The Intentional Apartment: Assembling the Perfect Bar Cart

If your booze is going to visible, at least make it look nice.

Are Solo cups and ping pong balls the extent of your bar setup? Or maybe an old bottle of Jägermeister is sitting sadly in the back of your cupboard. This might be a sign that it’s time to step up your game with a thoughtfully assembled bar cart. Craft cocktails are popular these days, so why not impress your guests with a delicious mixed drink?

Collage of interior design items for bar cart

Image sources, clockwise from the top left: High Street Market, 9am//3pm, Styled Creative, Crossed and Dotted

It’s not as difficult as you might think to create a functional bar cart that can also act as an attractive focal point in your living room or kitchen. The key to creating the perfect bar cart is selecting the right elements.

Let’s start with the cart itself.

There are a number of affordable options available online. Choose a piece with different shelves or levels, and perhaps a drawer to hide clutter. And don’t hesitate to think outside of the box – sometimes something as simple as a rolling organizer could be used as a bar cart. Below are a few good options.

Collage of bar cart items

1. Crate and Barrel $99.95

2. Walmart $49.99

3. Target $143.99

4. Etsy $92

5. VM Innovations $63.95

6. Z Gallery $79.95

7. Walmart $65

Next, let’s work on stocking the bar.

We opted for affordable bar carts, but it’s a good idea to splurge on some of the booze. Make sure to select one of each of the major types of liquor, as well as some strategically picked cordials. It’s also important to have three or four mixers on hand.

If you have no idea where to start, below are a few suggestions. These liquors step outside the bounds of the mainstream, adding a bit of originality to your bar.

  • Tito’s Vodka
  • B&E (Breaking & Entering) Whiskey
  • Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Scotch
  • No. 3 Gin
  • Corzo Tequila
  • Cruzan Light Rum
  • Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum

When mixing a cocktail, bartenders will tell you that it’s important to include elements of bitter, sweet and sour. A cordial will often have a higher sugar content, and can act as your sweet element. Here are a few versatile cordials that will round out your alcohol selection.

  • Cointreau (Great with margaritas, or Cosmos for the ladies)
  • St. Germain (Affectionately called “bartender’s ketchup,” this is great in almost any drink)
  • Canton (A ginger flavored liqueur that is, again, very versatile)
  • Fernet (This is the shot of choice for hip bartenders in the city)

Unless you consume all your alcohol in shot form, you will need a few mixers. The following beverages can be used to create a number of classic cocktails.

  • Gosling’s Ginger Beer (not to be confused with ginger ale)
  • Soda Water
  • Cranberry Juice
  • Coke

And now, for a few finishing touches; no bar would be complete without citrus. Lemons and limes are important additions. And you might even want to buy some Angostura Aromatic Bitters (try a few drops with your whiskey… you may be surprised).

Now that we have the bar chosen and stocked, let’s discuss glassware and tools. Crate & Barrel's Double Old Fashioned glasses are a versatile glassware choice, perfect for keeping your cocktail cold. A bottle opener, a corkscrew for wine and a cocktail shaker are also crucial. Optional items that could be helpful include a jigger, an ice bucket, a cocktail strainer and straws.

After gathering everything you need for a functional bar, next it is time to assemble all of the elements into an attractive focal point for your apartment. The key to this is grouping similar items together. Put taller liquors in the back and shorter ones in the front so your ingredients are visible. Place the cordials on a small tray or plate. Creating a dedicated area for each cocktail element makes the placement look deliberate and organized. Keep the citrus in a bowl and the bar tools in an extra beer mug or a decorative vase. Arrange the glassware in rows below the alcohol if your cart has an extra shelf. Laying them upside-down will prevent dust from accumulating on the inside of the drink ware.

As a finishing touch, add a couple of decorative items to the cart. Think of these like a garnish; they’re not functionally necessary, but they sure make the cart look a lot more inviting. A lamp is a great decorative option since it will also shed a warm, inviting light over your new bar cart. Many people also hang a piece of framed artwork behind the cart. Now don’t panic at the word “art,” there’s no need to go blow your paycheck at a local gallery. Just have a photo enlarged at Walmart, and buy a frame while you’re there. Or check out Primer's free Hemingway download for a rugged addition. For an easy piece of “modern” art, frame one of your nephew or niece’s drawings; your guests’ hearts will melt, and you’ll secure your standing as favorite uncle.

Ernest Hemingway photo in frame with bottles

And that’s all there is to it. It wasn’t as painful as you thought it might be, was it? A couple hours of your time and small portion of last week’s paycheck are all it takes to create a functional and inviting bar cart. You’ll be a mixologist soon enough, and in the meantime you’ve added a bit of class to your apartment.

Faith Towers Provencher

Faith Towers is a designer and writer with a passion for all things creative. She received her art degree from Skidmore College, and her work has been featured in many well-known publications such as Forbes, Yahoo and Curbly. Visit her blog Design Fixation for more creative inspiration.