How to build and organize an expert bar cart at home


Bar carts are a fun and beautiful way to store your booze.They should also be functional and properly organized. Aleksey Reznikov, a professional bartender and partner at the Garret bars in Manhattan, shared his tips for properly stocking and organizing your cart.The main components are liqueurs, bitters, mixers, spirits, and tools.Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Filling a home bar is actually pretty easy,” Aleksey Reznikov, head bartender at Manhattan’s the Garret West (West Village) and partner at the Garret Coctelería (Nolita), told Insider.As a professional, there are a few pet peeves he has when he sees an at-home bar, like shakers with built-in strainers. “They always come apart while you shake, and they don’t really work well,” he said, adding that he also often sees “some ridiculously abstract bar spoon always makes me laugh.”But, at the end of the day, he says, “smiles and good times are way more valuable in my book than having a home bar.”Building an at-home bar cart perfect for cocktails of all kinds requires liqueurs, bitters, mixers, spirits, and tools, Reznikov says.

With all components accounted for, Reznikov says you’ll be ready to make an old fashioned, mezcal, negroni, Aperol spritz, margarita, gimlet, Manhattan, and a wine spritzer all with endless possible variations.”Sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, Campari, Aperol, and Cointreau are a great start for liqueurs,” Reznikov said. “If you’re not a martini person, skip the dry vermouth.”With sweet vermouth and Campari on your cart, you’ve got the tools needed to make a negroni. With Aperol, you can easily make an Aperol spritz by adding prosecco and a little bit of soda water. Cointreau is an orange-flavored liqueur that can be added to sweeten a cocktail like a margarita or enjoyed with cognac and lemon juice as a sidecar.He named classic Angostura bitters — which adds a spicy flavor with hints of clove and cinnamon to a cocktail — as a must and orange bitters as a suggestion. The latter is a “great compliment to Angostura bitters in an old fashioned,” he said. “It’s also delicious when you add a few dashes to a margarita.”

If you really want to go the extra mile, he says you can add Peychaud’s bitters — which has a slightly more sweet and fruity flavor and a vibrant pink color — to your arsenal. Reznikov says it makes for a great garnish on top of shaken cocktails. With Peychaud’s, you can add it to rye whiskey, cognac, and vermouth for a Vieux Carré (a classic cocktail in New Orleans). It’s also a necessary ingredient for a Sazerac. 

Aleksey Reznikov behind the bar at the Garret West.

Rachel Askinasi/Insider

“Fresh citrus can make or break the drink,” Reznikov added. Having fresh limes and lemons on hand, or having some pre-squeezed juice you made yourself is a good rule of thumb. He says using the non-refrigerated, plastic bottles of lime juice you’d find in a grocery store is “like mixing ketchup instead of fresh tomato sauce with your handmade pasta.” Reznikov also named seltzer, soda water, or flavorless sparkling water as must-haves in your refrigerator. They’re an essential part of your bar cart without being on display. Palomas, mojitos, and cocktails with the word “fizz” in them all benefit from a splash of carbonated water.The mixologist says he understands that some might prefer to keep their sugar intake low but says that a citrus drink without sugar is imbalanced. “Sweetness is what makes the sour taste pleasant,” he said.

Reznikov shared instructions for making your own simple syrup at home: Fill half a container with white or brown sugar, and the other half with hot water; stir until the sugar is no longer visible. “It’s that simple.”Blanco tequila, mezcal, light rum, gin, bourbon, rye whiskey, and vodka are the staples of a well-stocked bar cart. Reznikov says Casamigos is a great crowd-pleaser tequila to have on hand. He also suggested stocking Tito’s for vodka as it’s reasonably priced without being too inexpensive, which the bartender says is a good general rule of thumb to follow. “Ride the middle [of the price ranges] and you’ll have a great selection,” he said. “Just remember expensive doesn’t mean the best.”Sparkling wine, beer, and regular wine are always good to have on hand in case your guests don’t want liquor. 

Reznikov uses a separate straining tool to pour out a cocktail at the Garret West.

Rachel Askinasi/Insider

Must-have tools include a shaker, a strainer, ice trays, and straws, Reznikov says. He recommends getting a stainless steel, two-tin shaker and a stainless steel strainer to match.

“Ice is important,” Reznikov says, so you’ll need ice trays if you don’t have an ice maker. While whatever trays you have in your freezer will do, the bartender recommends getting silicone ice trays in varying sizes.There are some cocktails that are best enjoyed with a straw as some components may sink below others in the glass. From silicon to stainless steel, there are a variety of reusable straws to choose from if you want to avoid single-use plastic. Reznikov is a founder of eightysix grass straws, a compostable and biodegradable option that grows naturally and becomes flexible in liquid. Then, there are some other tools that he says will make life a little easier, but you can get by just fine without them. You can get a lemon and lime juicer, “although I find it pretty easy [to squeeze by hand] if you’re just making a couple of cocktails.” A jigger is a measuring tool you can buy, but a shot glass can serve that same purpose.If you’re looking to go all out with your home bar, you can opt for a bar spoon for stirring and a bitters holder. But a regular spoon, a fork, or a knife can act as a stir tool as well.

“Keep your liqueurs in the back, spirits in the front, and bitters and tools on the side or in the very front of your bar cart,” Reznikov says.He says he keeps glasses away from the cart, “unless it’s a large bar cart or solely a whiskey cart.”Mixers, wine, and beer should also stay off the cart since they should be refrigerated. “Unless you have a home bar with refrigeration, I’d say keep them in the fridge,” Reznikov says.A less crowded and clean bar cart is simply “the way to go,” he added. “Keep it classy when appropriate.”



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