Unlike other furniture purchases, where the conventional wisdom is often to err on the side of neutrality, bar carts are a chance to get weird. “It’s like your little home bar, so you should have fun with it,” says Lilli Sherman, the founder of the creative studio Oma Loves Fun. You can go for a teak mid-century trolley, a space-age laminate cart, or something completely out of left field: The experts we spoke to mentioned wardrobes, dressers, bathtubs, record cabinets, and the top of a piano (“I have an abundance of alcohol and a 2-year-old who would reach for anything,” says Amass distiller Morgan McLachlan) as viable alternatives. Despite the consensus that anything can be a bar cart if you commit to it, some items will work better for your needs than others. We’ve spoken to a dozen designers, party experts, authors, liquor-store owners, and distillers about their favorites.
Best overall | Best bargain | Best industrial | Best mid-century | Best rattan | Best modular | Best at rolling | Best cabinet | Best indoor/outdoor | Best for mixing a drink | Best customizable | Best Bauhaus
What we’re looking for
Shelf dimensions: Bar carts house some of the most jostle-prone items in your kitchen, such as cocktail glasses, long utensils, and half-empty bottles — everything from petite containers of bitters to handles of whiskey. “A lip is always practical,” says designer Liz Lipkin. “Especially for a family with kids.” Tiers of different heights are also useful: “Functionally, I think the biggest thing with the bar cart is that, if there’s shelving, it actually fits the bottles,” especially bottles that are over a foot tall, says McLachlan. We’re looking for a design with tiers and lips that are the right size to keep your items secure but not so high that smaller items get lost.
Versatility: What you keep on your bar cart will change often, so we’re favoring bar carts that are flexible enough to accommodate a range of supplies. If you’re planning to house glasses, shakers, and bar spoons on your cart as well as larger bottles, you may find compartments or shorter tiers useful. We’re also avoiding accoutrements that are so specialized they may become limiting or obsolete if your setup changes. “I’m always trying to think, Could this thing do double duty as anything else?” says Katherine Lewin, the owner of the Brooklyn party-supply store Big Night. “If we can integrate the bar cart into the rest of our lives, that’s definitely the way to do it.”
Material: There’s a wide range of materials used in bar carts — glass, chrome, mirror, wood, brass, plastic, and more. Our experts recommend balancing aesthetics and the functional requirements of a spill-prone piece of furniture. “I like teak, for example, but it stains, and alcohol will ruin wood in general,” says McLachlan. “The most important thing is that the material’s wipeable,” says Chloe Pollack-Robbins. You can protect a wooden bar cart with trays or choose a cart with stain-resistant, easy-to-clean metal or glass shelves.
Footprint: A bar cart tends to be an accessory to your existing furniture, so it’s a good idea to start with how much space you have to spare and how a design will fit within your existing layout. A large, open living room may have space for a lavishly proportioned trolley, but if you’re limited to a corner or a few feet of space between a table and a wall, a more compact option is best. This also applies to design: Transparent materials like Lucite or glass have a lighter visual footprint for a small space; if you hate clutter, an option with closed storage will allow you to curate what to hide and what to display. “A less busy cart makes me more excited. I want to see less,” says Joshua Bloom, the owner of Duke’s Liquor Box. He recommends keeping a few favorite items on top with “things you don’t normally use” stowed away.
Two tiers | Steel, wood | 31.4 inches (height) by 20.8 inches (length) by 17.2 inches (width)
Lipkin recommends this “practical and stylish” cart from Umbra, which has a range of utility-focused design features like rubber-lined wheels and removable trays to facilitate cleaning. “I think it would look great in a minimalist home; I like how clean and graphic it is,” she says, mentioning that it reminds her of the design classic Alvar Aalto tea trolley.
Best bargain bar cart
Three tiers with adjustable middle tier | Steel | 25⅝ inches (height) by 15 inches (length) by 11 inches (width)
Vanessa Dina, the author of The Art of the Bar Cart, uses both a vintage bar cart and this inexpensive Ikea trolley in her home. “It’s so good. It’s mobile, so you can drag it around into any room,” she says. She also likes that it’s “so durable” and easy to clean, a useful feature to avoid stains and simplify cleaning up spills.
Best industrial bar cart
Three tiers, 13 inches high | Metal | 39.88 inches (height) by 30 inches (length) by 13.88 inches (width)
Lewin bought this library cart about a week before her dinner-party-essentials store opened while searching for a piece in a specific shade of green. She highly recommends it. It’s sturdy and high-capacity enough for retail use — on one tier, she crammed ten bottles of aperitif and a dozen coupe glasses — and the design qualities that make a good library cart are also ideal for drinkware. “The shelves are slightly angled to prevent books from sliding off, and for things like glassware or expensive bottles of booze, it’s actually genius,” she says.
Best mid-century bar cart
Two tiers | Eucalyptus wood and engineered wood with an acacia-wood veneer, brass-finished hardware | 32 inches (height) by 32.4 inches (length) by 19.9 inches (width)
Pollack-Robbins and Anna Cappelen of Curious Yellow Design love this brass-trimmed wood bar cart, which they describe as a “beautiful, warm classic material” that looks “chic but not too glossy,” a throwback to the 1950s and ’60s, “when it was okay to have a stiff cocktail during work.” Sherman mentioned it as a good dupe for a cart she inherited from her grandmother, which she used as a dessert trolley for a Café Sabarsky–themed dinner.
Best rattan bar cart
Two tiers | Rattan and plywood | 32 inches (height) by 35 inches (length) by 18 inches (width)
According to interior designer Tavia Forbes, designers are gravitating toward “warm woods and warm materials, like rattan, mixed in with metals.” She likes this “easy, airy” reeded bar cart from CB2. Like many bar carts, the Feliz’s tiny wheels aren’t super-functional, Forbes notes, but the bottom shelf has tall, basketlike sides so that bottle of Krug you’ve been saving won’t go flying.
Best modular bar cart
Modular tiers, up to 14 inches high | Plastic | 16.5-inch diameter
Sara Duffy, a principal at Stonehill Taylor who led the 2019 renovation of the space-age TWA Hotel, recommends Kartell’s modular trolley as a bar cart that doesn’t look like a bar cart. It comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and hues: “It could be square, it could be circular, it could be a bright color,” she says. “You could have a couple beautiful glasses on top, and you can cover all the booze below.” Sections can be added or removed as your needs change, and Duffy mentions that the system is designed by a woman — industrial designer and architect Anna Castelli Ferrieri, who co-founded Kartell — “which is also very cool.” We recommend including at least one large module in your stack to fit taller bottles, which are on sale at Hive Modern and Bi-Rite.
Best bar cart to roll around
Two tiers | Oak or ash | 32 inches (height) by 34 inches (length) by 16 inches (width)
“I just love it because it’s so playful,” Lipkin says of Design House Stockholm’s Exit Trolley. “It almost looks like a cross between a child’s toy and a grocery cart.” Unlike some carts with smaller, less functional wheels, “you really could move this one around,” she says. Her experience with Design House Stockholm “is that their stuff is really, really well made, and made to last … If you’re looking for a true cart, this would be a great option.” [Editor’s note: The Exit Trolley ships from overseas from the Finnish Design Shop for $114, a total cost of $695 — still a lower price than U.S. retailers. Shipping from the Danish Design Store is free.]
Best bar cabinet
Three shelves, adjustable heights | Wood, iron | 35 inches (height) by 36 inches (length) by 17.5 inches (width)
Sherman favors bar cabinets over carts: “I like having a door you can close,” she says, which facilitates rotating out bottles on display and hides both leftovers from events and the precious things “you want to keep safe and make sure none of your friends accidentally open.” She uses this console from West Elm, which she says has plenty of storage. Lewin prefers cabinets, too: She uses a vintage credenza with bottles, tablecloths, and napkins stowed away inside and Lucite trays on top that “contain and organize” her barware.