Lesson 08 – Difficulty: Easy
To catch spills while making a cocktail most bartenders opt for quality bar mats. A good quality bar mat does the job without obstructing the cocktail builder. Technically, all bar mats catch spills, but many create more frustration than they prevent. Selecting a quality bar mat was a huge obstacle for me when I first got into home bartending.
I tried all the well known rubber bar mat designs and none of them really stood up to my standards. Like a professional bartender, I wanted a rubber bar mat that did its job but was easy to forget I was using. A great bar mat sinks into your environment and becomes non-obstructive but keeps to the promise of managing spills and drips. The problem with your basic bar mats is general stiffness in the mat construction. The rubber nibs on many bar mats bend when you place a cocktail glass on them. Those same nibs are too soft; stirring cocktails on these nibs tend to wobble and lean the mixing glass.
Bar mat nibs elevate your cocktail above the bar mats base. The bar mat edging traps and contains any spilled liquid. Bar mat nibs elevate the drink out of the puddle.
Heavy Duty Bar Mats
One day I finally tripped over some quality heavy duty bar mats, made in the United States of all places! First of all, bar mats are made in mass quantity in India or China with very little regard to construction. Most Chinese manufacturers want you to produce mats with your company logo for press agency and cocktail events…thousands at a time. However, I just wanted a sturdy quality bar mat with heavy duty construction. I needed a bar mat a true bartender would love; something they can use in high traffic bars that stands the test of time.
The best bar mats are those made of solid thick rubber design. The heavy duty bar mats with shorter nibs to hold your drink makes for less “wiggle” in the mat. Don’t skimp on bar mat construction for your home bartending as you’ll only need one or two mats for your typical setup. Not everyone has a full bar that needs eight or more bar mats!
Bar Mat Style
There are three core bar mat styles:
- Bar Rail Mats: Longer mats that run along the “rail” of the bar, where bartenders typically prepare drinks.
- Standard Bar Mats: These bar mats are used on the top of the bar, often to serve drinks to customers or, in some cases, store glassware or other tools. Some bar service mats are used on segments of the bar where wait staff picks up their drinks for customers at tables.
- Interlocking Bar Mats: The interlocking bar mats connect more like a thick rubber locked ‘net’ where the spaces in the bar mat showcase the bar below it. These may also be used for drying recently washed glassware and bar tools.
Bar Mat Dimensions
The only bar mat that has a semi-standard dimension is the bar rail mat. Because many bar rails are about the same width, you can find bar rail mats at around 3.5″ – 4.0″ wide with variable sized lengths. Most other bar service mats come in a variety of widths and lengths depending on manufacturers design. Some bars will have custom bar mats designed to fit their specific needs.
Bar Mat Usage
The main focus of a bar mat is to capture spills when creating cocktails. While bar mats do not come with our home bartender starter kit, they are an additional tool that I’d mark as essential for many home bar setups. If you’re main focus is building cocktails in the kitchen, a bar mat may serve as a place to dry your tools and glassware. If you’re designing a small bar space in your home or take your “show on the road”, it might be worth picking up a heavy duty bar mat incase of spills.
Bar Mat with Logos
Don’t be drawn in by cheap bar mats with company logos on them. If you’re a fan of a brand, do your research and see if the brand has a high quality heavy duty bar mat. You may be surprised to find many brands put a lot of effort into getting a great useable bar mat that a bartender will appreciate. Remember, bars often are paid to showcase specific brands (or at least encouraged by their brand ambassadors to use them) and are given these mats free… but they have to be useful bar mats!
In conclusion, do your research! Buy a heavy duty bar mat that meets your needs and your dimensions.