice cube tray before filling with water and freezing for a decorative spin in your glass!

How much alcohol should you buy?  You need to calculate at least one drink (including alcoholic, non alcoholic, coffee, water, etc) for every hour for each guest.  If your party is four hours (8:00 – 12:00) you will need at least 3 alcoholic beverages and one non alcoholic drink per person on average.

For a standard bar for 50 guests here is a suggestion:

  • Beer: 3 cases
  • Rye: 1 liter
  • Light rum: 1 litre
  • Vodka: 3 litres
  • Red wine: 12
  • White wine: 18

If you are serving a themed drink or martinis you will also need to supply the necessary ingredients (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) according to the classic recipe required to make the drink.  You can go on line for complete recipes for all types of cocktails.

So “cheers” to a fun and funky bar that will be a wow “centrepiece” for your holiday party this year!