“Pop-ups and special events have been an integral part of our business model,” Linden Pride, owner of Dante, writes VinePair via email. Since opening in 2015, Dante, one of the world’s 50 best bars, has launched temporary bars in 15 cities in five continents. Dante pop-ups have landed everywhere from Miami, New Orleans, and Nantucket in the U.S., to major cities in South America, Australia, and Asia.
They’re not alone, either. Close your eyes and point to any of the World’s 50 Best Bars, and chances are they’ve done a pop-up. Premier cocktail establishments like NYC’s Death & Co., Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Room, Chicago’s Emporium, Mexico City’s Licoreria Limantour, and many others are popping up at every turn.
“A pop-up is the entirety of a bar experience at a different place,” Laura Newman, owner of Queens Park in Birmingham, Ala., tells VinePair. That means exporting the decor, music, menu, and staff from one popular venue to another. “To me, it’s a very immersive experience,” Newman says.
Pop-up bars began gaining popularity as far back as 2010. They’re now an unstoppable force. Fueled by bar owners’ desires for exposure and growth, not to mention the chance to test out new markets, these temporary bars have become a permanent fixture of the cocktail world.
Although they have “never been a money-making venture,” Pride says, by developing “longer-term pop-ups as opposed to one-night guest bartending shifts … we can create more meaningful and impactful activations that allow us to showcase more of what Dante is about.” (An “activation” is essentially a marketing exercise or event that creates awareness and interaction with a brand.)
Once “activated,” a pop-up “broadens your clientele globally, and your ability to stand out as a business increases,” Maegan Delgrande, a Brooklyn-based bartender currently at East Hampton’s Moby, tells VinePair. “Usually [it’s] a concept that is new to an area. It draws business in [with] its uniqueness, or is driven by a name that tourists can recognize.
Delgrande has worked on pop-ups in Nairobi, Kenya and Tulum, Mexico. The latter has been in operation for five years. “The project is definitely successful,” Delgrande says. “[Former employer The Mulberry Project] originated as a cocktail bar in NYC and gained popularity there. Then, they took their show on the road.”
Before opening in NYC’s East Village in 2019, the cocktail bar Mister Paradise hosted pop-ups “to generate a bit of buzz before kicking off,” Will Wyatt, owner of Mister Paradise, writes VinePair in an email. In October 2019, Mister Paradise will venture abroad for pop-ups in London and Berlin. Both are planned around internationally recognized drinks industry events, Wyatt says.
“In Berlin, we will be partnering with Michter’s, a brand we all at Mister Paradise really love, to throw a party during Bar Convent Berlin,” he says. “In London, we will be popping up with our friends at Ilegal Mezcal during the final days of London Cocktail Week.”
“The main reason for popping up outside of the U.S. is to start building a bit more international recognition for our brand,” Wyatt says. “New York draws a wealth of tourists from around the globe, and in my experience, people receive a lot of their bar and restaurant recommendations from people who work in bars and restaurants.”
Delgrande, too, sees the value in connecting New Yorkers with the world, and vice versa. “A lot of New Yorkers travel in general, and especially to Tulum, so it’s exciting for them to see us in travel destinations,” she says.
Pop-ups can happen at home as well as abroad. Alternatives to a clone-away-from-home are temporary themes or seasonal “takeovers.”
The Drinks Company group of Washington, D.C., which owns Columbia Room and other bars, created a “Game of Thrones” pop-up at three of its locations. “The event brought in 90,000 customers over the nine-week run time,” Liquor.com reports.
“There’s always been this kind of nod and wink at cocktail bars, unfortunately, that they’re for a certain set of people who are young and affluent and belong to specific identities,” Derek Brown, owner of Drinks Company, told Imbibe in 2017. “To watch the ‘Game of Thrones’ [pop-up] turn into such a diverse and interesting group of people was worth it.”
Pop culture makes its way into many pop-ups, with everything from Star Wars to the Royal Wedding transforming bars for a night, weekend, or season. Chicago’s Emporium famously created “The Upside Down,” an ode to the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” in advance of the show’s Season 2 debut. Howler Bar in Brunswick, Australia, created a “Twin Peaks”-themed pop-up and, most recently, a “Parks and Recreation”-themed pop-up was announced by Chicago’s Replay.
Whether they run for one night or many years, pop-up bars are an increasingly viable tool in bars’ arsenals. “They have allowed us to explore new markets, new ideas, and new inspirations, which we can bring home to New York and share with guests and staff,” Dante’s Pride says.
“Pop-ups are a great way to expand a bar’s brand, which naturally breeds new opportunities,” Wyatt adds. “I expect that brick-and-mortar bars are going to remain the future of the bar industry, but the success of those will certainly be fueled in part by them taking their show on the road.”