Entertaining in a small space can be tricky, and continuously serving drinks in one can be even more challenging. Investing in a bar cart makes cocktail service easy and efficient, lets guests join in the fun, and adds a chic accent to your decor.
Choosing a Bar Cart
Bar cart styles run the gamut from uber-modern to uber-traditional. But before you get carried away with customization and aesthetics, you’ll want to make sure that all four of its wheels are sturdy, intact, and well-oiled for a smooth ride. Strong shelves free of wobbles are essential for safely rolling glassware and potables around your home. The cart should be about as tall as a bathroom vanity counter, or at a comfortable level to mix drinks.
New bar carts are usually pricey, but you can often find terrific used ones at flea markets, thrift shops, and yard sales for half the cost. Cleaning, removing tarnish, and performing simple repairs on a used bar cart will work wonders. Just make sure the cart is big enough to hold glasses, liquor bottles, an ice bucket, and all the accessories needed for a full bar setup.
Remember that mixed media is your friend. Just because your couch and tables are sleek, minimalist Scandinavian pieces doesn’t mean your bar cart has to be. Go rock’n’roll with a lava lamp and a Mick Jagger miniature, or maybe wax old-fashioned with crystal accents and vases — just let your imagination run free. After all, it’s a cart that you’ll likely use for another purpose once the party’s over, so you’ll want to make it visually appealing.
Setting Up the Bar
Even if you think that all your friends drink is beer and wine, trust us when we say that will change (probably when you roll out your cart for the first time). In addition to a good cork screw, make sure your bar cart is equipped with a blender, a shaker, a jigger, an ice bucket, a strainer, a juicer, a muddler, and a bottle opener. That may seem like way too many tools, but chances are you’ll use all of them at your bar cart’s inauguration.
Glassware is just as important as the tools. For instance, champagne tastes totally different when sipped from a flute because the bubbles don’t dissipate as quickly. The other glass types may not have such a dramatic effect on their contents, but this is still an area where tradition is important. Stock your cart with a selection of single-serving vessels including highball, lowball, cordial, shot, martini, pilsner, red wine, and white wine glasses.
Don’t forget the little things like cocktail napkins, straws, swizzle sticks, and cocktail spears/skewers for fresh garnishes.
Stocking the Cart
The current trend of drinkers choosing shots over mixed drinks means you can’t get away with hiding cheap liquors in mixed drinks like margaritas, gin and tonics, etc. Shop around for specials on top-shelf brands of vodka, gin, tequila, rum, blended whiskey, rye whiskey, and well-aged scotch. Do the same for your wine selection to make sure it includes a couple types of reds, whites, rosés, and vermouths. Always keep a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator in the event that a guest makes a special announcement.
Beer is a must-have option, but it quickly clutters up a bar cart. Instead, consider filling a galvanized tub with ice, filling it with an assortment of beer types and brands, and letting your guests serve themselves.
Mixers are as important as the liquor in multiple-ingredient cocktails. Have simple syrup, sweet and sour mix, tonic water, club soda, a selection of fruit and vegetable juices, heavy cream, half-and-half, carbonated beverages (including ginger ale), plain bottled water, and carbonated water on hand. Invest in a bottle of bitters, too. It will last you a lifetime and make someone’s day when they see you are able to whip up an old-fashioned.
Accents and Flourishes
Without garnishes, mixed drinks are like cereal without milk: they’re just not right. Fresh lime/lemon wedges and wheels, maraschino cherries, pimento stuffed olives, cocktail onions, and kosher salt are all essential. For fun, consider keeping a few offbeat garnishes or putting several different ones together on spears. Keep brightly-colored cocktail salt and sugar on hand to rim martini glasses for classic drinks like cosmos. Keeping a bartender’s guide on your cart is also sure to spark your guests’ imaginations.
Add an extra oomph to your bar cart with a small colorful bouquet of flowers in an eye-catching vase. If the atmosphere is dark and intriguing, accent the cart with a smokeless unscented pillar candle.
Hints and Tips
Preparing drinks is messy. For easy clean up, line the shelves of your bar cart with decorative or mirrored trays. If you only entertain a few times a year, store the excess liquor in one of those high impractical kitchen cabinets to keep the bottles dust-free. During idle months, repurpose your cart to store small appliances, pantry items, books, magazines, mail, or anything at all — just don’t let that precious space go to waste!