These days, the life of a bartender is life on the road. Whether they’re working multiple gigs across town, trekking to new cities every week to rep brands as an ambassador or traveling for cocktail competitions, bartenders are constantly on the move. For many, this means hauling a load of barware and bottles along too.
For years, industry professionals had to muddle through trips with makeshift solutions, usually stuffing their gear and ingredients into a carry-all, backpack, cooler or even toolbox. But these travel hacks aren’t exactly the safest options. Bottles shatter. Tools dent. Ingredients squish and bruise.
Luckily, there are a bunch of smart, new bar bags being developed by bartenders and designers alike. “The market for bar bags is growing in tandem with the number of skilled spirits professionals taking on new and exciting beverage programs, brand ambassadorships and consultancies,” says Eamon Rockey, who developed his own bag in partnership with chef wear company Tilit. “As the cocktail world becomes more complex and diverse, the equipment available to meet the needs of these professionals must likewise become more versatile and thoughtfully designed.”
Rockey points out that there are now a range of bar bags for every style and purpose. Some resemble luxury luggage, while others go for a retro look. Some hulking models can accommodate bottles with plenty of cushioning, while slim roll-ups make it easy to pack bar spoons and jiggers for the road.
With so many options on the market, including bags popping up on sites like Etsy and Overstock, it can be hard for shoppers to know where to start. To cut through all the schlocky options, we identified three brands worth checking out. Cocktail Kingdom, Tilit and Mavenhal lead the industry with superior, reliable bags. The offerings from each company vary, but all provide outstanding quality that you can trust with your most precious tools and bottles.
Cocktail Kingdom Leather Bar Tool Bag ($170)
You can trust pretty much any item from the Cocktail Kingdom array, but that dependability is especially important in the Leather Bar Tool Bag. In shape, the bag resembles many bar kit roll-ups, which conveniently bundle your tools together but do little to protect them from bumps and bruises. Roll-ups also typically can’t fit anything bulkier than a bar spoon or knife. This handsome distressed leather bag suffers neither of those issues. The tough exterior does a good job protecting your gear, and it’s easily large enough to fit shakers, mixing glasses, books and any other item you might need on the go (including that roll-up), yet it remains slim enough to carry easily. The design is intentionally minimal, with a single large space to throw everything in together, so look elsewhere if compartments are what you’re after.
Tilit Bartender Bag ($195)
Rockey designed his bag to be versatile first and foremost. The main bag, which can be carried as a backpack or briefcase, includes foldaway dividers to allow users to customize the interior to their liking. You can max out the bag with four bottles or opt for fewer in combination with shakers, tools or even a cutting board. But the Bartender Bag’s biggest asset is its breakout tool bag, a smaller carrier that can fit snugly in the middle of the main bag or be carried separately. No matter how you prefer to travel, or if your gigs tend to require shifting kits on the fly, the Tilit Bartender Bag provides the setup you need.
Mavenhal Shifter ($237)
One of the first brands on the scene, Mavenhal (formerly known as Barkeeper & Co.) has been providing bartenders with excellent bags for years. Seattle bartender Craig Krueger launched the operation on Kickstarter back in 2014, hoping to create a bag “for bartenders, by bartenders.” With experience in all aspects of the industry, Krueger understands the needs of mobile bartenders everywhere and designs his bags accordingly.
While the company now offers three models—the original Bar Bag and the backpack-like Bar Back—we especially love the brand’s newest model, the Mavenhal Shifter. Modeled after a classic messenger bag, this midsize shoulder bag provides a comfortable way to carry a few bottles and a full tool kit. The first bag to hit the market made with waterproof fabric, the Shifter comes stocked with swinging dividers to welcome bottles of any size, foldaway pockets for tins and mixing glasses, elastic gusseted pockets for tools, and an exterior zip pocket for notebooks or a laptop. Altogether, it combines lightweight convenience with durability, all in a compact package.