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How to Set Up the Perfect Holiday Bar Cart

  • Photos by Shanna Sullivan

Because every hostess needs one.

Kick off the holiday season by inviting friends over for a spread of well-made drinks and well-appointed snacks. Save the heavy lifting for your actual holiday meal! Here’s how to make the most of your bar cart for super simple entertaining.

Roll in the Fun

A bar cart is the ultimate entertaining VIP. This chic and versatile piece of furniture offers guests an unintimidating way to help themselves to drinks (less work for you!) and can easily be arranged to take for any party theme — for a holiday fete we love piling on festive gold accessories.  When it comes to styling your bar cart, Vanessa Dina, author of “The Art of The Bar Cart: Styling and Recipes” says always include items you love. “Whether it’s a matchbook from a faraway place you've traveled or a set of cordial glasses from a trip to Italy, having something personal is a great conversation starter and will always remind you of good times.”

Another tip: Don’t forget the greenery. “A simple bunch of anything colorful will make a space come alive,” she says. In addition to a vase of white lisianthus, we hung a classic magnolia and seeded eucalyptus wreath.

Martha Stewart Collection Barware with a Twist Bar Cart, $286, macys.com.West Elm white carafe, $34, westelm.com. West Elm Textured Candy Bowl, $10, westelm.com. Pottery Barn Acorn Vase Filler, $9, potterybarn.com.

More Must-Haves

While personal touches and tall sculptural items such as lamps and vases lend visual interest to a bar cart, the main attraction are the drinks. Stock the shelves with your favorite spirits and handsome tools. Corral bottles and decorative items in a stylish tray, like this one which mixes glam gold with a warm wood. Complete the look with an ice bucket, which keeps guests out of the kitchen and in the main party space.

Martha Stewart Collection Barware with a Twist Tray, $72, macys.comMartha Stewart Collection Barware with a Twist Ice Bucket and Tongs, $79, macys.com.

Keep it Cozy

While the main action takes place around the bar cart, your guests need a place to plop down for a rester, or to, you know, adjust the filters on all those Instagrammable moments. To create a cozy-yet-sophisticated nook layer a chair with rich jewel-toned pillows (we’re loving luxe velvet this season) and a lush throw.

Martha Stewart Collection Chenille Throw in Dark Water, $39.99, macys.com. Martha Stewart Collection Contrast Velvet 20” Decorative Pillow, $39.99, macys.com. West Elm Vero Chair in Metal, $599, westelm.com.

 

And to Drink?

You don’t want to be stuck at the bar cart mixing all night! We recommend making two cocktails large enough for a crowd with different base spirits and flavor profiles that guests will be able to choose from, such as our Pear-and-Cranberry Bellini and Rye-Whiskey Switchel. Apply the same philosophy to the food. Put out snacks, such as a cheese plate with crackers, olives, and Marcona almonds, for everyone to nibble on. 

 

Martha Stewart Collection Barware with a Twist Cocktail Shaker, $40, macys.com

The Plan

Get Ahead: Do as much before the party as possible -- prep cocktail ingredients, such as grated ginger and the cocktail base for the switchels (which needs time for the flavors to mingle), set out glasses, slice up garnishes, or even pre-batch a big pitcher of your cocktail if the recipe allows (you’re in luck, the Bellini does!). That way you can offer your guests a drink as soon as they arrive.

Mix and match store-bought and homemade: You can always go the store-bought route, but something made from scratch, such as our Pistachio-Raisin Crisps, or gussy up some of the ingredients you brought home, make these Marinated Olives, helps to make the party memorable.

Invest in the right tools

Having the proper tool for the job is a nice touch when you have guests over. Here’s what you should have handy:

Cocktail shaker -- Not only is it essential for making so many drinks, but it also adds a bit of theater to your party.

Double jigger -- How else will you accurately measure your booze?

Hawthorne strainer -- Unlike the julep strainer, which has holes, this version features a spring that secures over the shaker.

Bottle opener -- For guests who opt for beer or cider.

Knife -- Use the blade to slice fruit and the pronged end to spear olives, cherries, and other cocktail garnishes.

 

Martha Stewart Collection Barware with a Twist 5-Piece Tool Set, $65, macys.com

Ginger Grater

Fresh ginger is one of our favorite unexpected cocktail ingredients, and this tool makes adding it to drinks a breeze. Start with the switchel, then try our Cranberry-Ginger Shandy or Ginger Sparkler.

 

Ginger grater, $10, macys.com