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How to Build a Better Bar Cart at Home

To host a successful soirée in your living room, a proper mixologist’s workspace is essential. Here’s how to create one from scratch.

No matter the occasion, it’s always good to be prepared for entertaining a few friends — or a crowd. There’s perhaps no accessory more appropriate than a bar cart, an item that can shift as easily among living spaces as it can from season to season — making it the ultimate party hack.

“Bar carts can help you bring hospitality to the home,” says Frank Caiafa, owner of hospitality consulting group Handle Bars NYC and author of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book. “It’s an opportunity for hosts to stock far more than what they normally drink, keeping in mind what their guests will want when they’re over.”

Having a bar cart also means you can transform that after-work drink into something even more festive. “You’re no longer limited to the three bottles you use for the same three cocktails you typically drink,” notes Caiafa. “It’s a win-win — now you have the space to expand your horizons while gaining a larger liquid vocabulary.”

Heading into the new year, Caiafa shares his thoughts on the most essential tools and bottles for the at-home bar cart:

The Tools: Invest in the Essentials

Jigger: “The large 2-ounce version is a great all-in-one item, as it has markings for measurements you might need in between (quarter, half and three-quarter-ounce pours). I jigger every cocktail that I prepare at home — the most important ingredient to any recipe is consistency.”

Bar Spoon: “It’s worth the effort to master a proper stir. The most integral aspect of a stirred cocktail is the ice. Wetter and smaller ice needs less stirring time, larger and drier ice needs more. In general, 30 seconds is a sweet spot.”

Shaker and Mixing Glass: “I personally avoid three-piece Cobbler shakers, no matter how fancy they are. They are typically difficult to open, and straining is an issue — especially with frothier recipes.”

The Bottles: Stock the Mainstays

London Dry Gin: “Everything from classic to innovative cocktails starts with a proper, London dry-styled gin. Western-styled gins lean on citrus and botanicals for their flavor profiles, whereas London dry options offer a juniper-forward palate that is great in highballs.”

White Rum: “A straightforward white rum is necessary for simple daiquiris and more complex, tiki-styled cocktails alike. Fuller flavored, multi-regional blends are the way to go, along with many current, domestic brands — there are some fun and funky bottlings out there that really liven up your most tried and true favorites.”

American Whiskey: “It’s good to stock both rye and bourbon at home — rye for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds and bourbon for highballs and on ice. American whiskey is a growing and innovative category that is an adventure in and of itself.”

VSOP Cognac: “This is great for simple sidecars and the resurgent Brandy Crusta cocktail [a mix of brand, triple sec and Angostura bitters] — not to mention a winter’s night dram or eggnog. You can’t get through the holiday season without it.”

Tequila: “This category has definitely outgrown its ‘shot’ status. Avoid the caramel-colored variety for cocktails, and do not fear mezcal — its many styles add complexity to a bevy of libations.”

Vermouth: “Dry vermouth is the defining ingredient in a classic martini. Because they range in style from brand to brand, you can have a different cocktail every night of the week just by switching up your Manhattan’s vermouth.”

Campari: “Every home bar should have the makings of a Negroni — gin, vermouth, and Campari. Three ingredients to greatness!”

The Carts: Show Your Creativity

Mid-Century Modern: Solid eucalyptus wood, bright metallics and clean lines draw attention to The Mid-Century Bar Cart from West Elm, which conveniently sits on a set of wheels. Two shelves are surrounded by antique brass-finished rails, meaning you can take this one for a spin without fear of spilling.

Clean and Classic: At once practical, glam, and affordable, The Felicity Bar Cart from Safavieh Home Collection is a great choice for those seeking their very first cart. Stock it with your glitziest glassware and bottles to enhance the eye-catching gold details.

Tiki-Inspired: Handmade of rattan and plywood, on wheels—and retro in all the right ways—The Monaco Bar Cart from Serena & Lily puts the fun in functional. For an especially festive eve, turn up those tropical vibes by filling it with rums and agave spirits.