Ready to mix it up with a vintage bar cart? Although often considered a throwback to the Hollywood glamour days, bar carts actually originated in the Victorian era. Among the corseted set, bar carts were more primly referred to as “tea carts,” but the Prohibition Era loosened that up a bit. Today, use a used bar cart to display your collection of spirits, matchbooks, and brassy barware. We’re also not against adding a sculpture or a bowl of fresh fruit, either. Remember: It’s all about the mix!
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VINTAGE BAR CARTS
You know the feeling—It’s five o’clock on a Friday and something in a coupe sounds heavenly, but another round of craft cocktails at your favorite local dive sounds akin to ripping your latest paycheck into bon voyage confetti. While it might not be the bartender’s choice, a vintage bar cart sweetly stationed next to your sofa at home has never been more alluring.
The vintage bar cart has recently witnessed a resurgence, prompted in part by the artisan cocktail movement of the early 2000s and an increasingly nostalgic view of the Mid-Century’s martini lunch. We couldn’t be more on board, as the used bar cart speaks to our desire for old school elegance, and offers up a prime reason to indulge in some of our guiltiest obsessions: vintage glassware and pretty bottles of booze.
But just like coming into your favorite libation, picking out a used bar cart is no one-and-done task. There’s a good deal to consider, including your style and what you’ll keep your vintage bar cart stocked with. Here, we’ve broken down everything you need to know, ensuring that when it comes to secondhand bar carts, you’re squarely in the spirit!
THE HISTORY OF THE BAR CART
The vintage bar cart may feel wholly Mid-Century Modern, but it actually dates to the Victorian era. The Victorian’s bar carts weren’t so lushly inclined; however, and were instead used to serve up tea. These tea trolleys (often crafted of wicker) were fittingly refashioned in the 1920s by the Charleston-stepping, bootlegging generation and Hollywood soon followed suit, showcasing bar carts in numerous feature films.
In its formative years, the vintage bar cart conjured up a life of Cary Grant-style luxury that average Americans jumped at the opportunity to taste. Popularity grew in the 1950s, as the burgeoning concept of indoor/outdoor living furthered the wheeled cart’s appeal. In much the same way Pan Am pilots rolled drinks from one end of a passenger jet to another, cocktails could now be made in the den or taken outside to be shaken up poolside. Ah, what choice!
In the 1970s, housing developers decided to do the bar cart one better, and installed hulking wet bars in basements and dens. No match for the dainty vintage bar cart, it rolled off, only to be rediscovered nearly forty years later by a new (and style-thirsty) generation.
BAR CART STYLES
Our favorite vintage bar carts—like our favorite cocktails—seamlessly mix the classics with an element of the unexpected. Below are some of our favorite styles, along with tips on what to sip alongside them.
In the 1960s, Tiki references were abundant. Island-inspired drinks were all the rage and manufacturers fittingly created bamboo and rattan bar carts to match. Today, these neutral-tone bar carts look perfectly boho when styled atop fluffy Moroccan Berber rugs and adorned with tropical verdure. They can also be painted and lacquered, giving them a polished look that feels less Tiki-chic and more Chinoiserie.
In honor of their Polynesian roots, pair a bamboo bar cart with a Bali-Hai classic, the Mai Tai: 1 ½ ounces white rum, ½ ounces lime juice, ½ ounces orange curaçao, ½ ounces Orgeat syrup, ¾ ounces dark rum. Shake everything in a shaker minus the dark rum. Pour into glass. Float dark rum.
A bar cart adds instant festivity to a space. Play up soiree-like vibes up even more by opting for a cart in Lucite, chrome, or brass. The 1940s and 50s gave us plenty of ladylike options, with most featuring multiple glass shelves and divine details like bamboo or rope-etched brass. These types of carts make bottles absolutely shimmer, so go all out and spring for spirits that you not only have a taste for, but come bottled in beautiful vessels. Some of our favorites are Saint-Germaine, Chartreuse (that gorgeous green color!), and Grand Marnier.
Nothing says old school glamour quite like a bowl of boozy punch: 1 bottle cold champagne, 3 cups chilled ginger ale, 1 ounce orange liqueur, frozen cranberries. Mix everything in a punch bowl with ice.
Deco Dry Bar
Go on and honor the era the era that made the bar cart great with an Art Deco cart or dry bar. Among Art Deco pieces it’s perhaps more common to find dry bars, which are large, armoire-like cabinets with upper portion doors that open to reveal an interiors equipped with bottle racks (and often a mirror). These cabinets also frequently showcase inlays that are created using distinctively grained woods like Macassar. Chrome embellishments finish the look.
Say Deco, and we’re dreaming of speakeasy Manhattan. Celebrate accordingly with the namesake drink: 2 ounces whiskey or rye, ¾ ounce red vermouth, dash bitters. Stir all ingredients in a cocktail glass with ice. Strain and serve.