Adding a bar cart to your home can help you unwind in style. But first you have to learn how to organize a bar cart to help you create the ambiance of enjoying a stiff drink at a nice bar.
Whether you’re entertaining or just looking forward to a post-work cocktail, read on for our expert tips on how to organize a bar cart that will make you proud!
How Do You Choose the Right Bar Cart?
If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to select a bar cart that fits the room size and suits your decor.
Whether you prefer wood or metal, mid-century modern or something whimsical, spend some time looking at a range of styles. After all, it’s the starting point of your at-home bar so don’t rush it!
New bar carts are available at many price points. Or you could go vintage or second-hand from a resale shop, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace (if you go the latter route, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to Facebook Marketplace on our blog).
What Do You Keep on a Bar Cart?
As important to the cart itself is the spirits you put on it. If there is a particular cocktail you love, make sure you’ve got the building blocks for it arrayed on your cart.
Otherwise, stock the essentials—vodka, gin, tequila, a bourbon or whiskey, vermouth, and bitters—so you have some flexibility for yourself and your guests.
(Of course, no matter how much you love a brand or bottle, be sure to check the height and depth and compare it to your cart measurements, so you’re not trying to store things on a shelf that just can’t accommodate them or prevent spillage.)
Since your bar cart will likely be kept out in the open, it’s good to know how long you’ve had your stash.
Joe Keeper of Bar Keeper, a shop that sells independent spirits and vintage barware in Los Angeles, says that “Typically spirits have a high enough ABV (Alcohol By Volume) to remain stable for a very long time.”
“Spirits don't age in the bottle, they ripen and become more mature. That said, vermouths are wine-based and demand refrigeration,” he explained. “They have a lower ABV and can go sour in a month or two.”
Keeper has a helpful tip: Make sure to write the date that you open the vermouth so you can remember how long it's been open.
“But old vermouth won’t make you sick, so don’t throw it out,” he shared. “I always use old vermouth to cook with, like cooking wine.”
To get that true cocktail bar experience, Jordan Catapano, co-owner of SoCal-based bartending service This Girl Walks into a Bar, says that “your home bar can mimic a brick & mortar establishment and have a selection of premium spirits in addition to well options.
“Real estate is limited at home, and as a host, you always want your guests to have the best,” she said. “Opt for a high-end vodka, tequila, bourbon, gin, and if there's room, an orange liqueur.”
While expensive spirits can add up, budget buyers will be glad to know that you don’t always have to shell out a ton of cash to have a quality drink.
In fact, Keeper notes that “the cost of spirits is never indicative of quality. As with many things, much of the cost is marketing. Costco makes some great spirits that often come from the same distilleries as well-known brands. I prefer smaller boutique brands, which are often less in cost and high in quality.”
Whiskey fan? Read up on how to store your favorite spirit here.
How Do You Organize Bar Tools?
With your spirits set, it’s time to layer in barware and glassware. With a cocktail shaker, mixing glass, strainer, bar spoon, and measuring tool (like a jigger), you can make many classic drinks. If you want to level up, consider adding a decanter, pitcher, muddling tool, and paring knife. If you love to entertain, you can also invest in a nice ice bucket to break out at parties. And don’t forget to add a corkscrew for the wine lovers!
When it comes to glassware, have a few options on hand: heavey-bottomed rocks glasses, tall highball glasses, and coupes, which are great for vintage drinks and Champagne cocktails.
If you like your bubbles to last, though, get narrow flutes for sparkling beverages.
How Do You Make Your Bar Cart Look Good?
One of the best things about your home bar cart is that you can truly make it your own! A bar cart is a great way to express your style and add some pizzazz to your gathering space.
“Your bar cart should reflect your personality, whether you'd describe yourself as serious, playful, casual, artistic, or structured,” Catapano says. “Consider selecting bottles with all the same color scheme, or brands that debuted during the same decade. Maybe you like funky designs or limited-edition bottles. If you have a favorite spirit with a story behind how it became your favorite, use those bottles.”
Visual variety is the key to a fun yet functional bar cart.
“Opt for different size, shape and textured bottles whenever possible,” she adds. “Choose angular, slopey shouldered, square, tall, and squat bottles. Adding a crystal decanter, a martini shaker, and a jar or vase of bar tools adds dimension and variety to the presentation. Paper straws, embroidered cocktail napkins, and a personalized flask is also a nice touch.”
Catapano also recommends using holidays and special occasions like Valentine's Day, July 4th, and Halloween as opportunities to get in the spirit and add some seasonal touches.
Want to take a Zoom happy hour to the next level? We’ve got tips for throwing virtual cocktail parties on our blog.
Once you’ve got the basics, enjoy experimenting with limited-edition products, unexpected flavorings and bitters, and garnishes.
Whatever you’re toasting, your newly organized bar cart is sure to become the life of the party. Cheers!