Bar carts have long signaled old-fashioned sophistication, recalling the cocktail party craze of the 1950s and '60s. Call it the Don Draper effect: rolling liquor cabinets are back in style.
"People love them. There are several on the market that look great," says Rivers Spencer, interior designer and owner of Rivers Spencer Interiors. "The vintage ones with big wheels are really popular. ... I have one in the store now with chrome and brass. It has a wine rack and that mid-century vintage feel."
Bar carts offer a range of capabilities, making them ideal for anyone without a home bar or for the host who wants to move the party from room to room. "They bring functionality," Spencer says. "They don't take up too much room because they're visually open."
Bar carts can be used as kitchen islands, end tables or as a place to serve meals outside. "They're a nice addition to the home," says Spencer, who uses a Lucite bar cart to show off her collection of vintage decanters. Personal touches keep the cart in line with a room's decor.
"I like to put out cocktail books at the bottom," Spencer says. "A bud vase and a bowl full of nuts are good touches."
As far as liquor goes, Angela Haber, bartender at Vaughan's Pub in the New Orleans Athletic Club, suggests stocking vodka, gin, rum and bourbon, as well as fresh juice and Coca-Cola or Sprite for mixers.
"There are others, but those are the major ones when you're having someone over," Haber says. "For making cocktails, have tonic water, soda water, bitters and dry vermouth, because it's inexpensive and a must for a well-stocked bar. A good shaker and a strainer too."
Sarah Lisotta, manager at Martin Wine Cellar, recommends Peychaud and Angostura bitters for specialty cocktails. "The list only grows from there, depending on how much you want to delve into the cocktail culture," she says. "Specialized syrups, shrubs and multiple flavors of bitters are big these days, as are multiple brands of premium spirits and esoteric liqueurs."
Glassware depends on the drinks that will be served. Spencer suggests keeping highball and Champagne glasses on hand. Less is more: fewer glasses give the cart a sophisticated, uncluttered look and keep bartending simple. For hosts offering a variety of drinks, martini glasses, stemware for wine and Champagne, and handsome double rocks glasses are viable options, Haber says.
"You can put both a mixed drink and a rocks drink [in it]," Haber says. "You can do a variety of things with a double rocks glass."
Old Fashioneds or Sazeracs are appropriate cocktails for festive gatherings. "Those are traditional classics," Haber says. "I love to make them for the holidays."
For warmer days, Haber recommends sangria. "A white sangria is special and versatile in warmer weather," she says. "In New Orleans, it can be made six months out of the year."
Haber recommends homemade hors d'oeuvres such as hand-stuffed olives and croutons with tapenade. "Hand-stuffed olives are a huge hit with an intimate crowd," Haber says. "You can make several dozen in a flash and it goes a long way." Both snacks complement a bar cart's laid-back elegance.
"Doesn't everyone fix themselves a drink at the end of the day?" Spencer asks. "Living well is an art."
Essential cocktail party recipes
Add two generous shakes of Angostura bitters and two shakes of Peychaud's bitters to a rocks glass. Add an orange wedge and muddle. Pour one tablespoon of simple syrup and two ounces of your favorite bourbon or Scotch into the glass. Stir and fill with ice.
Pour one drop of anise liqueur, such as Herbsaint or Pernod, into a lightly chilled rocks glass, then pour it out. Fill shaker with ice one third of the way and pour in two ounces of rye whiskey. Add a tablespoon of simple syrup and two generous shakes of Peychaud's bitters. Shake lightly and strain into the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and one ice cube.
Combine 1/4 cup blue cheese or feta with 1/4 cup anchovies and stuff into pitted Queen olives.
Croutons with homemade tapenade
Cut baguettes into inch-thick slices and lightly toast. Spread with unsalted butter and tapenade (capers, anchovies and olives, chopped and mixed with olive oil).