How to Stock a Bar Cart for the Holidays

Whether it's a chic bar cart or just a side table, the best holiday entertainers have their home bars well-stocked. Follow these tips on how to stock a bar cart for the cheeriest holiday yet.

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Seasoned holiday entertainers have a secret: When guests stop by early or before the host is ready for them, they don’t stress. Why? Their home bar is stocked and ready to go to keep their guest occupied. And the host may also have some make-ahead appetizer recipes on deck.

But if you’re setting up a home bar for the first time, or haven’t topped off your stock in a while, it can feel a bit overwhelming. Figuring out what alcohol to get, what kind of cups to put out and gathering miscellaneous mixers is a lot to add to an already lengthy holiday to-do list. To make things a bit easier, follow our guide on how to stock a bar cart, complete with setup instructions, product recommendations and festive additions.

Before you get started, take a peek at our holiday hosting timeline and checklist.

How to Stock a Bar Cart

Festive Holiday Bar Cart in a living roomTaste of Home

1. Choose a Bar Station and Location

A home bar means different things to different people. For some, it may mean an actual bar cart that can easily be rolled from room to room. (Wondering where to buy your bar cart? We investigated whether Wayfair or Overstock is better.) It could also be a built-in bar or perhaps a cabinet-turned-home bar. Or maybe it just means a cupboard where the liquor bottles live.

Wherever your home bar may reside, just make sure that it’s out of the way of busy cooks, overly-excited kiddos and dining room chairs to prevent bumps and spills. It’s also great to place a side table or something similar next to smaller home bars so guests have ample space to mix their cocktails. If you don’t already have a dedicated bar space, browse our list of home bars and bar carts in a range of styles:

If you’re repurposing a spare table or counter, set out this wooden hexagon tray or round mirrored tray to distinguish the space.

2. Grab a Few Staple Alcohols

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to have a selection of liquors rivaling your neighborhood watering hole. Mix-and-match 2-4 bottles of vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila and gin, adjusting the number of bottles to how many guests you’ll have, preferences and your budget. Despite the festive occasion, don’t feel like you need to splurge for a fancy brand or specialty flavored alcohol. Here are some of our go-to spirits:

With a combination of these key base spirits and a couple of mixers (see below), you’ll be able to make most any guest happy. Along with the most common spirits, it’s a good idea to have a bottle or two of both red and white wine for dinner. For specific types and bottles, you can do a food and wine pairing, or just go with tried-and-true picks like Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc and Albert Bichot Bourgogne Pinot Noir. We also have some suggestions for pairing wine with a turkey dinner.

When it comes to beer, keep things simple. Store a 12-pack of light beer in the fridge and encourage beer aficionados to bring a sampling of their favorite beer to the party.

3. Choose Mixers

Basic mixing staples such as tonic water, club soda, cola and lemon-lime soda, fruit juices and ginger ale provide enough options for most. Your personal preference will dictate how many, or few, options you choose to keep on hand.

It’s also good to have a liquor or two on hand for classic cocktails like vermouth for martinis, Cointreau for margaritas and cosmos, Campari for Boulevardiers and Negronis, Amaretto for Amaretto sours and so on.

Don’t forget the citrus! Slice up some lemons and limes to double as mixers and garnishes, along with orange juice or grapefruit juice if you have a cocktail in mind that calls for them.

Then there are the mixers that tend to be used in small amounts: Angostura bitters, simple syrup, grenadine and sour mix. Pick up or make a small batch of these ingredients that are used in a wide range of old-school and custom cocktails.

4. Pick and Prep Garnishes

A cocktail just isn’t a cocktail without a garnish. It’s like wearing a nice dress without jewelry—it looks nicer with it than without. Knowing your go-to concoctions will help you determine your garnishes, but lemons, limes, maraschino cherries, bleu cheese-stuffed olives and/or fresh herbs (mint and basil) are good items to have around. You can really go the extra mile by burning some rosemary on this black walnut board for a smoky addition. Whichever garnish you use, they tend not to stick around as long as liquor does, so make sure to add these to your grocery list when you’re shopping for your next party. If you’re feeling fancy, check out these easy, yet impressive, cocktail garnish ideas.

5. Collect Bar Tools

Now, onto the hardware. A thoughtfully stocked bar includes the tools used to tackle cocktails. Common items include an ice bucket, bar spoon, muddler, jigger, a cocktail shaker or mixing glass and strainer. Most of these tools can be found in a cocktail set, or can be purchased separately. And don’t forget a wine bottle opener,  wine chiller and coasters if you have wood tables. These are some of the tools we keep handy:

6. Select Glassware

If you’ll be making a variety of cocktails, it’s nice to have a combination of rocks glasses, coupe or martini glasses and highball glasses. If you don’t already have all of these, don’t fret! A range of shorter and taller glasses, regardless of if they match perfectly or not, is just perfect. Now’s a good time to take inventory of your glassware.

For wine, consider basic stemmed glasses suitable for white or red wine rather than two separate sets. If you’re planning on keeping wine glasses on the dinner table, just give your guests a heads up to use the glass at their seats.

7. Choose a Nonalcoholic Option

There is nothing worse than attending a party and feeling left out because you’re refraining from alcohol. Be sure there are 1-2 non-alcoholic options at your home bar like soda, tea, juice blends, sparkling water and lemonade.

Or, consider offering a nonalcoholic version of your signature cocktail, garnished just as nicely. Just be sure to label which ones are which. Here are a whole bunch of mocktail ideas and non-alcoholic spirits to get you started.

8. Offer a Signature Cocktail

It’s completely optional, but having a signature cocktail eliminates the pressure of needing to play bartender. Guests can even make their own drinks and have fun with garnishes! Here are some festive cocktails that are sure to please:

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9. Make It Festive

Your home bar will see the most action at party time, so let’s help it shine. If there ever were a time to display those fun extras like stir sticks, cute beverage napkins, embossed coasters and toothpicks with flair…well, now is it. (Psst: Hit post-holiday sales to get these at bargain prices, then show them off the following year.) In the meantime, these are the items we’re going to add to our bar this holiday:

Follow these prompts and next time guests come over, you’ll be calm, collected and ready for fun.

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Aimee Broussard
Aimee is a Southern food blogger, cookbook author, food columnist and award-winning cookie creator. If you need her, you will most likely find her sipping sweet tea on the front porch alongside her husband Brian and their gaggle of ridiculously spoiled Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Caroline Stanko
As Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.