How to Actually Put Together a Sleek (But Useful) Bar Cart

published Nov 27, 2018
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

It seems like everyone has a bar cart nowadays, but do you actually use yours efficiently? Whether yours is cluttered with booze bottles that are practically full, serves as a catchall for your drinkware, or is currently serving as your wine rack because you literally drink nothing else—here’s how to make your bar cart beautiful and functional.

1. Create a Focus.

Just like any element of decor, you need to know what purpose your bar cart is serving. Do you regularly host people over for drinks? Or does your cart serve as more of an end table with a few bottles of booze? If you’re often hosting, it makes sense to have the alcohol (and accouterments) be the primary players. If not, don’t sweat it. You can create a highly functional cart that also shows off your cute copperware, signage, and that anniversary bottle of wine from the day you were married. Remember, a cart doesn’t need to be overflowing for it to be a good bar cart.

2. Pare Down Your Selection and Know How to Store Everything

That said, make sure you’re highlighting the stuff you actually use or want to put on display. Not every bottle of booze you own needs to live on the bar cart. In fact, if you don’t have somewhere on your cart (like built-ins or a separate wine rack) to store your wine bottles horizontally, you are doing yourself (and your wine) a disservice.

For all still wines (i.e. not sparkling), the proper way to store them is out of direct sunlight and on their side, so that the cork is always touching the wine (if left upright for long periods of time, you run the risk of the cork drying up and shrinking, thus letting air in to spoil the wine). The only exception is if they have a screw cap. Those, you can store upright as air won’t interact with wine until you open it. If you’re regularly making cocktails, have that liquor readily available, then, when your guests are headed over just add the other items you’ll need—mixers or limes, perhaps.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Add in More Useful Items

Keep a couple bottles of club soda or tonic, a jigger, or other items you’ll actually need to make your favorite drinks on the cart. It doesn’t make sense to go searching for them every single time you host or make a drink. Mostly serve wine to guests? Add a cute holder of wine charms (like these ones for $25) to your cart so guests don’t get their glasses confused.

4. Elevate Your Cart with Items That are Both Under-Utilized (But Shouldn’t Be) and Beautiful

Liqueurs, like St. Germain and Grand Marnier, are often the difference between a standard cocktail and something special. Add St Germain to champagne for the easiest “cocktail” you’ll ever make. Add Grand Marnier to cranberry juice and fresh lime for a simple, refreshing Grand Cran. Triple sec (a.k.a. orange liqueur, like Cointreau) is a must for margaritas. Have one (we recommend definitely having triple sec on hand) for a better cocktail-making station.

5. When in Doubt, Keep it Simple

The less cluttered your bar cart, the better it tends to look. Don’t know how to start stocking your cart? We’ve created a little guide…

For the bare bones bar cart:

One bottle of red wine: Saldo by Prisoner Wine Company is a delicious, rich red wine with notes of cherry and black pepper that complements pretty much any meal. (Plus the label maker-inspired label is a good one.)

One bottle of white wine: Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is not only a favorite among many, but it’s not too expensive and features a screw cap (perfect for storing upright!).

One bottle of sparkling: Meiomi Sparkling from California is awesome, with notes of green apple, pears, and honey.

One bottle of whiskey or bourbon: You can’t go wrong with Maker’s Mark whisky. Try Cask Strength for a little more heat and excellent taste.

One bottle of vodka or gin: Depending on your taste, you’ll want a vodka or gin that will be easy to mix for quick, impromptu get-togethers. For gin, Hendrick’s is perfect for gin and tonics with its cucumber and rose notes, while Grey Goose is the go-to for vodka drinkers for a reason.

One bottle of tequila: You can’t go wrong with Patron. You just can’t.

One bottle of triple sec AKA orange liqueur: Cointreau is your (and your bar cart’s) new best friend.

For the nightcap lover, add:

A really good bourbon or scotch that’s perfect on the rocks or neat: Hudson Baby Bourbon is a good one to have on your cart for Bourbon lovers. Bulleit is also A+, and Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is particularly good for those who are new to drinking Bourbon neat as it doesn’t pack as much of a punch (in a good way).

The ingredients for a Negroni or Boulevardier: A Negroni is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. A Boulevardier swaps out the gin for rye whiskey or bourbon. So, essentially, you’ll want to add a sweet vermouth and Campari to your cart.

For the gracious host, add:

Mezcal: If you haven’t had it, think of it like tequila’s smokin’ hot cousin. (Get it? Because it’s smoky in flavor… I’ll see myself out.) Need a rec? Montelobos Mezcal. Enough said.

A cool rum: Don Papa Rum is a small-batch rum that is made in the Philippines. And it’s delicious. (Plus the bottle is pretty cool.)

A bottle of sparkling rosé: Moët Rosé Impérial can’t be beat. It’s a surefire win among a varied crowd.

For the conversationalist, add:

A wine that sparks some thoughts: Embrazen wine features trailblazing women on their labels, which then come to life through an app to tell their story. It’s definitely good for a lively discussion.

To finish it off:

A shaker set to keep things going: This one from Hayneedle is chic, useful (obviously), and not too expensive.

A great wine stopper: A pretty and practical one from Anthropologie.

A chic decanter: You can’t beat this one from Williams-Sonoma.