Apartment Bartender is a column by Elliott Clark, Food52’s Resident Bartender and an avid at-home cocktail enthusiast. Elliott’s here to help us bring our favorite bar-worthy sips home—and with his spot-on guidance and expert tips, you’ll soon be stirring, shaking, and garnishing like a pro.
A bar cart is not just a place for booze storage—it’s a statement piece.
Although the storage part is key, your bar cart can visually speak to your taste in cocktails,
your decor, your style. It’s meant to draw eyes and make someone feel welcome and at home—just like a great drink!
Bar carts come in all shapes and sizes. Some can scale the length of a wall, while others can be antique and compact. They’re dynamic pieces, meaning they don’t have to stay styled the same way all the year round. The contents of your bar cart can change with the seasons, or for moments of celebration with friends and family.
In my case, because my apartment has enough bottles to rival most cocktail bars, I use my bar cart primarily for storage because I need as much as I can get. However, the contents on the bar cart are still functional, heavily used, and visually appealing. I keep the most frequently used liqueurs on the bottom section of the bar cart along with bar tools on top for decor.
But my maximalist style can easily be switched up to a more minimalistic style with just a few cocktail books, and a nice decanter and rocks glass set. Or, if I want to use it for a small get-together, I can clear off the top and create a gin and tonic cart with different styles of gin, tonic water, citrus for garnish, and ice.
You have total creative freedom over how you deck yours out—with some intentionality, of course. Ask yourself: What do I like to drink? What kind of style am I going for? Will I set it and keep it static, or change it seasonally for celebratory moments?
With those guiding questions, here are a few elements to play around with and build your best bar cart.
These are your spirits, liqueurs, sparkling wine, or mixers. You can have your most frequently sipped spirits, or just the bottles you feel stand out the most. The choice is yours!
This is your chance to show off a nice set of bar tools. However, you don’t have to put every bar tool you own on the cart. I’d recommend the most visually appealing, or any combination of the tools most frequently used (cocktail shaker, mixing glass, bar spoon, jigger, etc.).
Cocktail books are great for styling. I wouldn’t suggest using your bar cart like a bookshelf (unless that’s what you’re going for). Two or three cocktail books will do the trick.
If you plan on mixing cocktails directly on your bar cart, consider draping a towel or patterned cloth on the side, or having it styled nicely on the cart.
The most commonly used are rocks glasses, highball/collins glasses, and coupes. Any set, or mix of glassware, is great to keep on the cart.
For further reading on this topic, I highly recommend The Art of the Bar Cart by Vanessa Dina and Ashley Rose Conway. It’s a great book with in-depth tips on styling bar carts 20 different ways, from whiskey-forward carts to holiday carts and everything in between.
How do you like to use your bar cart? Let me know in the comments.