Stock, Style & Fancy; Your Guide to Bar Cart Essentials

The only American invention as perfect as the sonnet”, once wrote H.L. Menken on the subject of the Martini. And while I for one am inclined to agree wholeheartedly, I am far more interested, at least for today’s discussion, to look at the tools to make not only a perfect martini, but any fair and sundry libation. As I’m sure many of our readers already know, we have a penchant for making sure our guests have everything they need, far beyond just the essentials for entertaining and hosting gatherings both large and small; so as the summer season has made it’s entrance, profoundly, in the past couple of weeks, I can’t think of a better time to talk about the essentials and necessity of having a well stocked and curated bar cart.

The bar cart has come quite a long way since it’s Victorian inception when it was used for an entirely different daily ritual: tea. The Tea Cart or Trolley, as it was called, naturally, was initially designed by our Victorian ancestors to mobilize their daily dose of Earl Grey, but It’s not until the end of Prohibition that the Victorian Tea Car got it’s make-over and became the beginning of what we now refer to as a Bar Cart. Even still, it’s not until the emergence of the Hollywood Regency period (one of VW&F’s faves) that the bar cart truly took shape and gained in popularity as the mobile means to deliver us our daily dose of something shaken or stirred. Though the end of prohibition seemed the ideal time to begin it’s reign, the American people had a tough go at daily celebration during World War II, the Korean War and the Great Depression. It’s not until the 1950’s that we see our beloved countrymen and women with a reason to celebrate and on a daily measure, at that. But to keep the break with it’s predecessor, clean, the bar cart’s wheels turned just one hour later at five o’clock and so that became the quintessential moment when the day was through and it was time to relax, be thankful for America’s prosperity and hit the sauce.

Okay, so now that our history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk style and stock. Tools and gadgets have come and gone, but the key players we’re about to look at, have stood the test of time and short of a butler (or bartender) to do it all for us, these bar cart essentials are a must for anyone looking to get their Don Draper on.

First, let’s talk about the bar cart. I’ve got four in the shop right now that I LOVE; classic Hollywood Regency style – brass, glass and mirror, simple lines, two-tiered, tiny brass pivoting wheels and one with a bottle carriage to boot. I prefer the lacquered brass finish, myself, but I’ll find them in all sorts of states. Very rarely are they solid brass; more often you’ll find a steel or nickel frame with a brass plating or gold leafing technique applied for that shiny regency appeal. For vintage, it’s tough to find them with the glass intact, so I’ve recently become Steel City Glass’ favorite new customer. These guys are really great too – super precise cutting, beautify softened edges and speedy service. My go to theme has been glass on the top shelf and mirror on the bottom; I think it gives the cart more depth and texture and who wants to look through to the floor? The wheels on these carts are typically hideous so I have a supplier who keeps me in GORGEOUS solid brass wheeled casters. And that’s pretty much it. I sometimes have to have a paint job done, but not always.. plus a little patina is never wrong… never. Here's my two favorites in shop:

So what’s first? At the very least, I keep these essentials neatly arranged:

  • An Ice bucket and tongs (though not every drink will call for ice, your drinks & vessel of choice should always be cold)
  • A Shaker - Depending on the type of shaker you’re using (Parisian, Calabrese, Boston), you may need a strainer (either Biloxi or Hawthorne style). The Japanese style shakers and most vintage ones have a polite little strainer already built into the design
  • A Jigger (preferably the 1oz/2oz variety – most drinks will call for 2ozs of the good stuff)
  • A Mixing glass
  • A Bar spoon
  • A Strainer
  • A Muddler
  • A bar cloth to wipe up any unfortunate spillage
  • Cocktail Picks to secure your garnish
  • Cocktail stirrers for your guests to manage their own viscosity
  • Cocktail straws (depending on what you’re serving)
  • Cocktail napkins (no one wants wet, cold hands… and your furniture doesn’t want any unsightly moisture rings)
  • The Trinity: Vodka, Gin & Scotch (we’ll get into specifics in another article – I promise)
  • The mixers: Club Soda or the sweeter cousin, Tonic and of course, some sort of citrus
  • Garnish – Your garnish should be prepared ahead of time and neatly kept in a small vessel at the ready – one should never cut on a bar cart.

So now your bar cart is stocked and ready to roll (pun intended). Keep these essentials on hand or cart and your next fete is sure to impress and leave you a host to be admired.