In Defense of Bar Carts

Bar carts have come in and out of fashion as quickly as skinny jeans. Touted as the sorority version of decorating with alcohol, a step up from lining the tops of cabinets with empty Jager + Jack bottles. It's true that they're not for everyone, but for those who love hosting, they can be a useful investment when used correctly. (Hint: if it's styled like one you'd find on Pinterest, it's probably not functional.) As the holidays approach, you may be thinking about getting a bar cart, so here's a few things to consider.

A Waste of Space?

Frequently seen as more decorative than functional, a good bar cart provides attractive storage, as well as place to actually make and serve cocktails. Recently, the bar cart trend is presented as an over-styled, too over-crowded to be practical IKEA style cart, but not every home needs a dedicated bar cart. In a pinch, an end table or part of a buffet will do just fine. If you are willing to make the investment for a dedicated piece, there's a few different things to consider.

A wheeled bar cart makes it easy to reposition and restock the cart. This wheeled style of bar cart was particularly popular in the 50's and 60's (think Mad Men) and were useful for prepping refreshments in the kitchen and then wheeling them out to the entertaining areas. A lot of these are styled with every inch of surface covered in glassware, bottles, and flowers- which is not ideal for functionality. Store your glasses elsewhere when not in use with this style.

If you're looking for something less trendy and a bit more mature, try a wood furniture piece, like the West Wine Cabinet (one of my personal favorites). These are not only beautiful, lasting pieces of furniture, but they have an added benefit: cabinet space for glasses. Why is this important? So your glasses don't get dusty while not in use. Dust is one of the worst offenders when it comes to bar carts; when everything is out on display all the time, dust will settle over everything.

Back to Basics

One of the most common mistakes people make when styling bar carts is overcrowding. While you can stock a full bar with every liquor under the sun, I prefer to go with just a few basics myself, or even just enough for one or two dedicated cocktails. Consider keeping just one of your preferred dark spirits (whiskey, rum, anejo tequila), and one clear spirit (vodka, gin, blanco tequila), a bottle of your preferred vermouth and/or triple sec, and of course, bitters. Other ingredients you can stock are seltzer, simple syrup, lemons and limes, olives, and/or cocktail cherries. You'd be surprised the variety of drinks you can make with just one or two liquors, a mixer or two, and flavorful garnish. 

You can't have a drink without a glass. What glassware you may need depends on the kind of drink you're making. Stemless wine glasses are incredibly versatile, and while non-traditional for drinks like the old fashioned, can be used for both cocktails served on the rocks and, of course, wine. Double Old Fashioned glasses and Highball glasses are also great options. For those who like their cocktails served straight up, a coupe glass is great for serving manhattans, martinis, as well as bubbly. If you have a trolley style bar cart, store your glasses elsewhere, and only get them out once the cart is in use serving you and your guests. 

Other necessities include a cocktail shaker, bottle opener, jigger, ice bucket + tongs, and a bar spoon. I recommend investing in higher end barware that is multifunctional and pretty enough to leave on display if you so choose. If you're having a party, I recommend pre-juicing lemons + limes, as well as prepping any garnishes for easy + accessible cocktail making. Other things that can be good to keep on hand are cocktail napkins and a towel. Spills happen, and it's good to be prepared.

Keep It Simple

The key to creating an elegant and functional bar cart or cabinet is in the quality of the items you stock, not the quantity. Opt for linen cocktail napkins, wood handled corkscrews, or a gold-toned jigger. The beauty is in the detail. The true purpose of the bar cart is to be a place to actually make and serve cocktails, so the number one thing to remember is to leave an open workspace.

If you have a large, dedicated cabinet (or you're one of the few that has a full bar) with plenty of space, you may have room to keep a large variety of spirits, mixers, and garnishes. If your cart is on the smaller side, I highly recommend planning a drink menu ahead of time, and editing your options to just the necessary glassware + ingredients (leave the cocktail cherries in the fridge if you're not making Manhattans).

Most importantly, have fun with it! Bar carts came about as a tool to help entertain and serve friends + family, and can be just as easily used to serve desserts or afternoon tea. If you want to elevate your hosting game this holiday season, consider investing in a quality bar cart or cabinet.

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