Paula Sutton Shares Her Tips for Curating the Ultimate Party-Ready Bar Cart
Let's raise a glass to these chic tips.
By Paula Sutton
November 17, 2021
From throwing al fresco dinners in the garden and arranging freshly-picked blooms to hosting cozy cocktails by a roaring fire, former fashion editor and newly minted author Paula Sutton is a fount of stylish inspiration—which is why we are so thrilled about bringing her on-board as our newest columnist. In her first dispatch, she takes us inside her cozy Georgian home in the English countryside for a masterclass in putting together the perfect cocktail-ready bar cart—just in the nick of time for the holiday season!
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There is a lack of clarity as to the exact origins of the cocktail, but what we do apparently know is that in America, the first ‘cocktail party’ was thrown by a one Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr of St. Louis, Missouri in May 1917 with 50 guests invited to her home at noon on a Sunday. The party lasted an hour until lunch was served at 1pm.
In England, it was customary for dinner parties to begin and end with a tipple of sherry or port, and dance parties had wine, champagne or alcoholic punches. But the art of the pre-dinner cocktail arrived to full effect after the end of the first world war as an American import—perhaps in no small part to Mrs. Walsh of St. Louis, Missouri. Ever since, the art of the glamorously chic cocktail party has captured our imaginations and has been the epitome of the stylish housebound get-together—and long may it reign!
It's all about location, location, location.
Let’s start with the location. The atmosphere and the mood of a great cocktail party is just as important as the myriad of ingredients and accessories that make up a good home-based aperitif. As such, ambient lighting is essential. Create the perfect speakeasy style atmosphere for your intended soirée by positioning low level table lamps or dimming overhead pendant lights to cast a flattering mellow glow near the bar area.
Whether you’re getting geared up for a casual pre-dinner cocktail à deux or having a full-blown party, you want to ensure that you stay with your guest(s) and out of the kitchen as much as possible. A mini fridge is convenient for ice and keeping syrups chilled if your home has a dedicated built in bar area, but that is obviously not always a practical option in most spaces. Most of us, however, can at least create space for a stylish ice container to sit alongside our cocktail table, cupboard or bar cart. It’s all in the details, and even the presentation of ice should be considered.
Cocktail cabinets or table are by their nature an object that celebrates the art of entertaining and socializing on a celebratory scale. As such, they can display a more obvious element of glamour than most pieces of everyday furniture. So we can choose to be as over the top playful or as conservatively pared back as we like. I once had a friend who converted her childhood dollhouse into a perfectly chic cocktail cabinet. The floor levels were the correct depth and height to provide a clever base for bottles and glassware, and it was a wonderful talking point for the evening’s conversation, too!
Sideboards are often a roomy choice, but since the 1920’s and 1930’s were the heyday of cocktail making the style of that era has a huge influence in how we see cocktail culture today. Cut glass crystal, glass fronted cabinets, embossed and etched mirrored tables and other art deco details were de rigeur for the more fashionable echelons of society back then, so it’s no surprise that there are often Art Deco influences in the designs of contemporary cocktailware and furniture.
But no cocktail cabinet discussion can be complete without mention of the classic Pier Fornasetti Architecttura raised sideboards in their often Neoclassical style. With surrealist, hand lacquered facades they are not only collectors’ items, but they also inject glamour whether they are open to display drinks or not.
Of course, there are also many reasonably priced alternatives to be found, and it’s good to consider whether you need it to be portable with wheels or static.
Gather options for shaken and stirred.
Roebling Cut Crystal Champagne Coupe by Soho Home, $196 for set of four. sohohome.com
For drinkware, I’m partial to a bit of chunky crystal such as the Roebling Cut Crystal Champagne Coupes from Soho Home, which are at once elegant and weighty with a vintage feel. Martini glasses, highball tumblers and stocky heavy bottomed tumblers are also good glassware to add to your bar cart collection. Being a vintage lover, I like to keep an eye out for vintage glassware found at Brocante markets or auction houses.
We cannot of course forget the need for a variety of practical essential utensils, such as a two part or three part shaker for both shaking and open top stirring of your cocktail. My preference is for a two part shaker, which is far easier to open after shaking and can be made up of one half cut glass and one half metal ‘tin’—it’s a far more elegant look in my opinion. Add in a good selection of long handled but elegant bar spoons (or stirrers), a citrus fruit juicer, measuring jiggers, and a strainer or two.
Have all the accoutrements handy.
A mix of garnishes is a cocktail necessity not only compliment the cocktail (they bring out aromas and have a huge impact on the flavor and the dimensions of the drink), but to make your drink look lusciously attractive. Have a variety of lemons, limes, and oranges; a combination of angostura, orange bitters, and sweet cherries; and olives and capers for the briny flavor, and you have the elements to offer an extensive selection. If in doubt as to which garnish goes with which drink, choose a garnish simply to enhance the look—a twist of lime perched jauntily on the side of your Tom Collins perhaps or a slice of orange peel dunked gently amongst the ice in your Old Fashioned.
Have a mini chopping board and knife handy for cutting through citrus fruits. I also like to have cocktail sticks in a mini china cup for use with olives, cocktail onions and cherries.
Whip up your favorite cocktail...and cheers!
CLASSIC FRENCH KIR ROYALE
Best served in a Champagne Flute
5 fl oz (150ml) chilled Champagne
2 barspoons of Chambord Crème de cassis (a raspberry liqueur made from black raspberries and Madagascan vanilla, Moroccan citrus peels steeped in cognac)
Lemon Twist for garnish
Pour Chambord into bottom of glass.
Top with Champagne.
Add the twist and enjoy!