Party on a Cart: Let the Good Times Roll

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I have to raise a glass to my mother, whose droll quips can double me over with laughter. One of my favorite Mary Lou quotes? “The only difference between a bad dinner party and a good one is three cocktails.” If your goal is to have a good party, have I got a must-have for you: a bar cart. Whether your gatherings include adult beverages or not, bar carts offer a sensational setting for serving drinks and appetizers with style.


Retro revival

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If you have rotated around the sun a few times, you will remember when bar carts were all the rage in the ‘50s and ’60s, back when happy hour was a regular ritual and parties revolved around creative cocktails. Now, these mobile serving tables are all the rage again, especially among our younger customers, who find them too kitschy and cool to resist. No matter what your style, you’ll find a cart that will look smashing in your home, from elegant antiques to funky vintage finds to contemporary pieces.


Small scale service

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The beauty and the curse of bar carts is you don’t have a lot of space to work with. Everything you place on these tiny shelves needs to either serve a functional purpose or add a powerful punch of visual panache. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when designing carts is to forget to add elements that bring in some visual height.  We accomplished that on this lovely display at Nell Hill’s by using a tiered server to hold our appetizers. Anything tall is great, like a lamp or a showy bouquet of flowers.

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Your top shelf should be filled with the items you’ll need first, and need the most, like appetizers, bottles of beverages, and bar tools.

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Cocktail napkins, like these lovely linen napkins that are so popular at Nell Hill’s, can go on the bottom shelf, along with more glasses, full bottles and additional snacks. (If you have pets, though, you might want to reconsider putting food down this low. My golden retriever Lyric would gobble up these treats in a second.)


Looks matter

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If it’s true that we eat with our eyes, we must drink with them too. So, make sure your bar cart is something to pop a cork over. The first place to start is your drinks containers, since they are the stars of the show. In this lovely display at Nell Hill’s, the offering is simple: lemonade, ice tea and a bowl of popcorn, but it looks like a million bucks, thanks to these glam urns. We use these clear glass urns all the time when we entertain because they look great with every kind of drink, and they are super easy to use – just pour in your liquid and open the nozzle!

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If your favorite beverage brands come in less than attractive bottles, pour the spirits into a decanter. You don’t have to spend a bundle on crystal. We have lots of cheater pieces that look nice, for a fraction of the cost. Trays are an essential on a bar cart display, whether to pull together a group of bottles into one attractive unit, or to hold glasses or appetizers.  In this fetching display, we used two similar trays, one for the drinks and one for glasses and supplies, like fresh lemons and limes. On the shelf below, you could have an ice bucket and cocktail glasses.


Sized to suit

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While I’m all about using a bar cart in its traditional capacity, holding libations at a party, I also love to work them in to room designs. Their smaller size makes them an ideal pick for those who are living in tighter quarters, like Dan and me.  In your bathroom, wheel one next to your tub, filling the bottom shelf with rolls of towels and the top shelf with bubble bath, a candle and your book. Or place one next to a pedestal sink to hold toiletries. At Nell Hill’s, we often use bar carts as end tables in living rooms and as night tables next to beds. Put one on your patio or porch for outdoor events. Or, roll one up to your dining table when you host larger dinner parties, an extra spot to place serving plates and bowls full of food that won’t fit on the table.


Next Week … I’ll show you how to use more modern art to give your traditional rooms new energy.