How to Properly Stock a Bar Cart

The essentials no libation station should be without.

photography by MICHAEL WILTBANK VIA DOMINO


A well-stocked home bar is a grown-up rite of passage, signaling an end to the days of serving guests vodka that’s been in the back of your freezer for years or a random bottle of wine that you got as a gift—both of which would likely have been sipped out of mismatched glassware or worse, Solo cups.

But if a full-scale libation station doesn’t fit in your current residence, does that mean you’re not a real adult? Of course not! A bar cart (whether you buy or DIY) is the perfect space-saving solution—not to mention it gives any room that sophisticated, soirée-ready feel.

Before you go wild tricking out your tipple trolley, keep in mind that you’re working with limited space. That said, whether you like your cocktails shaken or stirred, there are a few staples no bar cart should be without. Of, course you’ll want some glasses, mixology tools, and booze, but what exactly constitutes an essential? What’s a must-buy and what can you do without?

We asked design-savvy bloggers to share their suggestions for creating the bar cart of your dreams. Consider this your crash course in barware basics 101.

 

photography by WILLIAM SONOMA


Tools
When it comes to crafting cocktails, you can have all the alcohol and mixers on the planet, but if you don’t have the right tools for the task, how are you supposed to properly execute the recipe? Every bar cart needs a jigger, strainer, bottle opener, stirrer, corkscrew, shaker, ice bucket, and tongs. Sometimes these items can look a little cluttered, so Brittni Mehlhoff of Paper & Stitch recommends keeping them in a chic container or purchasing a set with a stand, which keeps your cart organized and your tools accessible.  

  • Jigger: A jigger is a mixologist’s tool of choice for precision measuring and pouring. And if it’s double-sided, even better.Muddler: A muddler releases flavorful juices and oils. Look for a dual-sided model—either wood or metal works—with pointed teeth for crushing and a smooth for herbs.  
  • Shaker: Most specialty cocktails require a shaker. Make a statement with a copper, gold, or ornamented option, or buy a basic stainless steel shaker and give it a DIY upgrade.
  • Strainer: Look for a dishwasher-safe strainer that fits inside your shaker to strain cocktails directly into glassware.  
  • Stirrer: Because not all drinks are shaken...a long-handled, bar spoon gently stirs ingredients together in a glasses and pitchers. Love fancy layered cocktails? Choose one with a spiral handle.
  • Corkscrew/Bottle opener: Save space on your cart by buying a corkscrew with built-in foil knife and bottle opener.
  • Ice bucket: Essential for housing, well ice, but when not in use, a bucket can serve as a home for your tools. 
  • Tongs: Skip the ice scoop. Tongs allow you to select individual ice cubes—including specialty shapes, like spheres and diamonds.

photography by ANTHROPOLOGIE


Glassware
A top notch tipple should be sipped out of something equally as special. But glasses are not one size fits all. Different drinks are designed to be served in different manners of glassware.

  • Highball glasses: Go classic or statement-making with an ombre fade and gold rim.
  • Lowball glasses: Also known as Old Fashioned or rocks glasses.
  • Martini glasses: Whether you like it dry or dirty, martini glasses are non-negotiable.
  • Wine glasses: In most cases, a standard set will do. But if you’re a connoisseur of a full-bodied Malbec or Cabernet, consider investing in separate glasses for red and white wine.
  • Champagne flutes: A gilded flute is an elegant way to sip bubbles. Or go old-school with coupes.
  • Decanter: This is great for booze that links to breath. Pro tip: If your favorite spirits don’t come in pretty bottles, you can pour them into decanters for a more cohesive and uncluttered look. A little DIY vinyl label or clay tag will help you tell them apart.  
Alcohol
Top-shelf bottles of vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, and vermouth will allow you to craft a wide range of cocktails—not to mention look beautiful atop your bar.
  • Vodka: This neutral grain spirit is a must for making everything from Moscow Mules to Bloody Marys.
  • Gin: Because what’s better than a G&T or a classic martini? You’ll need gin for both.  
  • Tequila: Distilled from the blue agave plant, tequila can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in a classic margarita.
  • Whiskey: You’ll definitely want a bottle (or two) of whiskey, but there are tons of different types—rye, scotch, bourbon, etc.—so what you choose will depend on personal preference.  
  • Rum: This sugarcane-derived spirit is a requisite in tropical tipples, like daiquiris and mojitos.
  • Vermouth: You’ll find this aromatized, fortified wine in both sweet and dry varietals. Grab one of each.  

photography by LAUREN EDITH ANDERSON VIA DOMINO


Mixers
Because you need something to mix with your booze... “It’s best to stick to a few mixers and get a few bottles of each to arrange in rows. Pretty packaging is key. Look for artisan tonic, soda, juice, syrups, and bitters at specialty shops, as they tend to have some very tasty and modern-looking mixers,” says Kara Whitten, blogger behind A Kailo Chic Life.

  • Juice: When it comes to juice, fresh is best. Ok, so this technically isn’t something you’ll keep on your cart at all time (as it needs to stay chilled), but you should have orange, grapefruit, and cranberry in your fridge, ready to pull out whenever company comes over.
  • Soda: Stock up on plain soda, or seltzer, and flavored varieties.
  • Tonic: Fever Tree makes one of the best tonic waters on the market and the bottles are chic and elegantly-designed. (They also make a great ginger beer!)
  • Bitters: Every bartender’s BFF, bitters have a concentrated flavor that instantly gives drinks that extra special touch. “I go back to Cecil & Merl Fruit-Infused Cocktail Bitters again and again, because they taste delicious and look great on a bar cart,” says Brittni Mehlhoff, blogger behind Paper & Stitch.
  • Craft syrup: Simple syrup is a staple. But you should also have some artisanal flavored syrups on hand. Think: Coffee, ginger, and grapefruit. 
Accessories
Finally, it’s time to add a personal touch. This can be anything from colorful straws to patterned mini bowls for garnishes.
  • Straws: Amp up the fun-factor with colorful, paper straws. Metal straws are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Plus, you can clean them in dishwasher.
  • Cocktail napkins: A pack of cocktail napkins is an easy way to add some personality to your cart. Plus, you can match them to your party theme.
  • Mini bowls: “I keep a handful of mini bowls handy for garnishes, like fruit and edible flowers,” says Mehlhoff.
More home bar ideas:
8 Clever Ways to DIY a Bar Cart
How to Fake a Bar Cart In a Tiny Space
5 Things You Need to Know to Set Up The Perfect Bar

Published on November 05, 2017 - 5:30am EST

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