Etsy Journal

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From ice advice to artisanal bitters, here's how to outfit a bar cart worth toasting to.

Christina Poletto is an interior design and history buff based in Hudson Valley, NY. When she's not writing lifestyle stories for magazines or chasing a happy toddler, she runs Dovetailor Design Studio, specializing in interior design, home staging, and furniture refurbishment.  Not since the 1940s (you know, that decade following the repeal of Prohibition) have we seen such a surge in the popularity of the bar cart. From shelter magazines to DIY blogs to tastemakers' own living rooms, the once-forgotten relic is shaking up interiors at every turn. Whether you credit the set designers for Mad Men, the 21st-century craft cocktail-bar renaissance, or pioneer drink artisans like Julie Reiner, who have inspired us to try our hand at stirring up some beyond-the-basics tipples while entertaining at home, these wheeled wonders are here to stay. And why not? The bar cart is an endlessly adaptable home accessory: It provides an instant decor pick-me-up and a versatile storage solution, and there's a style to suit every environment. Whether you have one or you want one, here are some thoughts on building a better bar cart.
honestlywtf-bar-cart This glammed-up example from Honestly WTF proves that plants can lend a bar cart a little extra pizzazz.

Pick a Cart, Any Cart

When choosing a cart, the rule of thumb is simple: Find a style that fits your decor. Midcentury, minimalist, industrial, glam, rustic — every aesthetic is accounted for, with vintage and handmade models in ample supply. Since the range of sizes varies as widely as the styles, make sure to measure the space you've designated for the bar cart's parking spot and commit to checking the dimensions of every option you're ogling from afar. Here are a few other factors to consider:
  • Wheels: While rolling versions offer party-time portability, they may not suit homes with slanted floors or rambunctious pets; if yours falls into either camp, look for wheels that lock in place or opt for a stationary style.
  • Shelves: Shelf heights (and quantity) are far from uniform, so for best results, factor in the number of spirits you plan to keep stocked, the breadth of your barware collection, and details like the height of your favorite (super-tall) tequila bottle.
  • Materials: There's a reason so many bar carts come with glass shelves: All those ice bucket drips, sloshed bottles of wine, and sticky garnish jars can wreak havoc on harder-to-clean (or easier-to-damage) surfaces. If you fall in love with a style that calls for greater care, keep that in mind — and consider having a protective sheet of glass or plexi cut to fit any shelves that are likely to see spills.

caprockvintage-barcart Caprock Vintage
Caprock Vintage brass and glass tea cart, $595; buy it here.
customrustics_spaltedpecanbarcart Custom Rustics LTD
Custom Rustics LTD spalted pecan bar cart, $950; buy it here.
gretadeparry-barcart-cropped Greta de Parry Design
Greta de Parry wood and steel bar cart, $1,999; buy it here.
wearemfeo-barcart Made For Each Other
Made For Each Other reclaimed wood cart, $1,175; buy it here.
mighty-bar-bart Mighty Vintage
Mighty Vintage 1960s bar cart, $355; buy it here.
lacquer-bar-cart If Lacquer Could Kill
If Lacquer Could Kill vintage lucite rolling cart, $1,195; buy it here.
scoutandforge-barcart Scout and Forge
Scout and Forge vintage factory die cart, $995; buy it here.
besofia-gold-bar-cart Be Sofia
Be Sofia vintage brass bar cart, $1,749; buy it here.

Tip: While we love the look of a purpose-built bar cart, it's not the only way to set up a drinks station in your home. Those starved for space can repurpose the top of a credenza or dresser, or even a leaning bookshelf, to hold bottles and more.


Bottle Service (and Beyond)

When it's time to stock your cart with supplies, start with a selection of basic liquors: the building blocks you'll use for most cocktails. Think vodka, gin, tequila, whisky and rum — with at least one pick that's nice enough to sip neat (and pretty enough to display proudly). Emily Henderson, a true-blue design star and the author of Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms from Tabletops to Bookshelves, says the one bottle that's a mainstay on her bar cart is Bulleit, a bourbon whisky made in Kentucky. Besides being the core ingredient for a couple of her favorite recipes (the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned), the bourbon comes in a simple bottle with a lovely label. Next, round out your repository with neutral mixers — club soda, tonic water, and sparkling water — and a go-to bottle of Champagne or other sparkling wine for celebratory toasts.
reclamationetchworks_decanter-set Reclamation Etchworks
Reclamation Etchworks etched glass decanter set, $119 for four; buy it here. Once you've got your essentials sorted, you can begin assembling the interesting drink enhancers — such as liqueurs, aperitifs, bitters and garnishes — that you’ll need for many of the most appealing cocktail recipes. Here's a short list to get you started:
  • Aperol: An aperitif made with bitter orange, rhubarb, and vanilla.
  • Bitters: Probably the best known is Angostura bitters, an alcoholic flavoring made from water, ethanol, herbs and flowers. It’s high-proof, but just a splash can add complexity to simple cocktails (like a sour) without getting you lit. A number of artisan producers have cropped up recently with inventive spins on the stuff, such as Beehive Bitters Co's coffee and cacao bitters.

beehivebittersco-citrus Beehive Bitters Co
Beehive Bitters Co spiced orange cocktail bitters, $10; buy it here.
  • Chartreuse: A brandy liqueur made from herbs. And it really is chartreuse-colored!
  • Domaine De Canton: A complex and delicious ginger liqueur created from baby Vietnamese ginger. (Bonus: The bottle is absolutely beautiful.)
  • Garnishes: Lemons, limes, and oranges can be squeezed for juice and twisted, sliced, or peeled for decoration.
  • Maraschino cherries: We're not talking grocery-store cherries here. Instead, invest in a gourmet version like Luxardo's, which are packed in cherry liqueur. (Beyond serving as an essential component of Manhattans and Shirley Temples, the cherry syrup is also irresistible drizzled over ice cream.)

pinkelephant-barcarttop Pink Elephants Retro
Pink Elephants Retro vintage brass bar cart, $240; buy it here.
  • Orgeat: A sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose or orange water.
  • Pastis: An anise-flavored syrup that's huge in France.
  • Vermouth: An aromatized wine flavored with botanicals.
  • Vinegars and shrubs: Don’t let the names confuse you — both of these versions of sweetened vinegar-based syrups (like this Wild Blueberry Shrub from Herbal Revolution Farm in Maine) go well with water, club soda, or ginger ale, and in a slew of stiffer drinks. Tip: Because of their acidity, they don’t always blend well with other acidic ingredients, so do your research before attempting to invent a recipe.

herbalrevoluationfarm_blueberry-shrub Herbal Revolution Farm
Herbal Revolution Farm Maine wild blueberry shrub, $16; buy it here.

Trade Up Your Tools

Stock up on well-made bar tools that are beautiful as well as functional, and you won't have to worry about hiding them away after happy hour's over. Bottle openers, cocktail shakers, corkscrews, cutting boards, decanters, ice buckets, jiggers, stirrers, strainers, pitchers and carafes are all prime options for upgrades. And don't forget trays — for serving and for organizing. Get them in a few sizes to hold (and transport) glasses, tools, cocktail napkins, and more.
rustictray Hope Farm Co.
Hope Farm Co. wooden tray, $38.50; buy it here.
bonmaisondecor_jigger Bon Maison Decor
Bon Maison Decor crystal-handled vintage shot jigger, $60; buy it here.
sarahcecilia-opener Sarah Cecilia
Sarah Cecilia brass bottle opener, $40; buy it here.
glass-wine-stopper LaBrecque Glassworks
LaBrecque Glassworks wine stopper, $18; buy it here.
aheirloom-muddler AHeirloom
AHeirloom wooden cocktail muddler, $24; buy it here.
katyskelton-tray Katy Skelton
Katy Skelton marble tray, $225; buy it here.
stirrers Chasing Bliss
Chasing Bliss drink stirrers, $21 for 12; buy it here.
pineapple-ice-bucket The White Pepper
The White Pepper vintage brass pineapple ice bucket, $174.50; buy it here.
oldgoatandhorse_ice-crusher Old Goat and Horse
Old Goat and Horse vintage ice crusher, $14; buy it here.
cheekyvintage-icebucket Cheeky Vintage Closet
Cheeky Vintage Closet midcentury ice bucket, $26; buy it here.

Tip: Don't overlook the ice! According to Candice Bowman of The Ice Plant Bar in St. Augustine, Florida, one-inch cubes suffice for most mixed drinks, but for Scotch and bourbon, larger ice spheres (made with a silicone mold) provide the optimal surface area for gradual dilution.


Glass Action

If you want to be a stickler about it, there are at least eight different types of glasses that could rightfully claim a place on the bar cart. But who has the space (or the barware budget)? Instead, just stick to good-looking sets of the styles you use the most. One foolproof formula to try: a set of highball glasses, a set of old fashioned glasses (aka lowball or rocks glasses), and some delicate coupes for sipping Champagne.
rolypoly-glasses Rust Belt Threads
Rust Belt Threads vintage roly poly glasses, $165 for six; buy it here.
pink-glasses House of Andaloo
House of Andaloo vintage rosaline dessert glasses, $80 for four; buy it here.
beerglassset Pretentious Beer Glass
Pretentious Beer Glass aromatic beer glasses, $125 for four; buy it here.
highballs Liquorary
Liquorary vintage highball glasses, $60 for four; buy it here.

Tip: Because your bar cart will be a focal point for fun, don't neglect the decorative extras that will bring it to life. Add a vase of fresh flowers, a framed print, vintage brass figurines, or a short stack of retro drink books — whatever tickles your fancy.

barcart-branddesign I Like Mike's Mid-Century Modern
I Like Mike's Mid-Century Modern vintage bar cart, $799 buy it here.

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