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Bartender – Minimalistic Yet Powerful Toolbar Helper

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The menu bar lives at the top of any Mac display and is a major part of how you interact with the apps and tools you depend on daily. On the left side are the menu items related to the currently active window, and on the right side are any number of icons for the different tools you may use at any moment. This side of your menu bar may be an amalgamation of necessary and unnecessary items, and Bartender is the productivity app you can use to gain control of this mess.

Bartender is one of the best menu bar tools for creating and maintaining a clean-looking menu bar. It will let you hide items you don’t use and also create a “Bartender bar” that will show you specific items when you need them. It’s a smart tool that is easy to start using – you can try Bartender right now with all features free for 30 days. Below I’ll describe how to get started with Bartender as well as some alternative tools for managing your menu bar.

How to make a clean-looking menu bar?

When you first launch Bartender you will see three dots – this is the default icon for the app. Clicking on this icon will turn on the “Bartender bar” which will start out completely empty. Bartender is designed so that you can add some items to this separate Bartender menu bar that can be shown by clicking the icon or using a keyboard shortcut. To select which menu bar items you want to hide from the system bar you will need to open the Bartender preferences.

You can launch the Bartender preferences by holding the option key while clicking on the three dots icon in your menu bar and then selecting “Preferences…”. Here, you can change the settings for each individual menu bar item that is currently active. There are four choices for how Bartender will handle the items:

  • Show in menu bar - this will leave the item in the menu bar in the default view.

  • Always show in menu bar - this will keep the item in both the default and Bartender bar views.

  • Show in the Bartender menu bar - this will move the item to the Bartender menu bar, which means it will be hidden by default.

  • Always hide - this will hide the item from both the default and Bartender bar views.

If you have a dozen or so menu bar items then it can seem quite overwhelming to have to click through and change the settings for each one individually, but Bartender makes this easy by allowing you to select multiple items by holding ⌘ while clicking on them. This made it easy to pick all the items I wanted in the “Bartender bar” at once and then going to the “Menu bar item should:” setting and choosing the third option. You can do this for all the items you want to “Always show...” and “Always hide”.

Some menu bar items may only be important when they are trying to show you something. For example, I may only need to see my battery icon in the menu bar when it is trying to warn me that my battery is low. In this case I can select the option to “Show for updates”. In this case I set it so the battery icon shows when it “updates” or changes what the icon looks like and set it to remain there for a few minutes so I don’t miss it!

Alternative Menu Bar Tools

Vanilla is the best free menu bar tool that is available at the moment. It has a simple visual interface where holding ⌘ lets you can drag menu bar items to reorder them. Dragging them to the left of the Vanilla dot icon will hide them. For a cost of a coffee you can enable extra features that will completely remove items and allow you to toggle the hidden items with a shortcut key. There are a couple of graphic bugs that will show when viewing full screen apps and videos, but overall the simple performance of Vanilla makes it my top alternative to Bartender.

Barsoom will let you select a set of apps to be hidden in a separate area and is less than half the cost of Bartender. In this case though, the separate area is not another menu bar but an entry in a drop-down menu in the Barsoom menu bar item. This makes using the hidden items a bit of a chore. Our users also report (and I can confirm) that some menu bar items simply cannot be hidden with Barsoom version 2.5.

Nobody is Perfect

As systems are updated and apps are designed in new ways, you may find that some apps with menu bar items are difficult to hide or remove with any tool. We see that Bartender is updated quite frequently to handle all kinds of apps and their respective menu bar items. If you find an app will that is not properly managed by Bartender then we recommend checking the support pages that describe ways to get around some of these issues. Also, as with any productivity app, you can contact the developer with any issues and expect it to be fixed in due course.

Bartender is as close to perfect as possible when it comes to helping you manage your menu bar items, and they have been doing it successfully for a number of years. If you are looking for a productivity app that can help you get a handle on the clutter on your display while still keeping all the functions you want on your Mac, then you can feel confident that Bartender will give you a clean looking menu bar at a fair price.

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