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How to Stock a Bar Cart

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Be ready to entertain. Even at a moment’s notice. We’ve partnered with David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson of 12 Bottle Bar for their must-haves when it comes to stocking the bar(cart).

The two cars in the 12 Bottle Bar household are a sporty little hatchback and an SUV. Each has its purpose, pluses and minuses. The hatchback is nimble, fun, and thrifty – but it’s a no-go if more than two adults want to take a trip. The SVU gets lower gas mileage and isn’t as much fun, but it can shuttle the family and a boot-load of luggage wherever we want to go.  We love both cars equally and choose one or the other depending upon what we need to accomplish at any given time.

Bar carts are the hatchbacks of beverage service. They’re retro sexy and incredibly nibble – a well-made cart offers a solid workspace that doesn’t wobble as you trolley it about the house. So, before we discuss the logistics of assembling your bar cart’s offerings, there are a few key points to remember.

Stocking the Bar

Keep it simple. The tools you’ll need and the spirits you stock will be dictated by the drinks you choose. Too many choices tax both the guest and the host. Design your cart around two or three simple drinks. For us, it doesn’t get more classic than brown spirits served neat, variations on the Old Fashioned, classic “up” drinks like the Manhattan or the Martini, or simple mixed drinks like highballs. (See further down for our spirits-mixers-garnish shopping list.)

Since the concept of a bar cart is ease of presentation and preparation, you aren’t going to want to do a lot of measuring, squeezing and shaking. Avoid squeezing citrus and shaken drinks. Yes, with practice, you can certainly pull these off at your cart. But, even with care, shaken cocktails can leak, and the last thing you want on your living room rug is an exploded Jack Rose. Leave shaken drinks for the kitchen.

Dedicate most of the top shelf of your cart to workspace. The ultimate goal of a bar cart is quick and elegant service. Give yourself room to perform your magic. On the top shelf, incorporate a serving tray, such as the versatile large Willoughby Tray. It does the job as an easily cleanable workspace, as well as an extendable and classy serving piece. Assemble the drinks on the tray atop the cart, then deliver them to your guests via the tray. (We use the Ike Tray on the bottom shelf to group our glassware and to provide a secondary serving platform, should it be required.)

Don’t store every bottle and gadget you own on the bar cart. Too many bottles or tools make your cart clumsy to move and use, neither of which is quick nor elegant.

Here is our bar cart tools list:

  • Two Decanters: It’s fine to display your spirits in the bottles in which they come, but decanters (featured here, Tino and Corbin) offer up a sophisticated touch, especially if you are serving neat pours.
  • Glassware: For neat or rocks drinks we use the Hatch. It has a decided heft that makes it settle into your hand, as well as an etched surface that adds interest. For “up” drinks, we are partial to the Camille Champagne Coupe. Not only will we break all our rules and pop a bottle of bubbly whenever the mood strikes, bar cart or not, but the Camille’s profile is refined enough for any spirit-forward drink you choose to stir up.
  • Mixing Tools: We keep a Cocktail Mixing Glass, a jigger such as the Carter or Orb, the Carter Spring Strainer, and the Bar Spoon with Muddler With its low profile, we also find that the Carter Bar Tools Set (with its peeler, zester, bottle opener, and knife) is quite useful.
  • Serving Pieces: We like to think outside the box sometimes and when we saw the Kinley Sugar Bowl and Creamer, we knew they were the perfect set for sugar cubes and water.
  • An Ice Bucket: We’re fans of the transparent blue glass of the Orb Aqua Ice Bucket.
  • Towels: Understandably, towels don’t seem particularly in tune with the romance of a bar cart, but believe us when we say that nothing kills the mood more quickly than an upturned drink and nothing to soak it up with. We keep a set of the Bar Mop Dish Towels handy just in case.

As for the spirits, mixers, and condiments:

  • Spirits: One or two brown spirits. We like a whiskey (our preference is rye) and brandy. With these you can make Old Fashioned variations (both the standard style and the Wisconsin-based brandy Old Fashioned, which muddles the fruit with the sugar cube and bitters), as well as the whiskey-based Manhattan and its brandy cousin, the Metropolitan. As to the light spirit, gin is your go-to. There is always someone who drinks Martinis. Choose a London dry style and keep it old school.
  • Mixers: One sweet vermouth for your Manhattan-style drinks. One dry vermouth for your Martinis. Vermouth should be refrigerated to preserve its flavors, so keep yours chilled until your guests arrive.
  • Bitters: Aromatic bitters and orange bitters will serve you on all counts, but with so many choices on the market, by all means find something unique that you really love – and share the love with your guests.
  • Extras: Sugar cubes (we like raw demerara ones), lemon and orange wheels, wedges, or twists, depending upon what you choose to serve. Cocktail cherries – not the day-glo maraschino ones, but true gourmet cocktail cherries. Expensive yes, but your Old Fashioned and Manhattan-drinking guests will thank you.
  • Snacks: As a host, you must serve some sort of nibble to your guests. We love the Easton 2-part Stainless Steel Server. For us, it does double duty, acting as both a garnish holder and elegant portable snack bowls.

Certainly, the best thing about a bar cart is that less is indeed more. There’s no need to break the bank on tools and supplies. If you have a limited space, budget, or if making cocktails scares you a bit, the contained nature of a bar cart is your best friend. Keep everything – your tools, your ingredients, and your drinks – simple and focused, and enjoy the retro chic, the performance, and the handling. Just remember to put it in park before you imbibe.

Speaking of which, drinks don’t come any more simple and elegant than a classic Old Fashioned, which should be a cornerstone of your bar cart.

Old Fashioned Recipe

  • Sugar Cube
  • 2-3 Dashes Bitters
  • Teaspoon Water
  • 1 ½ – 2 oz. whiskey
  • Garnish, orange and cherry

Place a sugar cube in a rocks glass. Cover with several dashes of bitters and roughly a teaspoon of water. Muddle together to dissolve the sugar. Some like to add the fruit to the muddle – it’s your choice.

Add a large cube of ice. Pour whiskey over top. Stir gently to chill and combine the drink.

Garnish with orange wheel and cherry.

Want a Manhattan recipe that you’ll love to roll out? Check out the Improved Manhattan by 12 Bottle Bar.

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