Turn a Side Table Into a Faux Bar Cart
As spring days heat up, I love to host small gatherings with just a few friends. Full-size bar carts are gorgeous, but you don’t need to stock a full bar for a casual affair. That’s why I decided to transform one of my favorite side tables into an easy-to-create, affordable bar cart stocked with repurposed items. You may even have most of the materials on hand! Here’s the finished product:
Ready to style your own faux bar cart? Here’s how to do it.
Find the Right Table
A small table with two or more open levels is ideal for a pint-sized faux bar cart. (This one serves as my bedside table in the cooler months.) Once you’ve shopped your home for the perfect table, move it to your sunroom, deck or patio to give guests easy access to beverages. You can even add casters on the bottom to move it from place to place with even more ease.
Pick a Theme
A loose theme ties your bar cart together and helps you choose the cocktail and the decor. I was inspired by both the hue and the flavor of in-season Meyer lemons. Since I have a lot of red-orange and turquoise pieces in my home, I decided to accent the cart with accessories in those hues.
Gather the Essentials
With your theme in mind, shop your home for essentials. Here are the basics you’ll need to stock your cart:
- Signature cocktail ingredients
- 1-2 non-alcoholic beverages
- Bottled beer (optional)
- Shot glass or shooter glass for measuring ingredients
- Container to chill cold beverages
- Drinking glasses for the group
- A serving tray
- A hand towel to clean up spills or drips
- A piece of art or fabric to display behind the cart
Use What You Have
Take a walk around your home and make a mental list of what you already have on hand. Don’t limit yourself to traditional barware: I repurposed a colorful tart pan as a serving tray, and hung a springy scarf as an impromptu curtain. Large terracotta flower pots make fantastic drink chillers. (Choose one without a drain on the bottom.)
Get Guests Involved
As a guest, I always enjoy trying my hand at mixing my own drink. As a host, it’s one less thing you have to do before the party starts. To empower guests to mix their own, I added a wooden chalkboard featuring the recipe for one of my spring favorites — Spiked Thyme Lemonade — behind the bar. (Recipe below!) The cute stoneware bin on the end was originally intended for pencils or utensils, but it made the perfect home for my thyme garnish.
Add the Finishing Touches
Stick-on chalkboard labels help guests determine what is what, and they can be easily changed for the next gathering. A glass dish of Meyer lemons is both a decorative accent and an ingredient in the signature cocktail. Don’t forget paper straws to garnish!
Spiked Thyme Lemonade
1 ounce Meyer lemon juice
2 ounce gin
1 teaspoon lemon-thyme syrup (recipe follows), or to taste
6 ounces lemon soda
Thyme sprig, for garnish
Fill a glass 1/3 of the way with ice. Squeeze 1 ounce Meyer lemon (about 1/2 lemon) into glass. Top with 2 ounces gin and 1 teaspoon lemon-thyme syrup. Top with lemon soda, then stir and enjoy.
Makes 2 cups
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups water
4 sprigs thyme
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
Combine sugar and water over medium heat and heat until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, lemon zest and thyme. Let stand for 15 minutes, then strain to remove lemon and thyme pieces. Refrigerate until serving. Keeps for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Now mix up a cocktail for yourself and raise a toast. Happy hosting!
Just like when you're designing a space in your home, a well-styled bar cart begins with a plan. Roxy Owens, founder of Society Social, advises, "Tres facile! It's easy. Use trays to help you divide the bar cart into zones and dedicate each zone to a specific essential, whether it's glassware, bottles or your own brass menagerie. You'll be simultaneously stylish and organized."
Look For Pretty Packaging
Color, pattern and texture all come into play when styling your bar cart. "Custom coasters add style and function," Owens says. "Cloth cocktail napkins are a small touch that can go a long way, and researching a small or local distillery can yield pretty packaging as well as equally delicious spirits."
Your bar cart can be the perfect display space. Use it to present some of your favorite glassware and dishes. "My bar cart was super easy to style. It's vintage and has just the perfect patina, so just about anything looks good on it," says designer Naomi Stein of Design Manifest. "It's the place where I stock my favorite mixers and showcase my vintage glasses and fancy plates. Fresh flowers are a must to add beautiful aroma and color. The finishing touch for me is the painting above. It's like the cherry to my bar-cart cocktail."
Make It Work
Turn an antique bar cart into a modern treasure with a little elbow grease and a clear vision. Catherine Sheppard of The Life Styled transformed this flea market find into an antique focal point. "I scoured flea markets looking for something that had the look I wanted until I finally scored the perfect antique at a junkyard. It was tarnished beyond recognition ... and the handle was broken off. After a couple rounds of polishing, a trip to a brass solderer and a glassmaker, it came back looking like new."
Play Dress Up
"The best part was dressing it up with all my favorite treasures: unique bar tools, cocktail recipe books, glasses from various flea markets and only the prettiest liquor bottles," says Sheppard. "I love that it's the first thing you see when you walk into our home. It immediately invites our guests to enjoy themselves while they are with us."
Search vintage and thrift stores for stylish bar carts you can pick up for a steal. Here, designer Emily Henderson uses this glamorous, retro cart as one part console table and one part cocktail tray.
When stocking your bar cart, Beth Dotolo of Pulp Design Studios advises, "Much like your home design, your bar should be built for your needs and the beverages you like to drink and serve. I think it's important to not run out and break the bank to fill your bar cart with what you think you should have, but rather carefully think about what you will be serving."
Here are some basic tools and glassware to have on hand:
Infuse Your Personal Style
Monika Hibbs from The Doctor's Closet likes to hint at both masculine and feminine details in her bar-cart display. "When it comes to a bar cart, show off some personality and style. I like to display both my husband's serious, old-fashioned whiskies with my favorite flirty champagnes."
Hibbs' rule of thumb? "Always have a favorite bottle ready for a celebratory occasion." Beth Dotolo also suggests having items ready to display for holiday entertaining, "Festive straws, stirrers and napkins are great for adding a festive touch to your holiday entertaining. Consider taking your cocktails a step further by using fun-shaped ice cubes or by freezing colorful fruit in your ice cube trays. It will make for a stunning display on your bar cart when serving cocktails."
Stocking the Bar
Now that your bar is beautiful, what should you serve your guests? Christian May of Maison 21 suggests mixing the practical with the unexpected. "Have a selection of basic liquors: vodka, gin, bourbon or whiskey and vermouth," May says. "Round these out with a few funky liquors in bottles with different shapes for visual appeal."
Less Is More
A stylish bar cart needs to be functional and beautiful, so be sure to add items in moderation. "Keep soda and tonic in multiples. Several of the same bottles will keep the bar looking welcoming and not overly cluttered," May says. "Part of the appeal of serving cocktails is visual, so keep you bar cart pretty, rather than overburdened with bottles."
Philip Erdoes, CEO of The New Traditionalists, knows exactly what goes into creating a great bar cart, and how to put it to good use. "Great barware is essential, and at The New Traditionalists we love vintage pieces. Artisanal cocktails always taste better in old-school glasses. Ebay has some sweet midcentury glasses and accessories."
"A proper bar should always have a nice mix," says Erdoes. His preferred lineup? "Hendrick's gin, Maker's Mark, Hudson rye, Tito's vodka, Antica vermouth, Brooklyn bitters and salty snacks like popcorn with lime, hot sauce and sea salt."
When the party's over, you can utilize your bar cart in a whole new way. "Your dining room is not the only place you can use a stylish bar cart," says Manja Swanson, chief creative officer of Lamps Plus. "Try dressing up your office with a chic, metallic framed bar cart. It's a great way to free up your desk space while adding a pretty element to the room. Place your office accessories, like a notepad and picture frame up top with your favorite books on the bottom shelf."