Cheryl Charming is the bar manager of Bourbon O Bar, located on the famous (and famously messy) Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Inside is a usually quiet, relaxed oasis from the street shenanigans, with live jazz, fine-casual cocktails and many of Charming’s subtle, ingenious, low-cost refinements. After reading about a few of them, you may find yourself shopping for bar inspiration.
1. Rimmer Drawers
Small plastic drawers like these from Bed, Bath & Beyond help organize rimming ingredients.
New Orleans drinkers like their salt-rimmed Margaritas and sugar-coated Crustas, so many drinks are ordered with a rim of some sort. Rather than putting out plates of salt/sugar to spill, get sticky and always be in the way, Charming holds her rimming ingredients inside small, inexpensive plastic storage drawers like these for $18 from Bed Bath & Beyond that take up less space by stacking vertically (and are still super easy to clean).
“Right now, we have one with three drawers,” says Charming. “We keep sugar and salt, and each season we tend to have an extra rimmer for the menu. Some we’ve had black lava salt, crushed flower petals with sugar, Mardi Gras–colored sugar, cayenne sugar, infused salt, chocolate, etc. Each season, the bartenders get to have a drink on the menu, so one of them usually claims the third drawer for something they want to do.”
2. Cheap Champagne/Wine Buckets
Trash cans like these from Target work well as inexpensive Champagne buckets.
“Champagne buckets are so expensive, so while at Target one day, I was inspired by the affordable bathroom trash cans as a replacement,” says Charming. These cans of various shapes and colors come in finishes including bronze, silver nickel and blackand cost less than 20 bucks, plus “they’re a good size, they look good, and no one knows it’s a trash can,” she says.
3. Phone-Charging Station
This Satechi phone-charging station increases a bar’s profits by encouraging patrons to stay longer.
On the corner of the bar, visible from much of the room, is an octopus of phone-charging cords that guests can use to juice up their devices while they’re having drinks. A phone-charging station like this one by Satechi ($55) eliminates the constant requests to plug in phones behind the bar and raises bar sales because guests stay longer to let their devices recharge. Charming says this simple hack cost her about $50 at start-up and around $10 per month to replace cords—well worth the cost for the increased profit and decreased hassle.
4. Absinthe Spray Bottles
Small spray bottles used for absinthe, like these from the Container Store, avoid wasting the spirit.
They serve a lot of Sazeracs in New Orleans, and if bartenders rinse and discard half an ounce of absinthe for every one, they toss out a ton of a very expensive ingredient. Back in 2009 (before fancy/pricey olive oil misters were readily available), Charming got the idea to use small spray bottles, which cost about two bucks apiece, like these from the Container Store. “It covers the inside of the glass completely without wasting any absinthe,” says Charming.
5. Bubble Tea Shaker Machine for Ramos Gin Fizzes
Bubble tea shaker machines allow for automated cocktail shaking.
This hack is actually quite expensive, with shakers like this one costing $550 or this Dasin one for $1,000, but Charming convinced a sponsor brand to pay for it, so it didn’t cost the bar anything.
“While researching Henry C. Ramos, I learned that during Prohibition, Ramos went into the paint business. I also learned that Ramos’ house is an Ace hardware store today. But here’s the kicker: The entrance to Ramos’ house is the paint section today. This got me thinking about buying a paint can shaker to shake the Ramos Gin Fizz. After six months of research, the best solution I found was an Asian bubble tea shaker, because it’s designed to hold two cobbler shakers and I could program a button to shake for six minutes. The only thing left to do was to find a gin sponsor.”
Hendrick’s Gin stepped up to the plate and bought a $1,000 machine for the bar. Now not only can bartenders avoid the repetitive motion injuries from shaking dozens of Ramos Gin Fizzes a day, the machine attracts curiosity and encourages conversation, according to Charming.
But what to do for those six minutes while the machine is shaking? Charming hacked that too: Mimicking a hotel guest book, she created a Ramos Gin Fizz registry out of a binder, some copies and a fancy-looking pen with a long feather taped to it. “The registry makes the experience special, unexpected and fun,” she says. “It gives guests something interactive to do while waiting for their six-minute shaken cocktail. They love looking through all of the others who have signed the registry.”
6. Magnetic Ceiling Storage
These BottleLoft magnetic strips allow for as easy ceiling storage.
Between the hanging wine glass racks above the bar is a selection of bitters. They are attached by their caps to a ceiling-mounted metal tray by strong magnets. Or you can get a BottleLoft for $38 made of magnetic strips. Rather than taking up back-bar space, and allowing a moment of discovery for guests sitting at the bar, these bitters bottles are both a cool decoration and functional storage.
“Magnetic kitchen spice racks inspired me,” says Charming. “Plus, the only available space I could take advantage of was the unusually low ceiling. The only bitters we don’t hang are Peychaud’s because we make too many Sazeracs. We keep that one uncapped on the bar top ready to use.”