Crafting the perfect margarita bar

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Set up a colorful and flavorful margarita bar for your next event. Everyone loves these tequila cocktails, so letting guests build their perfect drink is a great way to get the party started.

Colorful mexican drinks and appetizers on a vibrant tablecloth, including margaritas, tequila shots, and small bowls of salsa and ceviche.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Whether it’s taco Tuesday or a regular Friday night, the margarita is the old standby, always there to celebrate any occasion. With the balance of salt, sweet and sour, this standout tequila cocktail never fails.

Because of their popularity, margaritas are a great party drink. However, they can take a bit of time to prepare, whether they are served on the rocks or frozen, which makes them less ideal for parties with longer guest lists.  

You can share the margarita love with your friends more easily by setting up a simple margarita bar with all the accouterments. This brings the sophistication and variety of everyone’s favorite Mexican resort drink to your party without you having to spend the whole event shaking up drinks. 

Setting up your margarita bar

Be sure to choose a great location for your margarita bar. If you are already planning other interactive food stations, such as a nacho bar, set up the drink area nearby but far enough away that guests don’t get in each other’s way while they serve themselves. 

A bar cart, drinks table or section of countertop is a great place to set up your margarita bar. Be sure there is ample space for your ingredients and equipment. 

A glass of lime cocktail with ice and salt rim, garnished with a lime slice, surrounded by fresh limes and ingredients on a kitchen counter.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Margarita bar ingredients

Margaritas are simple cocktails that don’t have a lot of ingredients. Stock up on these essentials from the grocery store:

  • Quality tequila selections or flavored tequilas
  • A few flavors of margarita mix
  • Fresh lime wedges
  • Agave nectar or simple syrup
  • Triple sec or orange liqueur
  • Salt and sugar for rimming glasses
  • Ice cubes

Consider using place cards to label ingredients. You should also include a sign with directions so everyone knows what to do when they arrive at the drink station. 

Additionally, prepare bowls with margarita garnishes like extra lime wedges, sliced fruit, jalapeño slices and sprigs of fresh herbs, such as mint or basil. For rimming glasses, invest in a stacking margarita rimmer tray with layers of margarita salt, sugar and lime juice. You can also use shallow bowls or plates. 

A lime margarita in a blue striped martini glass next to a plate of nachos.
Photo credit: Pexels

Best tequila

One way to add variety is by offering a few types of tequila to your margarita bar. Tequila comes in a few types: 

  • Silver tequila: Also called blanco tequila, this clear, unaged tequila has a light and crisp flavor. It is the most common type of margaritas. 
  • Gold tequila: This amber-colored tequila is a blend of tequilas with added artificial coloring and flavoring. It can add a depth of flavor to some margarita recipes. 
  • Reposado tequila: Aged for two months in oak barrels, this golden-hued tequila has a unique taste that’s more nuanced than blanco tequila. It’s a great choice for margs because it brings those qualities into the drink recipe. 
  • Añejo tequila: Meaning aged in Spanish, añejo tequila has been aged for one to three years in oak barrels. Extra añejo tequila has been aged for more than three years. These two have deep, complex flavor profiles that are best enjoyed neat. 
  • Flavored tequila: You can also add flavored tequilas into the mix, such as spicy jalapeño tequila or pineapple tequila. They are usually made with silver tequila. 

Some people enjoy top-shelf margaritas, which are made with higher-quality ingredients. If you can afford to add a reposado tequila to your margarita bar, this is a great way to elevate any margarita. 

There’s also mezcal, which is another fun addition to a margarita bar. In fact, tequila is actually a type of mezcal, not the other way around. Tequila is only made from the Blue Weber agave plant, while mezcal can be made with other species in the agave plant family. 

Mezcal is made differently, too. Many mezcals have a smoky flavor because they are roasted underground with hot coals, whereas tequila uses modern steam-pressured ovens. 

A bartender pours a cocktail into a salt-rimmed glass garnished with a lemon slice, with bar background.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Margarita variations

The original margarita recipe contains tequila, lime juice and a sweetener. The sweetener is usually agave nectar, though simple syrup works too. Triple sec, a sweet orange liqueur, is sometimes added for depth of flavor that helps to cut the tart lime flavor. 

For a smaller party, you don’t need to offer more than just the classic margarita. But adding flavors and mixing up ingredients is a great way to provide variety and a better experience for your guests. 

You can also offer a few types of flavored margarita mix so that people can prepare their perfect margarita. While you can certainly make a great margarita mix with fresh ingredients, it may be simpler to buy a few bottles of flavored mixers for your event. They usually come in a few flavors: 

  • Strawberry 
  • Pineapple
  • Grapefruit
  • Mango 
  • Watermelon 

“When I build a margarita bar for a party, I always have options for our sober friends as well, like a selection of fresh juices, simple syrup, seltzer or tonic water, fun garnishes and flavored salts and sugars.” 

— Gen La Rocca, Two Cloves Kitchen 
A hand squeezing a lemon over a green cocktail in a martini glass, with cocktail-making ingredients and tools in the background.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Non-alcoholic options

It’s a good idea to have a non-alcoholic option for anyone who isn’t drinking. A virgin margarita is just as delicious as the real thing but without the booze. 

While you can omit the alcohol and sip on plain margarita mix, there’s another option. Non-alcoholic spirits are mixers that are designed to emulate the flavors of certain alcohols. 

There are a number of zero-proof spirits on the market that mimic the flavors of tequila and mezcal. Stock up on a bottle for your margarita bar for guests to try. 

Next time you plan a taco night or Cinco de Mayo fiesta, consider adding a margarita bar to your menu. It will create a memorable experience for your guests, who will love building their own drinks. 

Based in Charlotte, N.C., Susannah Brinkley Henry is the cocktail content creator behind the blog Feast + West. Her work has been featured in Southern Living, Oprah Daily, Buzzfeed, and more. In 2019, her website was a finalist in the Saveur Blog Awards for Best Entertaining Blog. As a professional graphic designer, photographer, writer and recipe developer, Susannah helps home bartenders and drink enthusiasts level up their cocktail skills. 

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