Tuesday, 15 March 2016

That boon to mankind: The (not-so humble) drinks trolley


Did you know that one of the twentieth-century’s greatest inventions didn’t appear until 1938?

I’m talking about that essential addition to any real home: the drinks’ trolley. What domestic cocktail hour would be complete without one? (And what home without a cocktail hour or two?)


In the 1940s, the barcart when you had one was merely an adapted tea trolley1, but the designer of the original dedicated drinks’ trolley, bless her, was modernist Hungarian designer Susan Kozma, who designed this boon to humanity (above) for the fit-out of Budapest apartment of Eugene (Jenö) and Elizabeth Schreiber. Kozma’s trolley was a sober-serious sort of affair.

Basically a timber box on wheels with a chrome handlebar the only ornamentation when closed, it opened up to reveal bottles in its well and swing-out shelving for glasses, the top and sides opening out to form cutting boards for the necessary garnishes. As Frank Moorhouse describes it in his book Martini: A Memoir, “in fact, it was a mobile cocktail cabinet.”

The wheels were crucial. It was built to be moved to the room’s very centre of pleasure. Talking to Moorhouse decades later in her Sydney home, Kozma recalled.

The living room had a divan, chairs and this drinks’ trolley and a number of pieces of built-in furniture [she tells Frank Moorhouse in his book ‘]. In keeping with modernist principles of the times, that which was not built-inwas made to be easily moved, so the room was open and flexible – you could rearrange the room easily according to what was happening in it that day. If the room was to be used for cocktails you could move furniture to make an appropriate space, and so on.

The drinks trolley in your own home must have at least this amount of style, but need be neither this elaborate nor as simple. Nor, if it is an open arrangement, should it become the repository of frivolous gadgets, undrunk exotic gift bottles, and sundry and tedious bar novelties. ‘'These items have no business on your drinks trolley,” says Voltz, Moorhouse’s alter ego and martini correspondent, who reckons that for the martini drinker especially,

‘It detracts from the dignified simplicity of the martini to serve the martini from an array of miscellaneous bottles on a drinks’ trolley, that is, presenting it as just another drink among many. The martini needs a clear stage. That’s all I’m saying. …
    ‘If I recall correctly, all James’s Stewart’s lovelorn artist pal had n her drinks’ cart in
Vertigo was a bottle of Scotch and a few cafetaria-style water glasses. That is correct style.’

Another of his friend’s advises:

‘The martini, for you, is the maypole of your trolley. The second, bourbon. The rest – champagne, bitters, wine – or all those other things that please guests, are secondary, and the trolley should only be burdened with them temporarily to coincide with entertaining other than one’s self.’

These things are not trivial. So choose your own maypoles wisely.

The original trolley is now in London’s V& A Museum, who have this story to tell.

[Pic by V& A Museum]


  1. In the screenplay for the 1948 film The Big Sleep, for example, “Norris enters, pushing a teawagon bearing decanter, siphon, initialled ice bucket.”



  1. A drinks trolley not of this ilk; but one of my only happy memories of the passing of my husband's mother, who spent some time in a hospice, was the arrival of the drinks trolley. Hospice's are not at all like hospitals. Though I'd want it parked permanently at my bedside.


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