This post is one that I had been in my queue for a while now, but this reader question (originally meant for the newsletter but I felt it would be too long for that) inspired me to bump it up.
She wrote in: “One topic I was wondering if you could talk about, is if you have a bar cart or bar area set up, what liquors you always have on hand, the various types of glasses you have on stock and love to use (like the special bird ones!), any special bitters or salts (obsessed with the Red Clay Spicy Margarita Salt!) and anything else you love to use for hosting for cocktail hour/pre-restaurant drinks. You seem like the hostess with the mostest and really enjoying having special things.”
I love my bar cart. I’ve had it for ten years now. I had been going through a bad breakup and Roxy from Society Social offered to give me this. It was before my blog was considered “big,” and I didn’t get very many gifted items (let alone furniture!). At the time I was pretty broke (I’d just drained my savings to move out of my boyfriend’s apartment and into a cozy Murray Hill studio apartment), so I can’t even begin to say how much the gift meant to me. Society Social still has a great assortment of bar carts and this one is basically the same as mine except without the tray on top.
How To Set Up A Bar Cart Like A Pro
Styling your bar cart is so much fun. I really like having a dedicated area for cocktailing. It feels very Mad Men and fun, no? Bar carts are fun and fancy but you don’t have to have a dedicated bar cart to do it… depending on your style of home decor and how much real estate you want to devote to your cocktail space you could use an end table, an entryway table, a wine storage table, etc. I was just at a girlfriend’s house and she had a brilliant idea – she created a bar area by installing a large butcher block over a chest of drawers in her office. It looked so chic and stylish, I wish I snapped a pic.
Also, the second half of her question: my glassware collection. I definitely need to update that post as my glassware has been keep some martini glasses hanging in my bar cart, but my glassware needed its own special post.
Keep the stuff you use most up top.
I have a gold barware set (I bought mine years ago at CB2 but this one is really really similar and I LOVE this gold martini shaker set!) that I keep on top of the cart. I am constantly reaching for this and it helps having it handy. It’s nice having dedicated bar accessories instead of wondering where that loose shot glass or mixing spoon is. I also keep my most used ingredients on the top shelf. For me, that is always tequila (La Gritona is my fav and they have such a cool brand story – packaging made from recycled coke bottles, female owned and operated), vodka, and red wine.
Invest in some signature fun extras!
It is amazing what a difference a few special extras can make. The Red Clay Margarita Salts are an absolute must (for any marg, but especially this spicy margarita!). I also absolutely LOVE Daisy’s syrups – the vanilla is incredible in this easy but fancy looking Spicy Coconut Margarita. (Note: I have codes for both Red Clay and Daisy on my codes page). This reader had asked me about fancy bitters and I am not a big bitters person but Jack Rudy has some really good ones. I especially like the orange and lavender ones.
Decide on a signature cocktail and premix it ahead!
Be it a pitcher of margaritas or a pre-made bottle of Negronis (the Negroni is a good one to do this with as the proportions are equal, no math). This is the easiest trick when having friends over, that way you can talk and enjoy your friends instead of focusing on making everyone their drinks as guests trickle in.
Always have citrus on hand.
I always make sure I have at least a few lemons and limes, as well as a big orange (for negronis). This, I keep in a big bowl on my kitchen island and not the bar cart, but it’s an important element. If I know margaritas are going to be involved, I fill the whole bowl up with limes. (This is usually when my boyfriend visits: he makes the besssst margaritas, so I fill up the bowl with limes and buy some good tequila. He can take a hint.) Lemons and limes are also fun pops of color.
Make flavored ice cubes to have on hand at the ready.
This tip originated from a reader comment! I freeze olive brine (for vodka drinks as a fun twist), pickle juice (for Bloody Mary’s) and lemon and/or lime juice (for just about everything to be honest) into ice cube trays to pop into cocktails at the ready. This tip is all at once extremely easy, lazy (you do it once and forget about it), and impressive to guests.
Best Bar Cart Ideas
Add some greenery!
Adding a plant to your bar cart is the easiest way to upgrade your bar cart and make it look sophisticated. In perusing Pinterest, plants and greenery (or a big bowl of lemons) seems to be bar cart styling 101. To add a little height, I put mine on top of a cake stand from Estelle. If a plant isn’t your thing (I get it, I have a black thumb but my mom helps me!) fresh flowers or a vase filled with greenery (I love eucalyptus) work well too.
These are the secondary liqueurs I always have on hand.
I keep these bottles of alcohol down below and think they look really pretty just grouped together. Chambord is probably the fastest way to seem fancy when you are actually not. I love it. It’s a raspberry liqueur and it is delicious. You can use it in so many different things. I love a French Martini or a Kir Royale.
I also always keep a bottle of Campari (for Negronis, as well as gin and sweet vermouth) and Aperol (for an Aperol Spritz) on hand. And of course, Cointreau (or some other orange liqueur, everyone seems to have opinions on what the best one is; I never notice a difference) for margaritas. Lastly, don’t forget dry vermouth for martinis! As I learned in my younger years, sweet vermouth and dry vermouth are very very different.
And here are a few of my favorite cocktail recipes, just for fun! the Perfect Negroni (my favorite cocktail!), the Spicy Margarita (my second favorite), the Coconut Margarita (a fun and indulgent party trick that is actually quite easy). I have a whole section of cocktails in the navigation, too.
What to put on a bar cart
- A plant! It adds some greenery
- 1-2 bottles of wine or liquor (put the rest on the bottom to keep it from getting cluttered).
- Bottles of mineral water
- A pretty bowl filled with citrus.
- A bar set
- Your bar spoon
- Ice bucket
- Recipe books
- Glassware (depending on the occasion I like to mix this up. Coupe glass for entertainment, martini glasses if that’s what we are doing, cocktail glasses, wine glasses, double old fashioned glasses, etc!)
Disclosure: If you buy something through my links, I may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. I only feature things I truly love here. Thanks for your support.
photography by Laura Saur.
Hot Tip- ALWAYS store your opened vermouth in the fridge to slow the rate of oxidation.
Dolin dry vermouth and Cocchi Torino sweet vermouth are my two stapes and their website has tips on shelf life and storage (and great recipes too!)
Oh my gosh, thank you!!! I didn’t know that.
Yes I was going to comment the same thing! Vermouth is an aromatized wine so it can turn pretty quickly (the way a bottle of wine can) but in the fridge it lasts a few months. 🙂
God I am such an idiot, I had no idea!
No way, it took me a while to learn it too! And now you know! 🙂
Youre not an idiot! You dont know what you dont know
Ohhh love this post! I never thought to add greenery to my bar cart and love that idea so much!
Oh I am glad you like that idea!
Love this post! FYI – the Chambord and Cointreau are ‘liqueur’ not ‘liquor’. Sorry to call it out- years spent working in spirits makes me anal about this! 🙂
OMG thank you. I knew this from when I did a partnership with Chambord, whoops!
No worries, I’ve got your back! Lol.
Angostura bitters are the favorite in our house especially if we are making a dark n’ stormy with only Mount Gay rum of course 😉
This is such a great post.
My home bar area was created during lockdown, along with developing a few (very basic) bartender skills!
I always have – bourbon, whisky (not ‘whiskey’ – I’m Scottish!), a white rum, a gin, Tequila. Plus lime juice, lemon juice, bitters – Angostura and chocolate (also want to shoutout the amazing Tennessee-based Bitter Bottle – a female-owned company that makes some cool options.), Cointreau and sugar syrup.
My ‘I can make this’ cocktails are Old Fashioned, Daiquiri and Margarita.
Also, a bought a pack of cocktail ‘accessories’ for not much money on Amazon – umbrellas, straws, swizzle sticks – so much fun!
Love this list. I need to get on board with some umbrellas and swizzle sticks, that is a GREAT idea!!!
My “bar cart” is a large vintage wrought iron shelf ( black with lots of swirls) unit that was my mom’s. It’s 8’ high and 30 inches wide with 6 fixed shelves. Almost two shelves are dedicated to liquor ,liqueur and mixers, the rest is glassware, trays and bar accessories. I have my collection of colored glass, vintage and modern, hand blown glass swizzle sticks I bought in Mexico, my parents vintage ice bucket and more! I love a traditional bar cart, but, a good reminder that other options can work if you don’t have one or room for another piece of furniture. I love angostura bitters. Something we always had in the house growing up. Sometimes a splash is just what your cocktail needs. Bartenders secret: club soda or ginger ale with a splash of bitters is good for an upset stomach. Since you like margaritas, try making them with Meyer lemons or mix in some blood orange with your lime. We use Ranjpur limes, but they are rare ( a hybrid between a lime and an orange). If you can find any they are really special. Bright orange, but taste like a sweeter lime. Thanks for such a fun post!
Oh I love that, sounds amazing!
Thanks for sharing! I remember when I was 25 and asked my parents for a bar cart for christmas (just the cart, not the contents ). And I didn’t realize that they didn’t quite know what I meant. I got home for the holidays and my dad brings me down to the workroom in the basement and shows me these giant 2x4s and explains that he’s building me a bar cart. As nicely as I could, I had to be like “nope, no, definitely not on the same page, thank you but no thank you”. Always makes me laugh. A 5′ wide wooden beamed bar cart would maybe work in a rustic event space but not in my tiny Boston apartment haha.
Oh my gosh that is adorable. Thanks for sharing, it made me giggle!!!!
Love this post, so helpful!! I have recently (and randomly! Insta ad, i think?) discovered and been experimenting with products from El Guapo Bitters – a female-owned brand from New Orleans. They are more than just bitters, they have syrups and other products and tons and tons of recipe ideas on their site! Everything I’ve tried has been delicious so far, I highly recommend!
Ooh yum! Love a female owned boozy business! Or any female owned brand, but you know what I mean. I am off to check them out!
I love this series! I only recently learned about vermouths too! I like the Lo-Fi brand sweet and dry which is local to my area and also super cute labels (you could put them out just for the party!)
Love the ice cube tip too- definitely going to try that olive juice one! I like aperol ice cubes in the summer
That is so smart to freeze Aperol!!!
Is that a replica of the infamous statue in Fleabag?
Oh my god I WISH IT WAS. It is a bust candle that I bought on Etsy a while ago!
One of my dreams is having a bar cart someday! Unfortunately I’m currently living in a very small place and I can’t, but I’ll save this post for the future!
Morning cocktails are awesome! Great tips and ideas. I can’t wait to use them! My husband has invested in an assortment of bourbon and whiskeys and I just bought him a stunning vintage cart. I am so glad I found this page! Thanks to all commentators too!