Peggy Olson, the "Mad Men" ad woman and a heroine for hard-drinking working gals everywhere, probably said it best: "You need three ingredients for a cocktail. Vodka and Mountain Dew is an emergency."
The point is, you can't add a shot of booze to kids' pop and call it an adult beverage. A real drink should be carefully crafted to look as good as it tastes-with a bright sprig of mint to open up the palate, or a colorful twist of lemon to tickle the tongue. The liquor's got a serious job to do, sure, but we don't have to sacrifice sophistication along the way. Which brings us to the garnish. That lime wedge may seem extraneous, but it's frequently the crucial ingredient standing between a true cocktail and an emergency soda.
The challenge for the home barman, of course, is that a good garnish can take time. Fortunately, a little preparation is all you need, along with a few tools to help speed up service. With the right set-up, you can mix proper drinks quickly without missing any of the fun at your next cocktail party.
DELUXE LEMON SQUEEZER
Fresh fruit juice is essential to a great cocktail. You wouldn't dream of drinking a gimlet made with bottled citrus, so why would you serve that to your guests? This easy squeezer, part of Target's Michael Graves line, will keep the juice flowing with little mess and no seeds.
BAMBU BAR BOARD
This stylish little cutting surface looks good on your bar without taking up extra space. Plus, your guests might be impressed that you're using environmentally friendly bamboo. Or they might be impressed if you could just get them a refill, thanks.
Generation Green, 6375 Sawmill Rd., Dublin; $10
My trusty wooden muddler works well enough, but an evening of old fashioneds can leave it stained a faint maraschino color. This stainless-steel model won't get dirty, and thanks to its impressive heft you can quickly power through handfuls of mint for that important second round of mojitos.
Sur La Table, Easton Town Center; $10
OLIVE & CHERRY SPOON
Tired of getting briny fingers fishing for olives? This clever spoon from Trudeau easily reaches the bottom of the jar, and its slots allow extra liquid to drain away. Plus, a hooked shape lets it rest on the edge of the jar, keeping the mess off your bar top.
Kitchen Collection, KitchenCollection.com; $5
It's tempting for home barmen to skip the twist-it's a pain peeling lemons all night. But thanks to this tool, stripping ribbons of rind is a snap. Hint: Prepare your twists in advance and hide your secret weapon. Your guests will think you sweated over a bamboo cutting board all day.
Williams-Sonoma, Polaris Fashion Place or Easton Town Center; $14
Prep work is the key to enjoying your party. You want to have the ingredients to your signature cocktails close at hand, and common garnishes all sliced up and ready to go, so you can quickly shake up drink orders and get back to your guests. A decorative serving dish will help keep the goods organized.
Crate & Barrel, Easton Town Center; $10