Tidy Up Your Mac Menu Bar with Bartender

Red restaurant menus sitting by a wine glassEver since Jason covered Skitch as a great tool for quickly annotating screenshots back in 2009 (AKA ye olde ProefHaecker), I’ve been adding additional applications that run in the menu bar of my Macs. The menu bar is the little strip at the top of your screen where your clock, wifi indicator, and other little icons live. Along with features of the Mac operating system, many little pieces of software that run in the background on my computer have an icon in the menu bar. When I need an application, like Skitch, I can just click on the icon and access most if not all of the features of that application; it’s a tremendous boost to my productivity.

The menu bar, in other words, is a visual reminder and shortcut to some of the software that probably makes your computer yours. I’ve got icons up there for a lot of the tools that we’ve reviewed here at ProfHacker over the years: Dropbox (of course), TextExpander, f.lux, Alfred, BitTorrent Sync, Divvy, hotkeyEVE, iClip, 1Keyboard, Camouflage, Found, BetterSnapTool, and more.

But the more useful applications that I’ve found, the more crowded that menubar has become. What’s more, many of the icons get covered up by the file menus of the application that I’m using at the moment. The order in which the icons appear in the menu bar is determined by the order they are loaded when starting up your computer. And it seemed that many of my favorites were being relegated to the back of the line. I occasionally found myself having to switch to applications that had smaller menus just so I could get to the icons that I really wanted to use. I even occasionally had to shut down different tools just so I could get to the icons I needed.

So a few weeks ago I went looking for a solution, and I found one: Bartender. Bartender is yet another icon to throw into the menu bar. But it allows you to control

  1. what icons you want to have appear in your menu bar, and
  2. what order they appear in.

Once installed, Bartender allows you to decide on a per-application basis which items will show up at the top of your screen.


You have three choices for each application:

  • to leave it in the menu bar,
  • to hide it completely, or
  • to have its icon appear in a new Bartender Bar.

The Bartender Bar is a subsidiary menu bar that you can reach by clicking on the Bartender icon or by invoking a keyboard shortcut. (I love keyboard shortcuts.) It’s a great place to stow the icons that you use only once or twice a day so the ones your really use get top billing in the menu bar.

Bartender also gives you the option to allow icons that are updating to appear momentarily in your menu bar. So although I’ve put my Dropbox and BitTorrent Sync icons into the Bartender Bar, any time a file is syncing their icons appear. Once the sync is done, the icons go away again. It’s nice to still get the visual confirmation that things are working as they should be, but for the rest of the time the icon is tucked away.

Not only does Bartender let you control the icons for software you’ve added to your Mac, it also lets you hide the icons that are native to Apple’s operating system. If you don’t use the volume control icon because—after all—there are keyboard shortcuts, you can tuck it away in the Bartender Bar.

Once you’ve decided how you want Bartender to treat each icon, you can also rearrange them as you’d like. Simply hold down the Command key and then click-and-drag the icon to the order that you prefer in the lineup. It’s so simple, you’ll wonder why Apple didn’t make this part of the operating system.

My old menu bar had 23 application icons in it as well as 8 Apple defaults. It was sort of ridiculous (click for a larger image).

Screenshot of my old menubar

My new menu bar has only 4 application icons (TextExpander, Caffeine, Skitch, and Bartender) and only 3 of the Apple defaults. It’s a reduction of more than 300% 66% and I can now get to everything I actually need to use when I want to use it.

Screenshot of my new, shorter menu bar

As amazing as Bartender is, it’s not so amazing as to be free. Indeed, at $15 for a license, it’s downright pricy. I wrote the developers to ask if they offered an academic discount, but they don’t at the moment. But they do offer a 4-week, full trial of the software. So if you’re curious to see if having the more control over your menu bar helps you feel a bit more sane, you at least try the demo. For myself, it was such a relief to have things tidier that I bought a license within two days.

How many icons do you have in your menu bar? Do they ever get out of control? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

EDITED: To correct my math error and to improve sentence flow.

Lead image: Menu and wine glass / CC BY 2.0

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