Building a Killer Wedding Bar

wedding drinks

Building a Killer Wedding Bar (cont.)

Limit Your Hard-Alcohol Offerings

Rather than presenting your guests with everything from Cosmos to margaritas, focus on a few well-made drinks. Doing so cuts costs and makes the wedding more memorable. “[The bride and groom] are often afraid they’re going to leave people out, but that’s never been the case,” says Jon Gasparini, co-owner of the San Francisco bars Rye, Rosewood, and 15 Romolo. “People are generally pleased to have the decision made for them, and they end up remembering the wedding more.”

When he caters weddings with his mobile bar service Rye on the Road, Gasparini likes to serve a version of the Manhattan made with maraschino liqueur and a brandied cherry, alongside a lighter vodka-based drink with freshly muddled herbs or fruit. He holds cocktail tastings, in the fashion of wedding-cake makers, for prospective brides and grooms. But his services don’t come cheap: Getting high-end bartending from an outfit like Rye will run you at least $4,000 for a 150-person wedding.

If you’re working with a traditional caterer, you can be specific about what types of cocktails you want served and exactly how you want them made. Some couples choose drinks that match their wedding colors (although CHOW agrees with Death & Co co-owner David Kaplan that it’s better to do cocktails with natural products, such as red drinks with Campari or pomegranate molasses). Keep in mind that if you want something like a Mojito that requires on-site muddling, your caterer may need to hire an extra bartender, which will cost you.

Buy Good Stuff

If you’re doing cocktails at your wedding, don’t try to cut corners by offering cheap tequila or generic vodka. “People do order vodka by name brand, and you definitely don’t want some cheap-label vodka sitting there at the bar,” says Melons’ Sloan. Rather, offer fewer options and better quality.

Go with Vodka

Many CHOW staffers don’t like vodka much, and some serious drinkers will tell you they think it’s kind of lame. But a lot of people do like it, and it’s easy to mix. So if you want to offer a variety of drinks, vodka is your best bet. With it you can serve martinis (if you’re purchasing the booze yourself, don’t forget to buy vermouth), vodka tonics, vodka sodas, Cosmos (don’t forget the orange liqueur), and more.

Serve DIY Cocktails

This method is not for the faint of heart, and you should definitely check with your venue and caterer first to confirm that they allow it. But one way to cut costs and get cute is to whip up the cocktails yourself beforehand and offer them for self-serve at the bar. Death & Co’s Kaplan recommends mixing a giant container of sangría, Manhattans, or even Mojitos before the wedding, then letting guests dole out the drinks over ice, like an old-timey punch service. In the case of Mojitos, guests would need to top off their glasses with club soda, which would go flat if you added it ahead of time. (Death & Co offers punch-service catering, too, if you’d rather not muddle 25 pounds of mint before the most important day of your life.)

Limit the Cocktail Hours

Sloan strongly discourages serving any alcohol, even champagne, before the ceremony starts. “It can be hard to round people up and get things to start on time, and then you’re cutting into your reception, because the venue wants you out at a certain hour,” he says. If you feel you must offer a little something, serve wine, beer, and champagne rather than the entire range of booze you’ll have later. If your guests get drunk early on, you run the risk that they’ll trap you in “I love you, man!”s at the receiving line and you’ll never get to eat dinner. Keep the postceremony cocktail hour to an actual hour. All of this will save you money and ensure that things run smoothly. Don’t worry—your guests will still get drunk and have fun at your wedding.