Bartender has long been a contender for Most Valuable Utility on my Mac. I’ve mentioned it a lot. It’s up there with TextExpander and BetterTouchTool. And I can’t believe it, but it somehow keeps getting better.

If you don’t know, Bartender is an app that helps manage all those icons in your menu bar. If you’re any ilk of power user, you run a bunch of apps that don’t have Dock icons and only exist in your menu bar. And that menu bar can get pretty crowded pretty fast. I bet even “normal” users could use some menu bar taming. Bartender, at its most basic, lets you hide menu bar apps you don’t need to see, and gives you a hidden secondary menu bar so you can still access those apps you just don’t need all the time.

The only apps that are always showing in my menu bar these days are apps that have drop zones to which I want to be able to drag items (like Droplr, Dropzone, and Hook), apps I want to see status from all the time (like MailMate and Timing), and apps with useful at-a-glance info (like SoundSource and Fantastical). Everything else is either completely hidden, or available by clicking a blank area of the menu bar and popping up my secondary menu bar.

Version 4 of Bartender is insanely good. This version is only available on Big Sur, but if you’re running Big Sur, you’ll probably love it. It adds a whole new interface that’s elegant and super snappy. The keyboard shortcuts are expanded, and it even has a Spotlight-style search window for accessing menu items via the keyboard.

You can even control the spacing between menu bar items. I definitely didn’t like the increased spacing that Big Sur added, so being able to get back to “sane” spacing is great.

You can also have menu items show only when they change. For example, Time Machine only shows up in my menu bar when it’s backing up, and Dropbox only appears when it gets a notification. You can have it display on any change, when it changes based on an image comparison, or, if you’re feeling cheeky, you can also write your own shell scripts that display the item if the script returns true.

And get this… the latest update that just came out adds the ability to assign a keyboard shortcut to any item in your menu bar. You can have that keyboard shortcut make the item visible, and then automatically right or left click the icon. It’s keyboard access for all kinds of apps that usually require clicking. From Time Machine status to opening the Timing menu to check the current task, it basically adds a missing feature to every app that hasn’t implemented shortcuts of their own.

The item shortcuts are even useful in cases where an app already has its own shortcuts. In the case of Sip, I don’t always need it in my menu bar, but I do want hotkey access to it. It has its own shortcuts, but if I trigger it when the status item is hidden, the menu shows up all the way on the left of the screen. Using Bartender to add a shortcut for right clicking the icon after first making it visible solves that issue and makes it possible to run it with the icon hidden most of the time.

Bartender costs $15, which is a very fair price for what it provides. It’s also on Setapp, so if you’re a subscriber, you already have it. That said, I will continue paying upgrade fees and using the Setapp version because I really need to see this app developed far into the future.

To summarize: Bartender is awesome, and version 4 is crazy good. You should definitely be using this. You can purchase directly for $15, or find it on Setapp. Or both.

P.S. A good number of the must-have apps I mentioned in this post are on Setapp. That wasn’t intentional, it’s just a fact that a lot of my favorite apps are on there.

Here are the Setapp links to:

If you want to give Setapp a shot, use my affiliate link and we’ll both get something out of it!