Party at my house

Local bartenders serve up tips for at-home mixology

I moved last weekend.

While I was unpacking,

I realized I don’t have much of a bar. It consists of a table jury-rigged from some spare Ikea parts, some wine and beer left over from a party, some triple sec, vermouth, a little vodka and a bunch of coasters I collected on some vacations while I was in college.

Since I live alone, I’m not too concerned about recreating a speakeasy in my apartment, but if I ever want to spontaneously entertain anybody, I better take into account some of the tips offered by a few local bartenders: Diego Gamba, from Bombay Bar and Grill, Tom Rackowski of Paddy’s Cocktail Lounge, and John Pierce, who used to tend bar at Café Fiore.

Gamba, who was voted the top bartender in the VC Reporter’s 2006 Best of Ventura County contest, also teaches a class on bartending at Ventura College with two colleagues from Bombay.

Anyone who wants to entertain at home, Gamba said, should have a shaker, tequila and vodka. Ice is crucial.

“It should be good, fresh ice,” he said. “Make your own ice or use distilled water. Otherwise it gets some flavoring.”

Rackowski said every bar should have all the basic liquors: vodka, rum, tequila, bourbon, whisky and perhaps some brandy. He said that a common mistake among hosts is not having mixers like lemon-lime soda, Coke, Diet Coke, tonic, soda water and cranberry, pineapple and orange juices.

“If you cover the basics there shouldn’t be any problem,” he said. “You can go anywhere from a vodka cranberry to a Long Island Ice Tea.”

Top shelf liquors aren’t necessary if you’re going to be mixing with juice or flavored soda, Rackowski said, but avoid getting cheap vodka or gin for your martinis.

Now that it’s summertime, good citrus is also important.

When he entertains at home, Gamba uses organic fruit because the rinds are often left in drinks. At the bar, he said, staff is sure to wash every piece of fruit to get rid of any pesticides or anything that could contaminate the drink.

Good equipment is important too. In addition to a shaker, chilling glasses in the freezer before serving a martini can help, as can an insulated wine bucket to keep white wines at a low temperature. With mojitos quite popular right now (see “Mumus & Miami,” Straight up, 6/28/07) Gamba also said a muddler for the mint is crucial.

Pierce agreed, and said they also help with other drinks that use herbs, sugar, and juice.

“The muddler is aggressively worked through this like a mortar and pestle to form a thick, paste-like substance to which the alcohol is added (before the ice, so the sugar can fully dissolve — sugar doesn\’t dissolve in cold liquids),” Pierce said.

He said a Boston strainer — which consists of a large metal cone base fitted with a pint glass on top — to shake, strain and chill drinks is important. If you don’t go that far, get a wire strainer for the base to keep ice from spilling into a glass.

Jiggers, which evenly measure alcohol, can help multiple ingredient drinks, but with time, Pierce said, you can learn to eyeball the ingredients.

For wine, get a server’s key, which looks like a pocket knife with a corkscrew and a small blade.

“Avoid the kind that have wings which ride up the sides when the cork screw is inserted as they have a tendency to chew the cork,” Pierce said. “Insert the tip of the corkscrew just slightly off center and begin to twist slowly. The natural twists of the corkscrew should cause it to align to the center once you are ‘in’ and you should stop about one turn before the end of the corkscrew.”

But don’t get too complicated, Pierce said. A lot of the advice in books like “Mr. Boston’s” is superfluous for those who just want a simple home bar.

“Simple syrup (a solution of sugar and water) is out of vogue for the most part, and unless your friends come from old money or spend a lot of time reclining in country clubs, you can dispense with a lot of the specialized glassware like Collins glasses — the tall thin glass used to serve a Tom Collins,” Pierce said.

Gamba offered another important tip that had less to do with supplies than technique.

Use drink recipes, he said, but remember to customize them to your own tastes or those of your guests.

“You just have to try making it and tasting it and going with what [your guests] like,” he said.