If the rise of cocktail culture has taught us anything, it’s the magic of a well-stocked bar cart. This hosting essential is even more beloved during the holidays — when you’re rushing from the door to the kitchen, you can breezily invite your guests to help themselves. Maybe you’re not quite ready to open a speakeasy, but this the best time of year to indulge in a few over-the-top recipes (as in, more than two ingredients) and show off some festive glassware. Here’s how to keep your bar cart primed and ready to party.
1. The Essentials
A leftover bottle of cabernet and a few half-empty liquor bottles do not an acceptable assortment make for the modern-day host. While the spirits world can be confusing and intimidating, having a few basics on hand will ensure that you’ve covered all the bases.
An easy way to think about bar-cart staples is to divide them into two groups: clear spirits like vodka, tequila and gin; and dark spirits, which include scotch, rum and bourbon. You don’t have to buy everything—most guides suggest six or seven liquors, which is plenty. For mixers, keeping it simple is best if you don’t plan on becoming a famous mixologist. Having some tonic water, cans of soda and a bottle of vermouth on hand will earn you big points, as most guests can find something from that selection to suit their tastes. Bonus points if you have a selection of bitters.
2. The Glassware
Is there a better time of year to flaunt your tabletop collection? The holidays practically demand glamour and excitement at home, which is what every host lives for. The spirits world offers the perfect opportunity because the range of festive drinks and seasonal editions requires special glassware. Now is the time to unearth those rare-occasion vessels like cordials, snifters and aperitif glasses and actually use them.
We never want shot glasses to hide away, so we intentionally design ours to look stylish. The same is true of our Champagne flutes. We also appreciate the variety in size and shape from less commonly used vessels like coupes and martini glasses. Let your bar cart become a runway and show off all the pieces you’ve collected.
3. The Tools
Bartending skills aside, a few key accessories will truly elevate the business of making cocktails. One indispensable item is a bar spoon. They’re available in a variety of styles and lengths, and regardless of what you’re serving, having the proper spoon for mixing and swirling is a must. Ice buckets can be cumbersome, but they are necessary and the stylish options can be their own design statements. If you expect martinis to be in demand, invest in a good shaker. And don’t forget the citrus squeezer! Unless you love spending hours pulverizing lemons and limes, give yourself a break and invest in a tidy manual option so you can actually enjoy the party.
4. The Fun Extras
Expand your hosting repertoire and think about global food and drinking traditions. You can consider offering slightly more unfamiliar options and small bites to infuse new life into an expected holiday fete. Maybe your guests have never tried sake but always wanted to. Part of the experience is sipping from a sake set, which has its own aesthetic appeal. Cheap vodka is something we’re all familiar with, but for your next party you could splurge on a top-shelf brand and serve it with caviar in classic Russian fashion. Grappa and ouzo are also regional favorites with their own fascinating histories — and they all have the benefit of being single-pour options, making them easy to serve. Your bar cart is more than a cocktail station: It could be the evening’s starting place for sampling new and exciting flavors.
5. The Festive Touch
The holidays are about all getting together, and cocktails guarantee fast friends but not all your guests will want to bartend or even drink. One way to guarantee that everyone can participate is to bring back a classic party concoction: punch. The ultimate come-one-come-all invitation, punch is like the spirits equivalent of shared plates. All you need is a good recipe, a big bowl and a ladle; and nonalcoholic versions are easy to assemble. Formalities can drop when serving punch, so don’t worry about investing in a set of matching glasses, just enjoy what you have on hand. This is also one of the few cocktail moments when you can really play with a recipe — perfection isn’t required (though do try to temper the flavor so it doesn’t taste like something at a kids’ sleepover).