Something happened a few years ago, the bar cart blew up and now it’s a staple in everyone’s home. It’s no longer something just bloggers have or that you only see on Pinterest. I’m seeing it in most of my friends’ homes now and I kind of love it. But my question to you is, is yours ready to go if friends drop in and want a drink? The answer is likely no. And if it is stocked with anything, it’s likely the one thing you enjoy to drink, right? That’s what I thought.
Everyone has unique tastes when it comes to their cocktail of choice. I’m all about the tequila but my friends usually cringe when they see me order it on the rocks. But likewise, I feel the same way about their vodka cranberry. My bar cart has been growing a lot lately as every time I want to create a fun cocktail for the blog, I usually have to go out and buy some new ingredients. But for your standard at home bar essentials, it doesn’t need to be a ton of items. Since my friends and I just had one of these spontaneous nights on the couch with drinks, I thought this was a great time to share what you should always keep ready to go for a night in with friends.
Plus whether you have a ton of space or not, you can keep all of these either on a simple tray or in a full on bar cart. It’s up to you, but either way, I can’t recommend enough having a grown-up updated bar selection at your fingertips.
Shop Bar Carts
The At Home Bar Essentials Checklist
1. Basic Liquors
This is I suppose obvious, but not always. I recommend keeping a bottle of each of the basics on hand no matter what. It’s just six bottles and you can easily find each of these at or around $20 or less. You can even do smaller pint bottles for the ones you’re not really drinking on the regular. I’ve also included my favorite brands in case you head to the liquor store and aren’t sure what to pick up. The good news is, unopened liquor really lasts forever. Once opened, you may want to use them up in a year or two. Plus, you may already have a few of these already or ask your friends next time they come over to bring their favorite liquor while you provide dinner. It’s a fair trade if you ask me!
Bourbon or Whiskey
A liquor I’ve been enjoying more than usual, I love Bulleit for a great base to a cocktail. Angels Envy is also a popular one at the moment that’s great for sipping. And I’m also a big fan of Coopers’ Craft.
Johnnie Walker Red or Black. If you’re not a scotch drinker, get a smaller bottle of this as people only usually sip this on the rocks or neat. Fun fact my first drink ever at the great ol age of 14 was Johnny Walker Red. My parents caught my friends and I enjoyed it when we thought they were gone all afternoon, #regrets.
Titos seems to be my friends’ favorite, but Kettle One, Grey Goose and Absolut Elyx are other great options. If you ever forced me to drink vodka, it better be Absolut Elyx.
Herradura and Cazadores Reposado are personal favorites for sipping or great for mixed drinks. For margaritas, just go for the less expensive brands, el Jimador is a great one. Please I beg of you, throw out the Patron Silver. It’s terrible tequila, and only expensive because rappers talk about it often.
Hendricks is a favorite, expensive, but worth it. Since you just need one bottle of this, it’s worth the splurge. A more affordable option is Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater.
Bacardi is a classic and goes great in just about any mixed cocktail. I personally like a refreshing mojito. If you want a little variety, add a spiced rum to your collection for Dark & Stormy’s.
I also almost always have a bottle of red, white and some sort of sparkling ready to go.
I also keep a small bottle of sweet Vermouth for Manhattans of course, and Bailey’s, Grand Marnier and Kahlua for night caps on my bar cart. More on those below.
A popular cocktail, the Manhattan, requires a little bitters (get the recipe here). I’m also a fan of ginger ale and bitters for an upset tummy. Cocktail bitters are inexpensive and essential for every bar cart. You can always get fancy and get different flavored bitters like grapefruit bitters (which I LOVE) for unique cocktails. But just be sure you keep the classic Angostura bitters on hand. It’s the only one you’ll ever really need for classic cocktails.
3. Night Cap Favorites
I’ve become a little obsessed with sweet night cap cocktails. A nice espresso martini or just Bailey’s on the rocks, it’s a favorite way to end a meal with friends. Figure out a cocktail you like to make and keep those essentials in your bar cart. Whipping one up after dinner with friends will be impressive for sure! If you need some after-dinner cocktail inspiration you can try my spiked hot chocolate or my chocolate martini.
4. Bar Tools
There are just a few essentials you need to make sure you not only open bottles properly but whip up drinks correctly. Wine opener, muddler, jigger, martini shaker, pint glass and stirrer. I like to shake my martinis with a pint glass but you can also just use a pretty shaker like this one.
5. Coasters & Napkins
After you create a cocktail and hand it to your guest you’ll want to make sure they have a napkin or coaster. I like to keep a few coasters in my bar cart even though I have them on my coffee table. The more the better!
6. Proper Glassware
I’m into old school glassware lately. Like vintage style etched rocks glasses and pretty coupe glasses. They’re making a serious comeback now that mixology is becoming more popular than ever. You should always have rocks glasses, wine glasses, champagne flutes as well as martini glasses. If you’re tight on space (which I am), forget the wine glasses and champagne flutes and instead have a set of coupe glasses. Coupe glasses can work double time for martinis and champagne. Wine can go in a small rocks glass (that’s how the French drink it!) along with all your other mixed drinks or anything on the rocks. This way you don’t have a ton of barware! Unless you’re a big wine person, I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to clutter up an already small kitchen with extra glasses.
7. Simple Mixers
So you do want a vodka cranberry? That’s fine. But you still need to have a few other mixers on hand. I recommend keeping them to a minimum as there’s no need to have a whole juice bar and soda fountain in your house. Instead, have a few essentials readily available and just purchase the mini versions. My fridge is always stocked with a few mini cans of tonic water and ginger beer. Typically I’m a soda water fan on the regular, so that’s always stocked in my fridge in various flavors. On top of that, I’d add to your cabinet whatever you typically drink. Cranberry, cola, whatever, but again, the small cans work best and won’t be wasted if you’re just making a couple of drinks.