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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

The Bar Cart Is Back: Top-Shelf Tips for More Stylish Sips

Cancel the caroling, say disease experts. It spews respiratory droplets in the air. And no loud music. It makes people shout and spew more droplets. No sitting on Santa’s lap. You don’t know where he’s been. You’ll have to whisper in his ear virtually this year. No parties. No traveling. No Christmas shopping outside the home. No. No. No.

So what can we do this holiday season?

We can drink! (Responsibly, safely, and at home, of course, and not necessarily alcohol.)

So far no one has said we can’t raise our glasses and toast, thank goodness, but no clinking! Touching glasses lip to lip is as bad as kissing. Can’t have that!

No wonder liquor sales are up. According to Nielsen's market data, total alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants have surged 24 percent during the pandemic.

If you’re among those planning to have an adult beverage or two this holiday season (yes), or a seasonal drink on the soft side, as your lifestyle columnist, I am obligated to advise you to pour with panache and serve up your sips in style.

Cue the bar cart.

Remember those iconic props of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when films featured debonair men in tuxes and satin-clad women helping their overwrought selves to drinks from the ever-present gilded trolley? Well, bar carts are back, according to style watchers. However, this time they come with a twist, and not just of lemon.

Today’s carts are serving up a range of beverages ― with or without alcohol for all ages and occasions ― and they’re doing so with flair, said Vanessa Dina, author of The Art of the Bar Cart, published by Chronicle Books, where Dina also works as design director.

“I love to drink. I love making a cocktail. I love to entertain in my apartment in San Francisco. I love all the aspects of entertaining, and the graphic designer part of me wants everything to look as good as it tastes,” Dina told me when I asked what prompted her to write this book.

No argument from me.

The handsome hardcover features dozens of carts that she styled, and that her partner, Antonis Achilleos, photographed, a collaboration, she conceded, at times put more than their drinks on the rocks.

The variety inspired me to plan prettier pours. To demonstrate how the classic, versatile bar cart can take center stage at a party, The Art of the Bar Cart showcases a kids’ cart with punch and soda, party hats, treats, and whimsical straws; a guy’s-first-pad cart featuring old wooden crates lined to hold ice-packed beers; and a festive holiday cart with red and gold glasses, bubbly, and candy-cane swizzle sticks, among others.

Move over martini. The well-conceived drink cart can serve up margaritas on taco night, a juice bar or mimosas for a holiday brunch, a simple selection of wine, or hot cider and cocoa after an evening of non-caroling.

While I am not encouraging you to drown your sorrows this holiday season, tempting as that might be, I am recommending that you pick up your spirits by creating a spot where folks have everything they need attractively arranged to fix a drink ― soft or hard, hot or cold, on the house and with a flourish.

Here are 10 top-shelf styling tips to help you serve drinks more fashionably:

1. Aim for self-service. The goal of the drink cart is to offer a single, well-appointed place where you and your guests have all you need to put a beverage together, whether a cocktail or a coffee drink.

2. Use what you’ve got. But not everything. The drink cart is not supposed to be a full- bar, but rather an edited assortment of items outside the kitchen offering a thoughtful beverage option or two.

3. Pick a theme. Tailor the cart intentionally. Design it as a coffee and cocoa station, a martini bar, or a place to pour an aperitif or perch a punchbowl.

4. Match your style. Bar carts come in fancy brass and glass, wood, Lucite, iron and stainless steel. Find one that fits your décor and entertainment vibe.

5. Put it where you party. Living rooms and family rooms are the most common cart locations, but with more get togethers moving outside, the patio may be the place. Just keep it out of the sun.

6. The non-cart cart. Drink carts don’t have to be on wheels. In fact they don’t have to be carts at all. Dina’s book features beautiful drink stations, often on trays, set out on end tables, consoles or credenzas, which can be a space saver. “It doesn’t have to be its own piece of furniture,” she said, “but an extension of something you already own.”

7. The goods. Besides relevant liquids and glassware, outfit your station with beverage napkins, pretty pitchers or decanters, an ice bucket, and appropriate tools, such as a citrus peeler, cocktail shaker, muddler, bottle opener, or corkscrew.

8. A touch of glass. You can’t have a drink without a glass, and we don’t mean Solo cups. Now’s the chance to pull out that colorful vintage stemware or those cut crystal old-fashioned glasses you’ve hidden away.

9. Let garnishes add the glam. A bowl of fresh citrus, such as lemons, limes, or kumquats; a small vessel of mint sprigs or marshmallows; a dish of maraschino cherries or olives, all can double as garnish and decoration.

10. Change it up. “Drink carts are not curio cabinets that you set up once and leave,” Dina said. “Change them with the season or occasion.”

Now, please enjoy yourselves. Just sing with your mouth closed, lower your voices, and stay off Santa’s lap.

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