Cool Find:

Today we head to the beautiful Amalfi coast of Italy. Okay, we’re still in Canada, but look! It’s a bar cart! From Italy!

This 1960s bar cart was “found” in the condo that my brother purchased about a year ago. It was left by the little old lady who had owned the condo previously. My brother had been told when he bought the place, that he could take whatever was left as the family had already taken what they wanted. Typically, my brother only had eyes for the gigantic LED TV, but some mother-sister tag team work convinced him that the simple wood dining table and chairs were a great find and miles better than the ugly 80s vinyl he was dragging around. I, on the other hand, had my eye on the fancy little “tea caddy” in the corner. I don’t drink tea, but how could any self-respecting thrifter pass up free furniture? Especially something as useful as a two level rolly cart?

Bar Cart wine holders

The metal rings on the bottom shelf keep wine or other liquor bottles secure while moving the cart.

Fast forward a few weeks and my brother has taken possession of his awesome new condo, and I have taken possession of my latest treasure. So I sit myself down on the floor in front of the tea caddy and start dusting and polishing, and checking out all the little doodads. Then I take a closer look at the bottom shelf. See those round metal holder thingies? Hmmm. I don’t know what possible way those could be used for teacups. So I ask myself, “Self, what on earth would those be for?” Well, obviously, the answer is wine! (I know I’m not the only one who thinks wine is the answer to everything.) The rings stop wine or other liquor bottles from sloshing everywhere as you drag the BAR CART around the party room.  So, it turns out that our dearly departed little old lady was a drinker!

What’s so special?

Sorrento, Italy map

Sorrento, Italy is known for intarsio (marquetry) furniture.

The region of Sorrento is known for its marquetry furniture, or intarsio as the Italians call it. The intricate patterns of thin wood veneer are hand cut from various types of wood and then glued to the furniture piece. It’s still a ‘thing’ there and you can get some fancy souvenirs if you visit. You can also visit the intarsio museum, Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea. (Doesn’t that name just roll off your tongue? I feel the warmth of the Italian sun warming me just thinking about it, despite the snow falling–ahhh, it’s really snowing out there and it’s March already!)

Since there are a number of these similar pieces popping up for sale, it seems everyone has settled on the 1960’s for the production of these items. It seems the manufacturers at the time made a number of these carts and large serving trays in a similar style, I’m guessing, intended for export based on the number of them turning up in the U.S. and Canada. Seems to fit hand-in-hand with the mass production ethos of the time period.

Technically, these fall into the Mid-Century Modern era, however, these are definitely not of the same ilk as a sleek Danish teak sideboard or an Eames molded plywood chair. However, it does fall very much in line with the cocktail culture of the era. Perhaps the reason why MCM style has come back so strongly these days is because of our shared love of serving and drinking alcohol. Or did the furniture come first and the alcohol followed? Would we have come up with the alcohol thing on our own? Gee, I wonder…

Italian walnut vintage bar cart

An example of an Italian bar cart that is a bit more in keeping with the MCM aesthetic. (Photo from 1stdibs.com. Click photo to visit.)

Getting back to the topic of MCM design, there were definitely Italian designs that fit in more with the popular Scandinavian style, but it just wouldn’t be Italy if they completely lost their ornate leanings. It stands to reason that an Italian bar cart would be a very different beast from a Danish one. (Come to think of it, if I had known this cart was Italian from the beginning, I never would have confused it with a tea cart–I’ve been to Italy several times and I’ve never once said “I’ll have a nice cuppa tea with my pasta alfredo.”)

What I did to it.

A bit of spit and polish and it was ready to be loaded up with my barware and alcohol. Then I rolled it into place…next to my desk…What? My office is in my dining room!

Sorrento-MCM-Bar-Cart

What’s it worth?

$200-$600 depending on the condition and ornateness.

Italian vintage bar cart

Check out the square footage with those leaves opened up!

I believe the market for this particular style of bar cart is not going to be as sizable or as easily swayed to open their wallets as it is for the more sleek styles of the period. However, if you’re the type that has more ornate leanings, but still want to participate in the bar cart craze, then you can definitely pick one of these up for the lower end of the price point. They are all over eBay and Etsy, but watch for the ones that have chips in the inlay or are missing the gold metal trim around the top. I’m not sure if the trim was always included on the originals, but it’s a decorative and functional feature of a movable cart. Unless you can find one locally, you’ll also have to pay a fair amount for shipping as it’s not exactly Ikea-flat-pack-friendly and those legs are a tiny bit delicate.

I have seen these carts go for $300 and up to $600 for the exact model as mine. Or you could pay a whole lot more. I actually saw one slightly fancier than mine for sale on 1stdibs.com for nearly $2000. I think that’s a bit much because you can’t rely solely on the MCM desirability for a piece like this. In fact, the fancier it gets, the less it fits with the style. Nevertheless, it’s extremely functional and the drop leaves are terrific for extra space at a big party. You know, like the kind where a bunch of ladies get together to discuss a book and you need extra room for the refreshments. Or is my book club the only one that looks like a wine bar after last call?

Learn more about Sorrento marquetry and the cocktail culture.

A travel journalist’s tour of the masters of the art in Sorrento.

Okay, that’s all I got on that…let’s look up cocktail recipes!

Drinksmixer.com is an easily searchable repository for cocktail recipes.

Get schooled on the 25 cocktail recipes everyone should know.

The Guardian’s run down on how to make the perfect old fashioned. (The ultimate MCM beverage if you’re a purist.)

Get even more use out of your bar cart by splashing a little liquor in your coffee. Here are some interesting “coffee cocktail” recipes from Home Grounds. (A purist would obviously give the Italian coffee a try first.)

Quick Summary

What is it? Wood marquetry bar cart from Sorrento, Italy

When was it made? 1960s

What’s it worth? $200-$600 plus shipping.

Is it collectible? Not as much as an MCM teak or metal bar cart, but it’s still a great cart for someone who likes a little oldy-worldy flair with their cocktails.

Oh my, I just had a thought…since there are several of these around, I kinda wonder what it would look like painted? Is it sacrilegious to paint over marquetry? Now I kinda want to see what that would look like. Maybe someone else will do it first. 😉

UPDATE: Guess I won’t be painting the bar cart after all; it has been passed on to new owners who appreciate the oldy-worldy Italian arts. This item is SOLD!