How to stock the ultimate bar cart, according to an expert

Elizabeth Wallace, CNN Underscored
Wed March 25, 2020
Paula Garner's bar cart

If cocktails and cocktail culture are your jam, now may be the time to finally master home mixology. With many of us social distancing or at least working from home, what better time to bring those beloved cocktails right into your living room?

An important part of cocktail culture is aesthetics — not just what your finished drink looks like, but also the space that stores your cocktail supplies and the tools themselves. For some of us, that means upping our game to an adult bar cart. If this is your first time acquiring or setting up a bar cart, take a deep breath and get ready to play.

"The main objective is that your bar cart be pleasing to you," says home mixologist Paula Garner, aka @thebitterfairy. "Whether that means it's a shiny and wheeled modern piece, or a rustic repurposed table or cabinet. Whether it's practical — that it holds the things you use most — or that it is beautiful or evocative. Maybe you're drawn to unusual bottles, maybe you really want a place to feature that delightfully tacky hula girl lamp."

And remember, how you set up your bar cart isn't permanent. "You can change it on a whim to reflect your personal journey and interests," Garner says.

To help you get started on your bar cart journey, we rounded up some of our favorite stylish bar carts across the internet, as well as everything you need to stock them.

Bar carts

Better Homes & Gardens Fitzgerald 2-Tier Bar Cart, Gold ($70, originally $99; walmart.com)

Better Homes & Gardens Fitzgerald 2-Tier Bar Cart, Gold

This elegant yet compact version comes with extra wine bottle holders.

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Novogratz Helix Bar Cart ($64.99, originally $99.99; wayfair.com)

Novogratz Helix Bar Cart

A more minimalist gold option can conveniently wheel to wherever you need it.

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Kressley Bar Cart ($108.99, originally $129; wayfair.com)

Kressley Bar Cart

Teal is a much-needed shot of fun, and the whole thing is collapsible for easy storage.

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Global Caravan Marari Rattan Bar Cart in Natural ($159.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

Global Caravan Marari Rattan Bar Cart in Natural

There's something quietly glamorous about the rattan, as if you might be making a drink from the set of "Casablanca."

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Laoise Bar Cart By Willa Arlo Interiors ($137.99, originally $158.99; wayfair.com)

Laoise Bar Cart By Willa Arlo Interiors

For the midcentury modernists out there, this one harks back to a two-martini lunch (not that we're suggesting that while WFH, but...).

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Better Homes & Gardens Mirabella Bar Cart, Gold ($60.80, originally $69; walmart.com)

Better Homes & Gardens Mirabella Bar Cart, Gold

Doubles as a side table after the drinks are made!

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Hanging Cocktail Bar ($118; uncommongoods.com)

Hanging Cocktail Bar

Not exactly a bar cart but too cool not to include, this hanging bar can stock all the main essentials — liquor, mixers, glasses — and fold up right onto your wall in a neat case.

Stocking your bar cart

Once you've selected your bar cart, it's time to get it stocked. The absolute basics are simple, Garner says: A shaker, a strainer, something for measuring liquids, and glassware. "It doesn't have to be new or pricey and it doesn't even have to match — my collection is mostly single glasses — but you do want a darling coupe for those foamy sours and sturdy rocks glasses for a stirred drink or a neat pour," she says.

Add more elements as you see fit — an ice bucket, spirits decanters, fancy tools, cute objects. "Let go of any notion of what a cocktail cart is supposed to look like and let yourself go rogue," Garner says. "The best and most interesting collections of bar things are personal, the ones that spark your own creativity and pleasure."

Glasses

Fleur Coupe Glasses, Set of 4 ($56; anthropologie.com)

Fleur Coupe Glasses

Streamlined on the top, undulating interest on the bottom, these coupes are perfect for sparkling wine or a martini-style drink.

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Threshold Telford Glass Tumblers, Set of 12 ($17.99, originally $19.99; target.com)

Threshold Telford Glass Tumblers

Six short and six tall, these will meet most any mixed-drink serving need and work well for beer and water, and the price is right.

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Handblown Moroccan Glasses, Set of 6 (starting at $36; food52.com)

Handblown Moroccan Glasses

Because making drinks at home should feel extra special at this uncertain time.

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French Picardie Pastel Tumblers, Set of 6 ($36; food52.com)

French Picardie Pastel Tumblers

Extra festive when we need a little cheer, these welcome wine or cocktails and are fun for kids, too.

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Seaside: Sea Foam Bubble Glass Tumbler Set by Twine ($26.39; walmart.com)

Seaside: Sea Foam Bubble Glass Tumbler Set by Twine

Every bar needs a highball glass, and these feel happy.

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Shakers

S'well Teakwood Cocktail Shaker Set ($40; crateandbarrel.com)

S'well Teakwood Cocktail Shaker Set

A stylish-modern combo of faux distressed wood and stainless steel. The set includes a two-sided jigger.

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Hatch Cocktail Shaker ($19.95; crateandbarrel.com)

Hatch Cocktail Shaker

Modeled after cut crystal but way more affordable, this one gives your cart an heirloom feel.

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Viski 17-Ounce Penguin Stainless Steel Cocktail Shaker ($18.17, originally $34.90; walmart.com)

Viski Penguin Stainless Steel Cocktail Shaker

If you're a collector of shakers like some folks we know, this penguin model is pretty cute.

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OXO Stainless Steel Fine Mesh Conical Strainer ($9.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

OXO Stainless Steel Fine Mesh Conical Strainer

To catch particles of fruit or herbs, a affordable strainer like this is essential.

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Measuring cup

Oxo Good Grips Angled Measuring Cup, Mini, Clear ($4.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

OXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Cup, Mini, Clear

"Old-school jiggers are charming, but not very precise, especially for smaller measures," Garner says. That's why she and numerous serious cocktailers prefer the Oxo small measuring cup.

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Ice buckets

S'well 68-Ounce Ice Bucket ($50; kohls.com)

S'well 68-Ounce Ice Bucket

Whether chilling and serving bubbly, or using the ice for mixed drinks, a legit ice bucket means bar cart business.

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Easton Double-Walled Stainless Steel Ice Bucket ($59.95; crateandbarrel.com)

Easton Double-Walled Stainless Steel Ice Bucket

Sleek and sophisticated, with double-wall insultation so the ice stays solid longer.

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Artisanal Kitchen Supply Ice Bucket with Tongs ($49.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)

Artisanal Kitchen Supply Ice Bucket with Tongs

The marble finish is both sturdy and handsome.

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Spirits decanters

Brixton Decanter ($39.95; crateandbarrel.com)

Brixton Decanter

If you love spirits neat, showcase them in their best setting: a fancy decanter.

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Staccato Decanter ($29.77, originally $59.95; crateandbarrel.com)

Staccato Decanter

Crafted by glassworkers in Poland and modeled after Viennese turn-of-the-century design, this one is a piece of art all on its own.

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Jay Import Co Daphne Round Whiskey Decanter, Gold ($24, originally $40; neimanmarcus.com)

Jay Import Co Daphne Round Whiskey Decanter, Gold

The hammered gold detailing around the bottom makes this one a cocktail conversation starter.

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Cocktail trays

Marble and Gold Tray ($26.24, originally $34.99; worldmarket.com)

Marble and Gold Tray

Cocktail trays are a fun way to up your drink-serving game, and serve as a good foundation for your cart, too.

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Threshold Brass Round Tray in Gold ($34.99; target.com)

Threshold Brass Round Tray in Gold

The gold hue makes everything feel a little more special.

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Keaton Tray ($31.97, originally $49.95; crateandbarrel.com)

Keaton Tray

There's a handmade feel to the copper here.

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Ice molds

Glacio Clear Sphere Ice Duo ($36.99; etsy.com)

Glacio Clear Sphere Ice Duo

"There are few things more tragic than going to the trouble and expense of making a perfect cocktail, and then mixing it with cloudy ice that tastes like dirty sweat socks," Garner says. "Or serving a carefully crafted cocktail with bits of dubious opaque gravel floating in it." Make your own beautiful ice spheres instead, and this is Garner's mold of choice.

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Houdini Silicone Ice Tray Red ($4.99; target.com)

Houdini Silicone Ice Tray Red

If you prefer giant cubes, this one makes lovely ones and is pleasing to the touch.

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Coasters

Vintage Martini & Rossi Advertising Poster Soft Coasters, Set of 8 ($13.50; amazon.com)

Vintage Martini & Rossi Advertising Poster Soft Coasters

"Coasters are a great way to impart some personality to a bar cart," Garner says. She loves these ones featuring old Martini & Rossi vermouth ads.

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Mixers

Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Indian Tonic Water, Pack of 4 ($4.99; target.com)

Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light Indian Tonic Water

Fever-Tree: the tonic of choice for many mixologists. Garner says she's happy to also use Schweppes in a pinch.

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Q Club Soda, 24 Bottles ($35.99; walmart.com)

Q Club Soda

Club soda is another necessity for home bartending.

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Premium Cocktail Cherries by Traverse City Whiskey Co. ($19.95; amazon.com)

Premium Cocktail Cherries by Traverse City Whiskey Co.

Fancy cherries aren't cheap, but neither is the perfect cocktail. Spring for them if you're able, and your Manhattan or old-fashioned will notice the difference.

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Cocktail books

If you're spending a lot of time at home right now, invest in a hardcover cocktail book that's both a pretty decor piece for your cart and a guide to help you up your mixing skills. Here are three of Garner's faves.

'I'm Just Here for the Drinks: A Guide to Spirits, Drinking and More Than 100 Extraordinary Cocktails' ($17.97; amazon.com)

"I'm Just Here for the Drinks: A Guide to Spirits, Drinking and More Than 100 Extraordinary Cocktails"

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'Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas' ($16.99; amazon.com)

"Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas"

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'The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World's Great Drinks' ($13.19; amazon.com)

"The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World's Great Drinks"

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Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed prices at the time of publication.