bar cart with bottles
Pottery Barn

This article was provided by Kitchen Science.

For some people, a bar cart is a symbol of prestige. It’s a piece that instantly creates an atmosphere of luxury and sophistication in any space. For others, it’s a vital element for entertaining guests at home. But before you can do that, you need to set up and stock your bar cart with everything you need for a successful evening. Here’s how to do it.

Choose Your Bar Cart

The options for your bar cart are practically endless. Aside from the style of your home, you should also think about how it’s configured. 

For example, some have multiple shelves dedicated exclusively to glassware. In contrast, others come with designated spots for tools and other paraphernalia that may be necessary during a party (such as ice buckets).

You might want more than one shelf if you plan on storing tall bottles on your cart. This way, they won’t take up too much space or get knocked over by guests. If you regularly entertain, or want something that can be moved from inside to outdoors when the weather’s nice, then you might require something with wheels. Think about how you plan to use your cart, and purchase accordingly.

liquor bottles for a bar cart

Stock Essential Spirits and Mixers

The first rule of stocking your bar is to choose spirits you enjoy. The selection may expand or change over time, and soon a simple drink can be an opportunity for experimentation with different flavors and textures in one glass. If you’re just getting started, consider these classic spirits to include in your bar cart:

  • Whiskey — Evenings by the fire beg for whiskey. Bourbon and rye are great for cocktails, while scotch is perfect for sipping. Throw in some Irish, too, if you want to increase your selection. Whiskey enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to try the spirit’s many different styles, from oaky bourbon to smoky scotch.
  • Vodka — Clear in color with a more neutral taste, vodka is a popular option for simple mixed drinks like the Vodka Tonic and Moscow Mule, so make sure to have a bottle on hand.
  • Gin — Gin’s bright botanical flavor pairs beautifully with citrus and other ingredients like cucumber or mint. It’s also a requirement for classic cocktails like the Martini, Gimlet and Gin and Tonic.
  • Tequila — Tequila is a fun choice when hosting Latin-inspired dinners or pool parties. Unaged blanco tequila is best for Margaritas, while reposado and añejo expressions are great for sipping.
  • Brandy — If you want to serve a classic after-dinner drink, try brandy or its more specific cousin, cognac. Serve in a snifter and sip, or mix your brandy into classic cocktails like the Sidecar.
  • Rum — Rum runs the gamut from bright and tropical to dark and rich. If you want a rum for cocktails, choose white. If you want a sipping rum, opt for something that’s been aged.
  • Vermouth — Vermouth is one of the most important ingredients in any bartender’s arsenal, and it’s a key player in classic drinks like the Manhattan and Negroni (sweet vermouth) and the Martini (dry vermouth). Stock one of each, and remember to store your vermouth in the fridge after it’s been opened.
  • Liqueurs — Spice up your beverage offerings with a few liqueurs. Popular choices include Aperol and Campari, which you need for the Aperol Spritz and Negroni, respectively. Lillet Blanc (a French aperitif) is great over ice, and it never hurts to keep a digestif nearby, like Fernet-Branca, for after-dinner consumption.
  • Red Wine — Not everyone wants cocktails, so have some wine at the ready. Red wine is great for dinner parties, as it complements various dishes. You have a lot of options, but Barolo, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are always crowd-pleasers.
  • White Wine — Keep some white wined chilled in an ice bucket or the fridge, then bring it out when the party starts. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Albarino are good options that can be enjoyed with or without food.
  • Nonalcoholic mixers: Tonic, club soda, ginger beer… keep a few bottles on hand, whether on your cart or hidden away in a cabinet. You can always bring them out when company arrives.

Add Bar Tools

Don’t overlook bar tools when stocking your bar cart. They’re necessary for shaking, stirring and straining cocktails, and they will keep you from having to employ a tumbler and butter knife to make a Manhattan. These are the essential tools.

  • Boston Shaker This versatile two-piece operation consists of a metal tin and pint glass, or two metal tins, perfect for shaking cocktails.
  • Mixing Glass — The mixing glass gives you various options when it comes to stirring your cocktails. Some are constructed from straight-walled glass, while others are crystal cut. And most are designed with a pour spout, allowing you to neatly strain the contents into your serving glass.
  • Bar Spoon — You’ll need a long-handled bar spoon for stirring drinks. They come in a variety of sizes, but the most common option is about 12-inches. Bar spoons can also be used as swizzle sticks in a pinch.
  • Jigger — If you want to make a well-balanced drink, measure those ingredients. Jiggers will help you do that. They’re available in multiple sizes and styles to ensure your precision is spot-on.
  • Muddler Anything that calls for mashing fruit or herbs needs a muddler. So if you’re serving refreshing drinks like the Whiskey Smash or Mojito, make sure to have a muddler handy.
  • Strainer — Strainers come in two varieties: Hawthorne and Julep. The first is meant for straining shaken drinks, while the latter is best for straining stirred drinks. Both will filter out the ice and other ingredients you don’t want entering your glass.

Stock the Proper Glassware


Keep a few glasses on your bar cart, and you won’t have to visit the kitchen each time you’re thirsty. Maximize space by only storing the glasses you use most often. If you’re pouring spirits and making cocktails, then rocks glasses and cocktail glasses should be front and center. But there are several types of glasses you can include on your bar cart:

  • Rocks Glass — Also called an Old-Fashioned glass, these glasses are the perfect size for cocktails served on the rocks (like the Old-Fashioned) or for sipping straight spirits.
  • Cocktail Glass — Also called a Martini glass, this is the essential stemmed vessel for cocktails served up. An alternate choice is the coupe glass or the Nick and Nora glass, which serve the same function, and can be employed for everything from Martinis and Manhattans to Daiquiris.
  • Highball — The highball glass is a tall tumbler that is most commonly used for drinks served over ice, often with a higher ratio of non-alcoholic mixer than spirit. The Scotch and Soda or G&T, for example.
  • Wine Glasses — You don’t need to go wild here; just make sure you’ve got something for white and red.
  • Flutes — If Champagne’s being poured, keep a few flutes on hand. They can double as Mimosa glasses if you’re hosting brunch.

Add Some Decor

Spruce up your bar cart with custom accents and accessories to make it uniquely yours, like a crystal decanter, some coasters or a small stack of recipe books. Whether you’re looking for a functional tool to entertain guests or simply want to create an atmosphere of luxury and sophistication in your space, a bar cart can do it all.


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