How to Curate a Bar Cart, According to Mixologists

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For this, The Daily Meal went straight to the source. Experts enlightened us on what they keep on their own home carts and although their tastes obviously differ, we distilled down the key takeaways. Amy Racine, Wine Director at The Times Square EDITION in New York City; Jordan Deis, head bartender at Compère Lapin in New Orleans; Alexandra Minton, beverage director of Jack Rose in New Orleans; Sally Gatza, bartender at L.A. Jackson in Nashville: and Rick Powanda, head bartender at Nina Compton's Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans and they each provided their insights into how to curate the perfect bar cart.

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Find the right cart

This is the first and most obvious step. If you would like to curate a bar cart, then you need an actual cart. Make sure you find one that is able to fit into your home and matches the decor.

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Think about where to place it

Do you want it to stand out? Or just to flow with the rest of the room? Be strategic in where you place your bar cart. Of course it needs to be in a place where it is easily accessible, but at the same time, you don't want it to seem out of place.

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Consider making it a point of focus

There's no right way to utilize a bar cart in home decor, but if you are going to spend the time to curate it, consider that it might be a point of focus. It just depends on the kind of space you have and what looks the best for you. 

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Start simple

Deis recommends that everyone's bar carts should cater to their own tastes while also including some basics. Start with some orange, Angostura and Peychaud's bitters, which are essentials in several classic cocktails and virtually can't go bad.

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Do you entertain often?

If you're a person who is entertaining guests often, it's important to think about the drink ingredients you have out and how they'll be received by others. If there are special people in your life and you know they have a favorite cocktail, it's thoughtful to keep those ingredients on hand.

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Keep some variety

Just because you're not a whiskey fan doesn't mean you shouldn't have it on your cart. Gatza recommends keeping a nice variety so you can cater to guests' tastes. Some base spirits she recommends keeping on hand include vodka that has been distilled at least five times, gin, rum, tequila that is 100% agave, bourbon and scotch. She also suggests rye if you are a whiskey fan, though it's not a necessity. And if there's still room on your cart, go for a brandy. If you're not a fan of rum or tequila, start with a white rum or blanco tequila.

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Leave spirits alone

Many of our experts said that most spirits are good to sit out for long periods of time. Plus, leaving them sitting on your cart is good for visual purposes.

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It's not just about the liquor

Gatza said you should keep club soda and tonic on your cart as basic mixers, while also considering some liqueurs. Vermouth, Campari, Aperol and St-Germain are all good options.

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Change for the season

Depending on the season, you might want to change the ingredients and items on your cart. During football season, Minton may swap out bar towels for ones received at New Orleans Saints games or change the straws and paper garnishes for various holidays. However if you  know what you like it's OK to have some staples. Racine likes to have citrus and bubbles on her cart regardless of the season. She can quickly whip up a sparkling cocktail like a French 75 or spritz.

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Consider the event you're hosting

Change things up based on the event as well. Whether it's a small get-together or big birthday party, think about the alcoholic drinks that you have out. For example, if you're hosting a wine tasting, swap out some of those liquor bottles for wine.

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Branch out

It's fine to get tied to brands and flavors, but it's good to branch out and try other things too. Racine suggests trying some smaller-production brands. If you are hosting, it can be fun to focus your cart around a single cocktail and offer it to guests right off the bat instead of their old standbys.

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Branch out

It's fine to get tied to brands and flavors, but it's good to branch out and try other things too. Racine suggests trying some smaller-production brands. If you are hosting, it can be fun to focus your cart around a single cocktail and offer it to guests right off the bat instead of their old standbys.

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Don't forget the stemware

Nobody wants to drink a cocktail out of a red Solo cup. Get some nice stemware for guests to use or even just to display. It will elevate the look of the whole cart.

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Consider which bottles to display

Not every bottle of alcohol has to be shown on your bar cart, but if you have bottles of wine, bourbon or any other drink that will look good visually on top of your cart, then add them to your display.

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Use decanters when necessary

Sure, a decanter can be a great piece of your bar cart, but it should be used for its functional purpose: holding alcohol. Racine uses a decanter when there's a bottle she would like to keep in the fridge but still wants to share with guests when hosting.

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Use it for snacks, too

Based on the occasion, it might be nice to have some snacks out for guests. Racine said the bar cart can be a great place for setting out snacks and bites, such as chocolates, that tie to wines.

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Set out nice bar tools

There are plenty of tools that you might need for functional purposes but can also be used to add a nice visual element to your bar cart. Minton recommends some basic bar tools such as jiggers, bar spoons and mixing glasses.

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Include garnish bowls

Garnish bowls can be used to hold fruit or any other small foods that you would like to have out while guests are over. Their contents can complement your alcoholic drinks or be eaten separately.

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Use trays

Use trays to divide and organize the different elements of your cart. They can be used to hold and carry glasses or bottles and make for easier clean up in the case of spills or drips.

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Keep a tumbler or two

Having a tumbler at the station is important for any cocktails that require a good shaking. And having two will mean not needing to run back and forth to rinse the shaker out when making two different drinks at once.

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Don't forget coasters

These should be included on your bar cart for obvious reasons. They protect your tables or any other surface where drinks might be placed.

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Make sure it's not too cluttered

Too many bottles, bowls and glasses can make your cart seem cluttered, and make it difficult to utilize the space for cocktail mixing. You want to have a nice, visually appealing balance of tools, bottles, glasses and other things you'll need. Keep the rest in the kitchen. 

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Go with what you like

When you're deciding which drinks to have out on your bar cart, just go with what you like. Racine, for example, loves Old Fashioned cocktails, so she always has bitters, bourbon or rye, and sugar on hand. Minton loves universal glasses for everything she drinks, so six rocks glasses on her bar cart is perfect for everything from a scotch on the rocks to a glass of Champagne. It's your bar cart, keep it the way you want it.

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Go out and drink

Powanda recommends that you go out and sample different cocktails and new spirits at bars or restaurants. Let the bartenders guide you and help you find new drinks that you didn't even know you liked. If you want to know where your favorite drinks come from here are some fascinating origins of your favorite cocktails. 

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