Jim Meehan knows his way around a well-made cocktail. He’s the managing partner of PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) and widely-considered a pioneer in the world of speakeasies. His handsome drinkery—concealed behind a phone booth in a hot dog shop—has been thriving in New York City’s East Village since 2007. Beyond PDT, he’s the author of The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy, which celebrates sips made famous from the bar. Cocktail connoisseurs consider him a God, but this congenial guy from the Midwest is just happy to share his secrets.
We tasked Meehan with giving us the tools to build a proper home bar—one that is sure to impress. Here’s what he came up with.
What spirits do you recommend starting with for your own home bar?
Pick your favorite cocktail—such as the Martini, Manhattan, or Margarita—and buy all the ingredients to make it. The next time you want to make cocktails at home, pick another drink, and do the same. After the fourth or fifth recipe, you’ll begin to have a sizable collection of bottles, and you’ll be able to start trying new recipes you’re less familiar with.
Bitters are big. Do we need them?
Start with a bottle of Angostura Bitters, and if you get bit by the cocktail bug, expand your collection to an orange bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters.
As far as mixers go, what should you always have on hand?
Buy 5-7 oz. bottles of club soda, tonic, ginger ale, and ginger beer, instead of big bottles or cans that will go flat. Depending on your favorite drinks, you could keep a cola, pink grapefruit soda, and diet offering around, too. I’d keep 4-6 bottles of each (refrigerated before service), in the event anyone wants a highball or fizzy drink. A bottle of Champagne, Prosecco or Cava is also nice to keep handy.
What citrus and garnishes do you recommend?
For garnishes, the primary fruits to keep around are lemons, limes and oranges; grapefruit is used less often. A jar of cocktail olives (stuffed or not depending on your preference) and cocktail cherries may be kept in your refrigerator. I prefer pitted Manzanilla olives (Goya) and Kirsch brandied cherries (Les Parisiennes). Always choose a few drinks you’re making for guests and stock your bar based on those recipes. Even professional bars don’t stock everything, like cucumbers; so don’t feel bad if you can’t make a drink because you don’t have all the ingredients.
Let’s talk glassware: If one is just starting out with a home bar, what kind of glasses do you recommend?
Glassware reflects the personality of the host—that’s why there are so many styles on the market. I think you should choose glasses that you find attractive: four to six champagne coupe glasses, Martini, highballs and rocks glasses are a good place to start. A lot of bars serve drinks in mugs, tea cups, and even plastic. Glassware is important, but the quality of the liquid you’re putting in them is more important, so make sure you’ve got that squared away before you put too much attention into the glasses.
What bar tools are necessary for a well-stocked home bar?
Necessary is relative when you’re talking about preparing cocktails. You can stir drinks with a chopstick, shake drinks in a Tupperware jar, strain drinks using a soup spoon, muddle with a rolling pin, or fine strain through a towel. With that said, it’s a whole lot more elegant—and easier—when you have bar tools made for mixing drinks. Cocktail Kingdom has the best selection of bar tools on the market: I’d browse through their offerings and build your kit over time.
Anything else that adds the entertaining experience?
Good music is huge! Make a playlist so that you don’t have to spend time mixing music and drinks when your guests are over. I’d write up a menu—with all of the ingredients in your recipes—for your guests to choose from as well. A menu not only gives people options, it limits their options, and this helps them focus on the important thing: the company.
Tom Cruise of Cocktail: The original mixologist or complete tool?
Tom in Cocktail was neither a mixologist or a tool… cocktails are a lot like fashion, and this movie just so happens to be totally out of style right now. The one thing to take from Tom Cruise was that making drinks is a show and it should be fun. If you’re having fun when you’re making drinks, chances are your guests will enjoy watching you make them drinks. If you look overwhelmed, or put off by the work, they’ll feel bad for you.
What’s on tap when you’re drinking at home?
I typically drink wine, beer or spirits on the rocks at home. My passion for cocktails has led me to appreciate their building blocks, and I like to sip them on their own to contemplate how to better mix them. When you make cocktails for a living, you tend to want something you understand less elementally.
Can you recommend a few recipes to make at home that are both impressive and easy to prepare?
2 oz. Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Martini Sweet Vermouth
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with three brandied cherries on a pick.
2 oz. El Tesoro Platinum Tequila
.75 oz. Cointreau
.75 oz. Lime Juice
.25 oz. Agave Syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice or a chilled coupe (optional salt rim). Garnish with a lime wedge.
1.25 oz. Beefeater Gin
1.25 oz. Campari
1.25 oz. Martini Sweet Vermouth
Stir over ice and strain into chilled coupe or over ice in a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with an orange twist.