Bartender: Take control of your Menu Bar

We’re big fans of apps which reside in the Menu Bar here at Mac.AppStorm. Personally, at least two of my most essential Mac apps live up there in the top right hand corner of the screen. However, with the proliferation of useful, lightweight Menu Bar apps, things can begin to get a little crowded in no time at all.

Well, for this admittedly niche problem, there’s an elegant solution in the form of Surtees Studios’ Bartender. Its a utility which promises to give users about as much control over the Menu Bar as one could reasonably hope to have.

Installing Bartender

Bartender is currently in Beta, so you can download a free copy for trial purposes from the developer’s website. Of course, that also means it probably should not be considered completely stable, or perhaps even suitable for use by less technically savvy Mac users. However, in testing I found Bartender to be remarkably bug free and more than able to function as a usable app – though as always, proceed at your own risk!

Bartender will require your administration password to continue past this prompt

Bartender will require your administration password to continue past this prompt

After the non-App Store process of download, unzip and drag-to-install has been completed, Bartender pops up with the above prompt which bids users no allow the app permission to install ‘a file’ – this slightly vague request seemed odd, though you can get more detailed info by clicking the question mark. Basically, an app like this has to integrated deeper into your Mac than standard apps, and it’ll need to add a system file to do that.

Getting started

My own Menu Bar, before using Bartender to make some changes

My own Menu Bar, before using Bartender to make some changes

The Mac I’m making use of in order to review Bartender is only a couple of days ol,d so there’s not too many apps shoehorned into the Menu Bar just yet. Despite this, I’ve already ran into a familiar annoyance: Two of my most important Menu Bar apps, iTeleport Connect and Little Snapper, have icons which look rather similar, ensuring that while I’m tapping away furiously trying to make a deadline and reach up with the mouse pointer to click and make a screenshot, I invariably click the wrong icon.

It’s a miniscule issue, to be sure, and one which only shaves off seconds of productivity from my day, but it’s irritating enough that I felt compelled to see if it was possible to remedy my issue with Bartender. So, clicking on the Bartender Menu Bar icon brings up the above menu options and from there, we can choose to enter the app’s preferences.

Bartender's Preferences box is where most of the action takes place

Bartender's Preferences box is where most of the action takes place

Once within Bartender’s preferences box, we can configure several options, such as whether to hide the default system Menu Bar icons like Airport’s WiFi status, the battery icon, etc – or these can be placed within Bartender’s own bar. Once the relevant decisions have been made, Bartender can be made to perform the desired action by selecting the “Control Menu Bar Items”.

The same choices can also be made for active Menu Bar apps, finally allowing me to tuck away that pesky iTeleport Connect icon and save those precious seconds, as shown in the following screenshot:

My icons are now safely tucked away and the Menu Bar looks cleaner as a result

My icons are now safely tucked away and the Menu Bar looks cleaner as a result

When wishing to access the hidden Menu Bar items, a click on the Bartender icon will make Bartender’s Bar visible, which you can then move around the screen if desired. Bartender’s Bar is visible below:

The hidden Menu Bar items are available in Bartender's Bar

The hidden Menu Bar items are available in Bartender's Bar

Beyond the basics

Bartender impresses with its well thought out options

Bartender impresses with its well thought out options

What sets Bartender aside from the majority of similar apps designed for managing the Menu Bar are the little touches which Surtee Studios have made. For example, the entire point of Bartender would be somewhat undermined if one doesn’t like the little icon of a man in bow-tie, but the developers helpfully included the option of selecting from several different icons and even let you add a custom icon if you’d like.

Another great option is that Bartender can also be assigned a hotkey, which seems like an excellent addition for productivity geeks. Perhaps the ability to navigate Bartender’s menu with just the keyboard would also be a welcome feature in the future.

Conclusion

So, is Bartender an app which everyone reading Mac.AppStorm should rush out and download then buy? Absolutely not. Frankly, Bartender will probably only appeal to a relatively small percentage of Mac users, those who like to keep everything just so and ensure that their folders are all correctly organized and named – that is, people just like myself.

With Bartender, Surtees Studios have managed that rare feat of doing one thing and doing it very well indeed. Bartender won’t set the world on fire, but it’s useful, well made, and does what it says perfectly. Bartender is free to try while in beta, or if you’d like to purchase a license you can do so now for a reduced price of $7.50 – this will reportedly double on the app’s release.


Summary

Bartender is a very useful and lightweight little app which, though still in Beta at present, shows great promise and is sure to develop into a great Menu Bar utility upon its eventual full release.

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  • Felix

    I have been using the beta for several weeks and I just love it.
    I love my menu bar to being clean, but at the same time, I like to enjoy the features a lot of apps offer with their menu bar items.

    Great thing, worth a try.

  • Arnoud

    I think you’re missing one important point in your review: when you have a small screen, for instance on a laptop (or worse: when switching to a beamer), it’s very easy for menubar icons to disappear underneath the application menu items (File, Edit etc.). Once they disappear they’re inaccessible. Bartender makes them accessible again. This is my number 1 reason for using Bartender.

  • Abu-Dun

    Looks good but is there any way that I can show the systemclock all the time and hide all other Apple system menu items?

  • Edward Tessier

    managing my menubar has long been a challenge. I am a quadriplegic and everything has to be optimized to be visible and easily accessed via Magic trackpad. I have tried half a dozen solutions. I currently use accessible menubar apps to see behind the open application menu. Bartender seems to be a real improvement on that. Kudos

  • http://iynque.com iynque

    I tried this a while back and bought it the next day. It’s so nice to be able to hide those menu bar items away. For anyone that uses menu bar apps and likes a clean workspace, Bartender comes as welcome relief from the clutter while keeping all that functionality.

    I made a nice minimalist icon for it too! I love the easy icon customization.

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