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How to stock a bar for your holiday party

Plan the perfect party

Who has time to make canapés and polish crystal stemware? Let's keep hosting as easy as possible.

IF YOU'RE PINCHING FOR PENNIES...Less is more, says Maya Kalman, party planner and president of Swank Productions. A basic bar setup would include beer, vodka, bourbon, rum, tequila, gin, and brandy, but guests actually like fewer options. "Most people prefer having premade mixed drinks and will gladly drink whatever is in front of them," she says. "You'll save a lot of money by making just a couple of fun cocktails and serving that to guests," adds Dave Wondrich, drink expert and author of Imbibe. His affordable cocktail suggestion? Manhattans, made with 2 parts rye, 1 part red vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters (pour it in a jug in advance, and shake well with crushed ice before serving). Or, make one of your cocktails a seasonal drink to get things in the holiday spirit. "Winter cordials like Kahlúa or Frangelico work well," says Soraya Jollon, party planner extraordinaire. Trade in champagne for sparkling wine to cut costs, or go for artisanal beers. "They give you lots of flavor bang for the buck, and taste great with beer-friendly foods like fondue or sausages," says Karen Page, co-author of What to Drink with What You Eat. Another good tip if you can't afford top shelf: Disguise the brand of an inexpensive liquor by pouring it into a funky bottle or pitcher, says Kalman. "Everything tastes better when it's beautiful, and the same goes with drinks."

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