If you asked me what my favourite piece of decor in my apartment is, I would say it’s my bar cart. Not because I use it all the time, but because it adds so much character to my little downtown apartment. Although I wish I could own a vintage brass bar cart like this, I still love my thrifty, Ikea-hacked bar cart (originally from the blog, Carrie Bradshaw Lied). And if you decide to take on this fabulous tutorial, be sure to check out this super-handy post on Finding The Perfect Gold Spray Paint by Brittany Makes, which guided me in choosing Design Master’s Brilliant Gold Colortool Spray which is a stunning, warm honey-gold. Even after the first coat, this product dispelled my fears about gold spray paint looking cheap, and after I was done painting the cart, the paint looked anything but gaudy.
Read on after the jump to find out how I did it…
The first time I set my bar cart in my living room though, I was discouraged by how bare it looked, with nothing but a few bottles on it. I thought to myself, it’s just a bar cart, how hard could it be to decorate? But after turning to Pinterest and my favourite decor blogs for inspiration, I found that the solution was simple: fill your bar cart with things you find to be useful and beautiful. Buy your favourite liquors, some basic bar paraphernalia, eye-catching glassware, and then add some personality with decorative accents and florals that reflect your personality and home decor scheme. Over time you can layer different styles by adding and subtracting elements until you have an aesthetic that you’re happy with. My bar cart is nowhere near where I’d like it to be in terms of decorating, but with time I will expand my liquor collection, and find some one-of-a-kind items to add that missing touch (like this neat vintage brass pineapple).
There are a lot of articles on bar cart styling out there that have suggestions on what liquor to buy, but I agree with Elsie Larson from A Beautiful Mess when she says that you should buy what you like. By only stocking liquors you like, you’re able to offer your guests a couple of signature cocktails that you’re really good at! That being said, a little variety is still important. My all-time favourite cocktail is a gin and tonic, so I always stock one or two different types of gin (my picks are Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s), one or two bottles of vodka (it goes with everything), one bottle of whiskey (my favourite is Jameson Irish Whiskey), one bottle of dark rum (like Sailor Jerry’s), and one bottle of light rum. And if you’re super fancy, you could stock some flavoured liquors like St-Germain Elderflower Liquer and Pimm’s No.1, which make flavourful additions to your cocktails.
Once you have some basic liquors, the real magic comes from how you use them. What you mix them with is obviously important (I like to keep Belvoir pressé juices like Elderflower on hand), but in my opinion, what really elevates a cocktail are bitters. I like to keep a couple of bottles of bitters on my cart that I can reach for when I want to add a little something special to a cocktail. When it comes to bitters, you should buy flavours that you like, then have fun and experiment. I stock traditional flavours like lime, and some more exotic flavours like lavender (great for gin and tonics), chocolate, and maple (a perfect match for whiskey). I buy my bitters from The Crafty Bartender, and look for brands whose bitters are made with organic ingredients, and don’t contain any artificial flavours, chemicals, or dyes (like Scrappy’s Bitters and Urban Moonshine Organic Bitters).
Aside from liquors and mix, it’s important to keep fresh fruit and garnishes handy — lots of lemons and limes are an obvious necessity (bonus: a bowl of bright lemons adds a simple beauty to your bar cart). Preservative-free honey and maple syrup are also great natural subs for simple syrup (unless of course, you make your own simple syrup with organic evaporated cane sugar!)
For a quick and dirty guide to stocking your bar cart, check out my guide here.
The Barware & Glassware
Your bar cart should have all the bar tending tools that you need to make the perfect cocktail. For starters, you should have basic barware such as a shaker, muddler, opener, stirrer, strainer, ice bucket, and tongs. I bought my bar tending set as well as my ice bucket at Target, but there are tons of options available online (like this set from Williams-Sonoma).
Once you’ve whipped up the perfect cocktail, you will need the right glassware to complete the experience. For my bar cart, I perused antique stores for months trying to find vintage blush-coloured tumblers (my colour scheme for my bar cart is blush and amber/gold to go with the rest of my living room decor). So I was overjoyed when I found these gorgeous (and affordable!) fleur-de-lys juice glasses and helianthus goblets at Anthropologie. I also love their hobnail tumblers.
Although your bar cart serves a functional purpose, it should also be a piece that you love looking at. So it’s worth investing in decorative items that reflect your personal style. These decorative items could include vintage bar paraphernalia, cocktail recipe books, and a sculptural piece or decorative vase. You could even incorporate decorative elements through the use of ornamental bottle stoppers, like these gorgeous DIY Geode Bottle Stoppers by Cupcakes and Cashmere, or modern animal head bottle stoppers like this one, from BYOB Cocktail Emporium in Toronto.
To establish a unified decor scheme, you can mix colours, textures, and patterns through your glassware and napkins (like these cute spotty cocktail napkins from Brika). For extra style points, you could mix vintage and modern items (like the juxtaposition of vintage glassware with my modern cart). And although there were no florals on my bar cart at the time of this post, my favourite way to spruce up my cart is with fresh flowers. Flowers make everything better!
In conclusion, remember that when it comes to styling your bar cart, less is more. For a minimalist look, only showcase your best bottles and aesthetically pleasing barware, and store the rest elsewhere. Then you can switch out the bottles, glassware, and decorative elements when you’re in the mood for a decor change, or if you want to incorporate seasonally-themed elements into your bar cat for entertaining.
Thanks for taking a peek at my bar cart styling tips. Do you have a bar cart of your own? If so, how do you style it, and what are your must-have items that you stock? And what’s your signature cocktail? (mine is a lavender gin and tonic!) Feel free to leave tips, suggestions, and recipes in the comments — I’m always on the hunt for new cocktail recipes to try!
AMENDMENT: This article was written prior to my knowledge that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey (pictured above) is actually made with real honey, and is therefore not vegan. It has since removed it from my personal collection. Of course, this amendment does not apply to vegans that choose to consume honey.