Bar carts: Another trend or actually useful?

Some thoughts on whether or not it's really the best way to store your booze

Published May 23, 2021 1:30PM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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Something I've been doing with my free time lately (because, of course) is ponder: Are bar carts on their way out?

Before you take me to task, hear me out: Bar carts aren't the most functional of household items. They're effectively open shelving displays of your favorite glassware, liquors, and drink-making supplies, which is moderately humorous, considering the discrepancies in the world of alcohol-as-decor.

We tend to poke fun at more, shall we say, "fratty" displays of alcohol, i.e., lining the tops of cabinets with empty bottles of Jäger or plastering the wall with broken-down boxes of beer. But a tasteful vintage champagne ad or a St. Germain bottle turned bud vase? Refined! Classy! A bar cart stocked with upscale liquors, bitters, and vessels to combine them in? Resplendent!

I happen to adore my bar cart, but the constant wiping down I do of the cart and its contents prompted further investigation, so I posted a poll on Instagram asking, "Are bar carts out? Or still cool?" The responses (to my relief) came back as such: 16% for out, and 84% for still cool.

That said, those in the anti-cart camp had some pretty strong opinions on why, in fact, they're an impractical investment piece. Come along with me, if you will, through the pros and cons of the bar cart, and at the end, tell me which camp you fall into: out or still cool?

* * *

Some gripes I received:

They're begging for cat mischief

"Dislike: My cat can easily knock things off of it," says Margot Maley, an Instagram follower and mischievous-cat owner in Brooklyn, New York. Anything breakable that's on display is a cat disaster waiting to happen, as most cat owners are aware, and it's sometimes an issue even for overzealous dog tails and curious, teething puppies.

We may have grown out of them

Unfortunately, many of us may have officially grown out of the beloved Swedish-emporium-style rolling carts for housing our beveragino ingredients. Says my extremely stylish friend, Sophia Guglietta, "I think we've grown out of IKEA bar carts, after a year of stuck-in-our-apartments drinking. Now, we need a dedicated piece of furniture."

Does anyone really make drinks on them?

The answer is almost unanimously . . . no. "They're a logistical nightmare in a party or social setting," my friend from college, Omar Hamad, points out. "People like to make drinks in the kitchen." Indeed, you will never actually find me at the bar cart stirring up a cocktail; I'm always at the kitchen counter spilling lime juice and running out of ice, because my bar cart is chock-full of items.

They're kind of clunky

Quite simply, says Arati Menon, Home52 editorial lead (and small living aficionado), "I have no space for one." This harkens back to the idea that bar carts really are just a decor piece, one that can be forfeited should the space not allow.

All. The. Dust.

Possibly the worst offender among the list of bar cart problems: the dust that settles on every last item. "I don't want to see cups out — they belong in a cabinet," frets Alex Mantia, my very particular friend and a NYC paralegal. "A side table or small cabinet is better so you can keep the glasses dust free, but let your bottles shine on top." It's true, each time I reach for one of my gorgeous smoked wine glasses, I have to give it a quick rinse in the sink before using it.

* * *

A swift defense:

The timelessness of it all

"It's timeless. I will fight anyone who says otherwise," proposes Mariam Chubidze, the fiercest defender of the bar cart yet. It's true that cocktail carts have been around for at least 100 years, having reached their peak popularity in the 1950s, when office whiskey was at the ready (hello, Mad Men), and at home, carts actually rolled from room to room while entertaining. It's still a staple of midcentury design, too.

It just . . . makes sense

"Where else would I put my alcohol if not on my overcrowded bar car?" says Alyse Whitney, Haus aperitif collector and lover of booze storage practicality. "Since I can't be crammed in a bar with my friends right now, my assortment of bitters, aperitifs, and liquor can all hang out too close together on there." And if not on the bar cart, they'd likely be taking up precious real estate in a kitchen cabinet.

Do what works for you

Says our resident apartment bartenderElliot Clark, "for the at-home enthusiasts, booze storage isn't a trend, it's a necessity." Whether you opt for a bar cart or a bar cabinet, it's all really personal preference. "If you're like me," Elliot continues, "and have over 300 bottles in your apartment — you might need a bar cart, bar cabinet, and more."

They really are stunning

Like anything else we decorate our homes with, bar carts aren't always super functional. Sure, we don't really roll them around to make drinks on, but does that make them any less beautiful to behold? Not at all. Every afternoon, I look forward to the light coming in and hitting the array of colored bottles on my cart just right, and that little glistening moment is enough to keep me hooked on the open-air display of my sins for some time longer.

By Caroline Mullen

MORE FROM Caroline Mullen

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Alcohol Bar Cart Food Food52 Interior Design Storage Trends