Starting with the smallest of our home bar setups, we’re going to take a brief and overly general look at the history of the bar cart – essentially, why they are the way they are.
See, bar carts come from a service industry background where tableside drink preparation was common. This was the case from the very late 19th century, all the way up through the mid-20th century, and it still exists in a very limited way to this day. Basically, you’d order your drink, and the bartender would wheel the bar cart right to your table and prepare it in front of you.
Logically, you couldn’t have an entire bar on your bar cart, so in many cases, the bartender would swap out the bottles behind the scenes after receiving the drink order and then arrive at the table with an ice bucket, a standard set of glassware and mixing tools, and maybe a couple of standard bottles that never leave the cart – like vermouth, whiskey, gin, and vodka. Possibly some curacao. These things varied from establishment to establishment.
But, the big takeaways are these:
- Bar carts have wheels because they were originally meant to be mobile mini bars.
- They weren’t originally meant to hold all the bottles and hardware that most home bartenders today would need to make their drinks.
So, fast forward to the current day, and we’ve got a big problem:
Even though there are a large number of aesthetic designs to choose from, the functional design of the bar cart hasn’t changed all that much. And yet, we’re trying to use them very differently.
By and large, if you’re living in a small space, you’re attempting to cram ALL of your bar tools and bottles onto one bar cart, and the result is going to very often be a cluttered mess that doesn’t look great, or doesn’t make the process of creating a cocktail any easier. Plus, I bet that 90% of people who have a fully stocked bar cart are absolutely horrified to move it for fear of losing a bottle or a glass in the process of moving it. And that may be because you keep your bar cart on a carpeted surface that’s hard for it to wheel around on, or because it doesn’t have any rails that keep the bottles safe from falling off the edge.
Solving the Bar Cart Dilemma
First, ask yourself if there’s a way to reserve your bar cart for one primary function (like bottle storage or glassware storage), or perhaps cocktail service, if that’s something you want to try out. I guess my point is – a bar cart that does one thing really well and really stylishly is better than a bar cart that does several things poorly.
Another thing you might consider while rearranging your bar cart is if you’re taking the most advantage of the vertical space available. Most bar carts have a top and bottom shelf, with a decent amount of space in the middle for bottles.
But would it be possible for you to hang your stemmed glassware from a few slotted tracks that you could install right beneath the top shelf? This is what many bars do, and my grandfather actually made me a wine rack with the same functionality, which is a huge space saver for my coupe glasses and wine glasses. Picture in the show notes so that you can see what that looks like and how it might work on your bar cart.
My final suggestion here is for someone whose primary issue is crowding and clutter on the bar cart, and it’s really simple:
How can you think of evolving your bar cart into part of a larger home bar setup, instead of using it as an island of liquor in your living room? This is basically the question of what your bar cart Pokemon will look like when it evolves into the next level version of itself. Maybe the hardware lives on the top shelf, your liqueurs live on the bottom shelf, and all the rest of the liquor gets migrated somewhere else nearby, which gives you a whole new set of possibilities both for the bar cart, and for the rest of your evolving home bar setup.
It’s always tempting to keep things as they are, but when your bar cart starts to groan under the weight of all those bottles, don’t ignore it. Take it as a sign that you’re ready to grow and evolve.