US$15 / AU$23..37 purchase; US$7.50 / AU$11.68 upgrade at Macbartender.com
The macOS menu bar can be a convenience. It's great to take in
information at a glance or click an icon that drops down to reveal
a number of options you can choose without launching an app or a
preference pane. But it bulges, and Apple is just one culprit. The
kind of utilities we recommend in Mac Gems is another!
Apple tried to deal with its own creeping menu bar overload in
Big Sur by reforming many icons into the Control Center. This
change helped, but I can still find myself with nearly three dozen
icons and indicators—yes, dozen—and a third or more are
invisible because of an app's menu blocking them.
Bartender 4 provides an intuitive pathway out of this mess. For
over a decade, across four versions, Surtees Studio's app has let
you pick which menu items get prime territory, always appearing,
and which are delegated to a secondary menu you can trigger or are
hidden altogether. And the app offers this with drag-and-drop
simplicity. The only non-intuitive part about Bartender is that you
need to option-click its bow-tied icon to reveal an option to show
visible menu into a neat set of options is paired with an elegant
hover-over option to reveal more items that are otherwise
This is a distinct improvement over the previous releases, which
offered a separate item in Bartender preferences to set
parameters for each menu bar icon. Now, the Menu Bar Layout
preferences just let you drag an icon into the position you want
for either always shown, hidden until revealed, or always hidden.
While version 4 required a compatibility break—it only works with
Big Sur or later—Bartender has become much more agile and
graphically minded in its maturity. (If you're running Catalina or
earlier releases, a Bartender 4 license works with version 3. See the company's FAQ for details and
simplicity now lets you organize what appears, what's hidden until
revealed, and what doesn't show up at all.
menu items? Use Bartender's search option to find the one you
Seeing just what you want is one thing, but getting to your
stashed menu icons is another. To reveal the hidden item
collection, Bartender 4 lets you hover over any blank space in the
menu—the secondary menu bar gracefully appears. You can also
option-click the app's icon and choose Quick Search menu bar items
to see a full list and search among them. If you use that feature
frequently, Bartender lets you set a hotkey for its
You can tweak settings for a bit more subtlety, too. In the Show
For Updates settings, for example, you can set triggers to display
icons that only reveal at certain times. Predefined triggers
include showing the battery icon when your Mac is drawing battery
power. You can define your own triggers down to the level of having
Bartender observe changes in a menu icon's appearance, which is the
kind of nifty thinking that makes this tool invaluable for menu bar
One tip: Retrain yourself from using the macOS shortcut of
Command-dragging to re-arrange icons with Bartender active: the app
can't override macOS's desire for control when you do that, and it
can cause some pretty spectacular temporary menu bar madness.
You can use
prefabricated triggers to show menu icons when something of note
happens, or even customize your own.
If you're ever in an app and its splayed-wide menus hide a menu
you need or are merely frustrated with a profusion of icons that
reminds you of satellite TV dishes covering the top of an apartment
building, clear the clutter just the way you want it with
Bartender offers a four-week free trial. The purchase price is US$15 (AU$23.37) for a single-user license for use across all your Macs. It's
also included in Setapp, a US$9.99-per-month subscription-based
collection of 220 apps from independent software developers.
We reviewed Bartender last in 2015 with its
version 2. (Actually, I did!) At the time, I apparently had only 20
menu bar icons. I naively wrote in that review, If you have a
wide-enough screen…you might find Bartender unnecessary… Oh, the
simpler days of six years ago.
Welcome to the return of Mac Gems, a column that ran for
many years and highlighted great nuggets of Mac software—apps that
have a high utility, have a sharp focus on a limited set of
problems to solve, and are generally developed by an individual or
small company. With the strong resurgence of the Mac in recent
years, we want to celebrate tools we use and that readers recommend
to make the most of your macOS experience. Stay tuned for weekly
updates, and send your suggestions to the Mac Gems Twitter feed (@macgems).