They say good things come in small packages, but nowhere is that more apparent than in the bar cart, a tiny piece of décor that has the power to transform your living or dining room into party central. But if you thought you could just arrange a bunch of bottles on a table in the corner and call it a day you’d be mistaken. To turn your gatherings into the most anticipated social events of the season—and that’s saying something considering the holidays are always right around the corner—consider these easy bar upgrades for every style and budget.
Bar carts come in every aesthetic you can think of, from traditional brass versions to contemporary chrome to midcentury rattan. Choose one that matches your décor but also your drinking style. If you’re a wine lover, consider something with a built-in rack for bottle storage; if you prefer cocktails, make sure there’s space for an ice bucket. But if purchasing a new cart is out of the question—or the size of your room dictates something smaller—create a bar moment on a side table in the living room or a corner of a buffet or side board in the dining room.
A bar cart is only as good as the liquor that’s on it, so save the bargain spirits for behind closed doors. For display, splurge on just a few bottles of the good stuff—essentials that come in interesting bottles or small-batch liquors from local distilleries—but keep your preferences in mind. Don’t go all out on designer gin if your go-to is rye.
If you don’t want to overhaul your entire liquor pantry, give your bar cart some style by incorporating quality ingredients that look as good as they taste: brandied cherries for Manhattans, small-batch bitters, or giant cocktail olives.
Like any piece of furniture, a bar cart comes to life when you incorporate design elements that infuse personality and help tie it in with the rest of your décor. Accessories like interesting glassware, colorful linen cocktail napkins, and stylish coasters, straws, stirrers, and picks can turn your bar cart into a functional one-stop drinks station, which can be helpful during parties when space and room flow can be an issue. And don’t forget the tools of the trade—a cocktail shaker that actually works, a jigger for measuring out ingredients, and an ice bucket—and a colorful tray to keep it all together.
A bar cart only works if it looks like it’s constantly in use, and nothing does that better than keeping a few fresh ingredients on hand. A bowl of lemons and limes, a pot of herbs like rosemary or mint, or fruit and flowers for garnishing cocktails makes party prepping easier while adding color. And a stack of recipe books not only helps in the moment—after all, you’re just playing bartender—it gives your bar cart that last design element that makes all the difference: warmth.