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bar cart

How to Style the Perfect Bar Cart

What to mix and match for cocktail perfection.

By: Nicole Kliest
Photography: Nicole Kliest

Before there were at-home Zoom cocktails, there were just at-home cocktails. Yes, imbibing within the confines of one’s home is not an invention of the COVID era, it’s a time-honored tradition that begins with one simple, invaluable piece: the bar cart. Conveniently enough, the at-home bar cart also translates to a stay-at-home order and, as such, justifies your participation for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, hosting large get-togethers at your abode is generally frowned upon right now; however, if you’re in a pandemic pod (10/10 recommend) and want to whip up an impressive bar-cart situation for the festive months ahead, you’ve landed in the right place. But where to start?

“The ‘best’ items to have on your shelves is a very subjective question,” Akil Marshall tells Coveteur. He’s the head bartender at Fairfax in New York City and is a spirits and bar life guru (our words, not his). “The best answer to that would be—stuff you want to drink. I think the beauty of the home bar is its ever-changing nature. It’s constantly being diminished and replenished,” he says. Ahead, get the scoop from Marshall on how to stock your at-home bar cart, what tools and glassware to consider, and shop a bunch of snazzy items along the way. Cin cin!

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The Cart

First things first, you need an actual bar cart. This comes down to two main considerations: size and style. If you are placing your at-home bar in a nook of sorts, then you’ll want to make sure whatever cart you invest in has enough room to fit. As well, if your style is minimal or mid-century modern, or anywhere in between, that will obviously come into play as well. Below are a few solid options to spark some ideas.

The Booze

Marshall’s philosophy when purchasing spirits for your bar is to buy something to drink and buy something to keep. “My home bar is generally stocked with workhorse brand spirits,” he shares. “Stiff structured London dry gins, reposado tequila, young spicy ryes, aged bourbon, peaty scotch, and rums—all the rums (from light & crisp to full on dunder bombs).” As it pertains to under utilized items, Marshall nods to aromatized or fortified wine, like vermouths, sherries, and quinquina. “Having a quality collection of these bottles will ensure that you’ll be enjoying top notch tipples in the comfort of your own home,” he notes. Remember: vermouth is best stored in the fridge since it’s wine-based and susceptible to oxidation!

Oh, and if you’re interested in impressing your booze-savvy friends (aren’t we all?) Marshall’s advice is succinct: “I follow a simple rule of thumb: If you have an item or items on your bar cart that are old enough to vote, your home bar game is going strong.” Noted!

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The Bitters

Your bar cart won’t be complete without bitters, but according to Marshall, it’s a bit of a never-ending quest to find the perfect ones. “Nowadays, there are so many brands that offer a variety of different flavors and expressions,” he says. “Criteria I look for in bitters are products that only use natural ingredients and bitters that actually stand out in a cocktail. Some bitters taste great on their own, but quickly fade away when combined with spirits. If you have to use a 1/4 oz of bitters to make your drink ‘pop,’ then you should probably find a different brand.”

Beyond bitters, Marshall also stresses the importance of fresh citrus. “This is the key to operating a tip-top home bar. Also, citrus is a two-way player—use the peels for twists and the juice for ‘ritas, daiquiris, or gimlets,” he says. “Second to fresh citrus, I would say having a simple syrup of some sort is always handy. Whether it be honey, refined/raw sugar, agave, or even maple. A simple syrup is quick and ‘simple’ to make in volumes small or large.”

The Tools

Marshall’s MVP bar tool probably isn’t what you think it is. “The most important tools to sustain your home bar are ice trays. Maintaining an army’s worth of ice is what allows you to keep making drinks at home for yourself or for company,” he notes. “Bars don’t run out of ice, so why should you?” Right behind that, he shares, is a juicer and shaker tins. “If you have these three items for your home bar, you can mix up any cocktail with ease.”

For the at-home bartender looking to go above and beyond, Marshall says you can step up your game with a home carbonation set. “A soda siphon, soda stream, etc., makes a huge difference,” he says. “Freshly carbonated water makes a wonderful difference to any highball or spritz you mix up.”

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The Glassware

“Glassware is subjective,” Marshall says. “My cupboards are filled with mismatched random glassware that I’ve acquired over years.” That being said, he notes that the most important and most used glass in his possession is “a heavy-bottomed, thick-walled rocks glass. It can hold a large volume of liquid (fewer refills), has room for large-format ice cubes, and most importantly, it won’t break!”

The Decor

Last but 100 percent not least, you’ll need to round out your bar cart with a few personalized touches. This can be anything from cute vessels to hold cocktail picks in, a plant, some literature, or even an architectural candle. An at-home cart is your opportunity to create your perfect bar environment without having to actually open a bar, so seize the day and have some fun with it.

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