Home Bar Tips From Bourbon Steak Head Bartender Duane Sylvestre

The barman built a dream drink-mixing station in his basement. He offers us a look at it, and some advice.

Duane Sylvestre mixes it up in his basement bar. Photographs by Dakota Fine.

For those of us who dream of one day building a tricked-out wet bar in our own home, Duane Sylvestre is a source of considerable inspiration. The Bourbon Steak head bartender has built a fully equipped mixology lab in his finished basement, complete with two fridges, a drainage system, a well, an ice machine, refrigerated wine storage, and a kegerator. And he didn’t even spend very much to do it. Here are his tips for scoring the home bar of your dreams.

Duane Sylvestre's Home Bar

1) Have a plan.

When it came time for Sylvestre to build his bar, there was one aspect of which he was certain. “The first thing I wanted was a floor drain,” he says—an essential detail if you don’t want to spend parties worrying about what gets spilled on the floor. Because his bar was located next to a full basement bathroom with a water line, he was able to put in a drain and a sink.

2) Chill out.

Thanks to his experience working behind the bar at private parties, Sylvestre knew that in most home bars, “ice is always a problem.” Installing an ice machine was a top priority.


3) Hunt for bargains.

Rather than pay top dollar for all that equipment, Sylvestre scoured the “graveyard” at Beltsville Restaurant Equipment and Supply in Beltsville, Maryland, where he found his sinks. He purchased the refrigerators during a back-to-school sale at Home Depot. Best Buy only charged him half for the kegerator, due to a dent in the back that no one will ever see.

Duane Sylvestre's Home Bar

4) Stock smart.

“You gotta have vodka,” said Sylvestre, when asked about which bottles were essential to home bars. “For my bar, the first bottle I would go for is rum, because I’m from Trinidad.” He’s equally orthodox about Angostura bitters (which are made in Trinidad)—there must have been 20 bottles behind his bar when we visited. “Gin, dry and sweet vermouth, rye whiskey, some sort of blended whiskey—Irish or Canadian—they’re crowd pleasers. Tequila; you gotta have a bottle. Always 100 percent agave. You gotta have beer. You gotta have wine.”

5) Keep tools on hand.

“You gotta have a shaker set. I like the Boston shaker because that’s what I use at work. The cobbler shaker is okay, too. A strainer—definitely the Hawthorne. If you’re into the final product, you’ll also want to get a fine mesh tea strainer.” Jiggers, muddlers, bar spoons, swizzle sticks, and a collection of classic cocktail books were also in ample supply at Sylvestre’s bar.