How To Stock A Bar Cart

How To Stock A Bar Cart Last year I stocked my first bar cart for our home. A lot of you asked me about tips for getting started. At the time I suggested just buying what you like and building it up over time. A year later I still agree with that advice, but have a little lot I want to add. Ready for a long post about liquor? K. Let's chat…

I have put together some suggestions for starting at different budgets, but first a few money saving tips! 

โ€ข Don't buy any flavored liquors, at least not at first! Donut flavored vodka can be tempting, because the labels are adorable, and it sounds so interesting. But you'll be seriously limited on what you can make with it. Instead focus on buying base spirits like Whiskey, Vodka, Tequila, Gin and Rum. When you want something flavored you can make your own syrups or infuse your own liquor. It's super easy! 
 
โ€ข Buy baby bottles. ๐Ÿ™‚ When you are trying a new recipe with a bunch of new ingredients, buy mini bottles (1.7oz) instead of full size. The liquor store I go to has almost every specialty liqueur in cute tiny bottles. After you've tried it, you can decide if you want to invest in a bigger bottle. 
โ€ข Focus on favorites. If already know you love whiskey, spend a little more on those bottles and collect your favorites. Spend more on your favorites and be extra thrifty on the rest. 
 
Here's a little guide to starting your bar cart at different budgets. I know liquor costs are very different everywhere in the world, but here's what you can get where we live. $15 (or so) bottles are our starting point. It's smart to stick with "medium shelf" or higher, so you're sure can get the base qualities of the liquor. The cheapest stuff can get a little unpredicable. And then, obviously you can upgrade when you want to! It's also important to note that these guides do not include mixers like cranberry juice or club soda or garnishes like mint leaves, lemons and limes. Even still it's nice to have a fully stocked bar and only need a few fresh ingredients for new recipes! How to stock a bar cart (suggestions for a $50 budget)Suggestions for a $50 Budget

For this budget I recommend investing in three different base spirits (choose your favorites from Whiskey, Vodka, Tequila, Gin and Rum). If you aren't sure what you like yet google some of your favorite cocktails to see what they are made with. I also recommend one bottle of bitters. Start with Angostura or any aromatic cocktail bitters, because you can use them in a huge variety of drinks. 

Here are a few recipes you can make with my choice of base spirits pictured above (Vodka, Gin & Rum) and common kitchen staples (like juice and club soda!): With Gin you can make a Tom Collins, a Gimlet or a Gin Sour. With Rum you can try a Mojito, a Hurricane and a Painkiller. With Vodka you can make a Bloody Mary, a Screwdriver or a Salty Dog. See? The possibilities are endless! How to stock a bar cart (suggestions for a $100 budget)Suggestions for a $100 Budget 

For this budget I recommend purchasing 5-6 bottles of base liquor. You can also get two bottles of bitters. Or you can swap out one of the bitters for some dry and sweet vermouth (this needs to be refrigerated after opening). 

A few recipes you can make: (in addition to the recipes above!): With Whiskey you can make a Whiskey Sour, a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. With tequila you can make Margaritas (in about 1 million different flavors), a Tequila Sunrise and a Bloody Maria.How to stock a bar cart (suggestions for a $250+ budget)Suggestions for a $250 Budget (and beyond!) 

I know it's unlikely that many of you will want to spend this much on bar cart supplies in one day, so just think of this as planning for the future! You can build it up over time. For this budget I recommend 9 base liquors (you can branch out/upgrade as shown below), 6 bitters (I use Fee Brothers Celery, Bitterman's Elemekule and Hellfire bitters most, in addition to the Angosturas) and 3-5 Liqueurs and Mixers (I love St. Germain, Benedictine and Cointreau). 

Also at this stage it's a great time to branch out and invest in some good bar tools and different types of glassware. We'll talk more about that stuff below. 

I spent the past year collecting different bottles and pieces a little bit at a time. The best part is that now no matter what recipe I want to try I usually don't need to spend too much money, because I have so many basics. Plus it's great for parties! We have a couple friends who geek out for hours mixing different cocktails.Branching OutBranching Out

After you've collected the basics you can branch out and collect different types of your favorite spirits. Whiskey, Gin, Rum and Tequila are really diverse, and it's fun to collect different types from different regions. Special BottlesSpecial Bottles

There are so many special bottles that you may want to eventually collect. I love this Japanese Whiskey for hot toddys. And Absinthe is something I rarely use, but it's fun to have for special recipes. Since liquor lasts forever-ish, it's ok to buy things you won't use as often. Although, every time I buy a special bottle I inevitably start searching for more ways to use it! Fun Liqueurs and mixersLiqueurs and Mixers

These are SO fun! I love trying different liqueurs and mixers! They aren't as versatile as the base liquor, which is why it's important to collect those first, but they often come up in cocktail recipes and will add lot of flavor to your drinks!ToolsTools 

Above: Citrus Juicer, Fine Mesh Strainer, Julep Strainer, Jigger, Muddler

Tools are usually inexpensive and you'll get a LOT of use out of them. Plus, they are just fun because they'll make your at-home-cocktails feel more legit! The tools I use the most are my muddler (for any drink with muddled fruit or mint leaves) and my fine mesh strainer (great for straining homemade simple syrups into mason jars). A jigger is nice for measuring, but you can use any measuring cup! Having a cocktail shaker is awesome, but you can use anything that seals (like a mason jar) if you don't have one. You just need to be creative when you're pooring, so the ice stays in the container.Special cups and shakerSpecial Occasion Pieces 

Some classic cocktails are served in special cups. It's fun to collect copper mugs for Moscow Mules and silver cups for Mint Juleps. I collect cocktail shakers at home and I love using them at parties and for special dinners. Basic GlasswareGlassware

There are endless varieties of glassware you can collect. I'm planning to write a whole post about just glasses eventually. To get started, the most used glasses in my collection are a simple cocktail glass, a rocks glass and a collins glass. So basically, something pretty, something short and something tall! You can always branch out from there. I love collecting random vintage glassware from flea markets. 

Let me know if you have any questions of experiences you'd like to share in the comments!! xo. Elsie 

Credits//Author and Photography: Elsie Larson Additional Resources: Bar Cart, Kitchen Towel, Triangle Towel, Lucite Tray

  • Love your Bar cart and thanks for the superb recommendations!

    I have a similar bar cart but in white and my liquor is stocked with all the basics + some top shelf, but alot of what you have there I wish we could get in Jamaica ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love that you drinks you can make with each budget – fab, fab post!

  • my husband & i just stocked our bar at our “new” house (we’ve been there almost a year, but that’s still kind of new, right?!), and it was so much fun to do. we definitely invested in copper mugs for moscow mules, and i’ve loved having st. germain splashed in my champagne. bars/bar carts just make everything feel a little bit fancier!

  • I’d love to hear your advice on the other components of cocktails that aren’t necessarily permanently stored on a bar cart, such as mixers and ice! My soon to be sister-in-law (and bartender) swears by Q Drinks for mixers and her boyfriend loves using perfectly square ice cubes (from a special silicone ice cube tray). Do you have any preferences or advice?

  • Now that I’m 25, this is something I really want to do. I prefer cocktails to beer (well, I LOVE beer but it makes me feel so full so quickly), so I’ve want to build up a little bar, but never know where to start. I’ve got rum, because it’s my favorite, so thanks for recommending how to branch out from there!

    http://cuddlyasacactus.wordpress.com/

  • I love how creative cocktails can be. I think each of these suggestions listed with the budget is perfect. You don’t need much to be creative! It’s all about getting your hands dirty trying to find new mixes with seasonal goods!
    I’ve got a few recipes on my blog as well for some simple cocktail ideas if you are ever interested!
    http://www.oomphlove.blogspot.ca

  • This is so helpful. I haven’t known where to start because liqueur is expensive and so I haven’t done anything. Honestly, breaking it down by budget…this is genius way to help people.

  • I have a little bar “cabinet” (I’d like to put wheels on the bottom to maybe turn it into a cart) that I’ve been stocking up over time, this is definitely the process that I’ve used as well! Plus I love that building the bar up over time allows you to try new liquors as you might come across them, once you’ve already got the basics covered.

    The $50, 100 and up suggestions are absolutely genius as well!

  • This is exactly what I need! I got a couple LCBO (liquor store here in Ontario) gift cards for my birthday and I decided it was time for me to start a good cocktail cart collection to make “grown-up” drinks, instead of just Smirnoff Ice all the time!
    Thanks for the tips! I can’t wait to impress my friends with some fun cocktails on our next game night! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Hey Heidi!
    Cool. I’d love to post more about that sometime.
    For ice we use the big cubes ( http://www.amazon.com/Tovolo-King-Cube-Ice-Tray/dp/B00395FHRO/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1389740097&sr=8-4&keywords=silicone+ice+cube+tray ) for whiskey cocktails and scotch & the smaller squares ( http://www.amazon.com/TUNDRA-Silicone-Ice-Cube-Trays/dp/B00EKZPP2Y/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1389740097&sr=8-11&keywords=silicone+ice+cube+tray ) for everything else. They are totally fancy feeling and worth the effort.
    xo- Elsie

  • Unique post ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’d love you to make me a cocktail haha!
    alicekatex โ™ฅ

  • Don’t forget the ice bucket. No real reason to have a cart vs. shelf (aside from the obvious adorableness of it) if there’s no ice bucket to make drinks outside the kitchen. Takes up space on the cart, but here are slim versions, and it can also accent nicely in terms of display.

  • I was totally poking around your site the week after Christmas for something like this as I was gifted a beautiful bar cart. Thanks so much! You gals are fantastic at what you do ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I have always admired your bar cart, such a cute retro addition to a home that a lot of people don’t have, super creative and fun. This post is great, I especially love how you speak to the different price points.

  • What would you suggest for a non-alcohol cart? I’m only 20 but I really want to do something like this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • There’s a lot o’spirits on that cart. Now I need a post on How to Handle Your Liquor. Coming from a Midwest, religiously brought up girl. I’m showing my ignorance, but really…with alcoholism in members of family before me, my family having swung the other way, I know it’s possible to drink responsibly, but I haven’t dabbled yet.

    I am, let’s say, reverent of chemicals ingested. And I do post in sincere curiosity.

  • Ok I seriously loved this post! Super insightful and fun! We love mixed drinks so this is right up our alley!

  • Oh for a bar cart…..unfirtunately with small kids it is never an option (and when they grow out of the phase of knocking it over, I get the new fear that they will drink it!) Oh well, 16 years until they move out or can legally pour for me, and until then, there is always a high shelf!

  • It would be amazing if you could do a tea cart! I’m a non-drinker and I LOVE tea, so your bar cart has inspired a tea cart for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I have been reading your blog for a while, but have never commented. There must be some personal irony in the fact that my first comment is related to liquor. ๐Ÿ™‚ Here are some things that folks might consider at the mid-to-higher level or just for fun. They may not be as easy to get, but they are worth searching out once you have a base.

    Art in the Age has two liqueurs Snap and Root that are ginger snap and root beer flavored respectively. The snap makes a great classic ginger rogers or the root makes a fun bourbon drink.

    For another fun addition check out a vodka made by a small producer in Santa Barbara that tastes like apple pie in all of the right ways. It is a great winter drink with rye. Also, the alcohol content is lower which can be nice.

    Some French classics like green and yellow chartreuse always make my list. And, cassis is a fun addition to drink with champagne/sparkling or a light beer.

    If anyone wants a great and accessible book of vintage cocktail recipes I highly recommend Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh!

    Cheers all and thanks Elsie for the great post!

  • This is a fantastic post! I have recently been looking to create a starter bar for my place and wasn’t exactly sure where to start. Thanks!

    Sweet Spontaneity

  • I love the bar cart! In Australia spirits are super expensive ($35 for a bottle of terrible vodka) so no way I’ll be stocking my bar cart any time soon! Maybe when I’m back in North America! So so cute though!

    xx Becky

  • Your bar cart looks so pretty and professional! I’m tempted to put together one of my own, and I don’t even drink ๐Ÿ˜›
    I will definitely refer to this very helpful post if I ever venture into the liquor world ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I adore your bar cart! Where did you get it?

    Also, thanks so much for doing this post, super helpful! I’ve been wanting to put together a bar cart for awhile and this is a fantastic guide!

  • Great recommendations! My boyfriend runs a bar, so naturally we have a little bar cart at home. When he travels to Spain to visit me, he brings back several bottles of rum (in particular) as there is much less (or no) tax on alcohol here, and it’s cheaper anyway – meaning he often can save 60-70% on a bottle. So if you’re travelling, do have a look in a department store, or an independent alcohol supplier to get some great deals ๐Ÿ™‚ xx
    Coquetin

  • This is such an amazing post – so informative and helpful! I especially love that you listed out which cocktails can be made on which budget – genius!

  • Great post, makes me tiny bit sad that 1. I live in a country where a bottle of any “normal” mid shelf rum is about 3-4 times more expensive than in the U.S and 2. I live in a teeny tiny apartment where I every floor space is taken up by a furniture that I really need (like a kitchen table or a closet) so there is no way I could fit in a pretty cart like that.

    But, I do have an interest in cocktails and I have a few suggestions that you also could add – a small bottle of already squeezed lime juice (for times when you don’t have fresh lime at hand or simply don’t want to cut up an entire one just for a tiny amount for a drink). Tabasco (you’d be surprised how fun it can be, and people get curious when they see it on the cart), an ice crusher – because sometimes you don’t want cubes, and also add a cocktail recipe book on the card! In that case anyone who is not a bartender will also get inspired and not scared off.

    Plus, any cocktail without garnish just doesn’t count so add some pretty straws, salt, slices of lemon and lime or berries/fruit on the cart too before a party etc.

  • I can’t believe a bottle of liquor only costs about $15 where you live! That’s amazing. Here in Australia you’d be lucky to get a bottle of Smirnoff for $35, and that’s on ‘special’ -)I do love your idea of buying baby bottles though and your bar cart looks amazing. I think I need to make a cocktail now!

  • I think this is my favourite post ever. I absolutely love making drinks, and can’t wait until I have my own place and my own bar cart.
    I went to the Jameson whiskey distillery in Dublin last Summer and loved it. Especially because of the whiskey ginger we were served at the end ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Can’t wait for this! I’m doing Dry January, but think I’ll do Dry May too.. could be very useful. Ginger ale and lime is the best for hot summers days ๐Ÿ™‚

  • For the liqueurs you can have a lot of fun making your own. There are a lot of basic recipes available, and you can branch out ant experiment with your own combinations. Elderflower liqueur is one on your cart that’s very simple to make, but you can only make it when the fresh flowers are available. Although with something like a ginger liqueur, that’s something you can make at any time of the year (and is one of the easiest to make and fastest to mature).

  • This is great advice. We don’t drink much at home so we find ourselves with just a random assortment that doesn’t quite make a good drink. I will definitely use this advice to get some staples to have on hand when our friends come over.

  • Great post! I’ve been building my collection over time, but one thing I have yet to get is tequila. I had a bad experience one New Year’s in my early 20s, and since then haven’t been able to drink it. *Is* there a tequila that is not as tequila-y as, say, Jose Cuervo? I may have to just come to terms that tequila and I aren’t meant to be, but was just wondering – my husband loves margaritas.

    Thanks!

  • Wow, $50 would get one bottle of one the bases in Australia! Would love to do this by my partner is a brewer so beer is the drink in our house!

  • Again very handy and inspirational ๐Ÿ™‚
    X Willemijn Sofie

    Creator of AmsterdamSoFashion๏ปฟ&Willemijn So Fashion๏ปฟ

  • Elsie this was so incredibly helpful! :)… We’re saving up for our first home and an adorable little bar cart is an absolute must for us (& our guests)!

    I’m also a total vino lover though… just wondering where/how (or if) you store your wine.

  • Great post!
    I used to run a bar in Florence, Italy, and so when I moved into my current place I knew I wanted to re-create that a little for when guests come over.
    Instead of a bar cart, I got a vintage corner cabinet, the top half is glass fronted so I can show off all my crystal decanters and glassware, and the bottom half is packed full of bottles of every kind you could want, plus several types of whisky which my boyfriend loves. Our most recent is a 344 day old wheat whisky from Brooklyn! I love that one too!

  • My partner and I have been stocking up a little bar of our own for the past year or two, starting with the what remained after a birthday party at our place. So glad to see we seem to be doing our additions the best way as shown in your post ๐Ÿ˜€ Also now know what elements are on our next purchases (basically more bitters!). Thanks for such a great and helpful post.

    Karen

  • I love this! I’ve been wanting to make ourselves a bar cart ever since I saw your refurbished one. Right now, we’re in a teeny apartment and only have room to stash bottles in our laundry room, which isn’t very cute or convenient. You’ve inspired me to start hunting for the perfect vintage bar cart to have on hand when we move into a new place with more room ๐Ÿ™‚
    xo Jac

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This is such a wonderful post. I absolutely love that you included different budgets in here. You definitely know how to speak to your audience and it’s so inspiring. I can’t wait to build my bar cart in my next home. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m going to save this one for sure!

  • Thanks so much!!! I’m actually giving my fiance some nice gin, tonic, and an accompanying cooler of ice on our wedding day as a gift, so this is TRULY VERY helpful! You just took a ton of stress and research off my shoulders. You are amazing!

  • Our liquor cabinet looks a bit funny right now, because we did get the “weird” stuff right out of college and never finished the bottles. We learned our lesson and now that we’re 30 have an appreciation for some good stuff. One that was a gift, but has been fun to come up with cocktails with is Absolute Boston – its infused with elder flower. Would love to hear any suggestions you have for that one!

  • What is the difference between a liquor and a bitter and what do they add to the drink? I’ve honestly never heard of them in my experiences with alcohol. This post was great, though!!

  • Excellent post! My husband’s brother-in-law had a Bar Stocking party when they finished the home bar they have in their basement. Everyone was asked to bring a bottle of something they love, and they ended up with quite the assortment! I think that’s a great alternative to a house warming party, and it’s also a win-win for everyone involved! The bar owner gets a free bottle for their bar, and the guest knows there will always be something there they like whenever they visit.

  • Really comprehensive post as always! Can I ask where you got your trays from or are they DIY? I;m struggling to find something similar. Thanks

  • Great post! You bar cart is beautiful. I don’t have one, but I have a “bar cupboard” (old cupboard which comes from my grandmother, tall and narrow).
    I must say, I never keep my opened vermouth bottle in the fridge – it doesn’t go bad at all!

  • Great guidelines! I’d also suggest considering which things can multitask. I don’t drink, but I cook and bake a LOT. And I like to entertain and have things around that other folks can drink. Two of my standards are bourbon and rum. I can use them for lots of baked goods, but folks also like to drink them and they can be easily mixed with other things I have. Likewise, vermouth can be used in cooking in place of white wine (and it’ll last way longer when you only use a little bit for a recipe), but also be added to cocktails. And I’m not afraid to buy liqueurs, since they’re terrific for baking (Frangelico is my favorite!)

  • Great suggestions! For Canadians, you could probably double the budgets… it’s insane. A bottle of any base liquor is $40. So we usually just keep white rum, citron vodka, and triple sec on hand (with a coffee liqueur at the holidays, too). This way we can make our favourites: rum & coke for Ryan, cosmopolitan or mojito for me! With kiddos in the house, we keep the bottles in the cupboards above the fridge, but I love the idea of a bar cart! I love all your cocktail recipes, Elsie!!

  • This is super helpful!

    I also second the point about buying the small bottles first. My husband and I have bought a bottle of something we just knew would be amazing, and ended up giving it away because we didn’t like it at all. A bit of an expensive lesson, for sure!

  • I loved your bar cart post last year so much – it inspired me to gift my husband (who loves experimenting with mixing drinks) with his own bar cart, complete with a few new bottles to try! People are drawn to it when they come over because it’s a bit unique, and after my parents decided to pass their liquor collection onto us last year it’s quite well-stocked with some great bottles!

  • I just got a bar cart for Christmas and styling it was such fun. But going forward, I want to focus on stocking it with essentials. So your post was perfect. I have the necessary ingredients for my favorite cocktails, but I’m missing a few basics. Thanks for the list. And I need some new tools! I think a muddler and juicer are high priority purchases. I live buying vintage. But do you have any tips for great places to buy bar tending supplies?

  • Hi Kristina!

    Jeremy and I just started getting into wine recently. We are planning to build a wine rack sometime soon for our home. I’ll post it here when we do!

    xx- Elsie

  • Hi Melinda,
    I didn’t include wine of champagne since it’s normal to drink a bottle like that in one day. This post is strictly about cocktails, but we’ve been working on some wine posts for the future!!
    xx- Elsie

  • Hi Stacia!

    Bitters are flavor enhancers so they help to bring out flavor in your drinks. They are super strong, so only a few drops are needed.

    xx- Elsie

  • Thank you for a great advice! This came just right on time for me, I’m trying to build up a little bar!
    Looooove your blog <3

    weareatlove.com

  • What a helpful post! I’ve been wanting to incorporate a bar cart into our home for a while now and have been wondering where to start. Thanks!

  • Thank you so much for those tips Elsie, I was just thinking of buying a bar cart, now I can’t wait to start ! ๐Ÿ™‚