Inside The Country’s Most Mouth-Watering Pop-Up Bars — And Why It’s a Trend Here To Stay

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Images courtesy of Ethan Covey.

Mix one part Luxardo maraschino liqueur with one part ephemera and you’ve got Behind The Wood, New York’s newest craft cocktail pop-up bar operating on Friday and Saturday nights inside Venturo Osteria & Wine Bar in Sunnyside, Queens. Aiming to fill Sunnyside’s glaring void of late night cocktail haunts, BTW co-founders Mashia Baldwin and Scott Scaffidi officially opened the pop-up on July 24, and thankfully, the two veteran bartenders have big plans to stay open through December, changing up their seasonally themed craft cocktail menu every two months.

The entire Friday-Saturday night only pop-up concept is nothing short of pure genius. The pop-up bar concept is spreading like wildfire here in New York, and all over the U.S., because it’s a model that’s attractive to both sides of the bar (yes, it attracts both bartenders and bargoers). Here’s why: From behind the bar, the pop-up concept allows for creativity, and on the cheap. Most pop-up bars are run from within an existing restaurant or bar, meaning there’s no need to apply for an insanely expensive liquor license (a two-year liquor license will run you $4,352 in New York City, and that’s not counting legal fees — ouch). Since the liquor license and standard menu already exist, it’s not unusual for established bar owners to invite budding entrepreneurs behind their bar to experiment with kitschy themes and out-of-the-box drink ideas.

The payoff is two-fold: the pop-up breathes new life into the more traditional bar menu and it affords newbies the opportunity to test the waters before opening up a full-fledged bar or restaurant themselves, avoiding the inevitable risk of bankruptcy. When asked why he and Baldwin decided to open a pop-up bar, Scaffidi promptly responded, “Unfortunately, New York is truly becoming that corporate fueled concrete jungle we all talk about where there’s little room for little people with big dreams. Unless you have quite a substantial amount of startup capital, you really can’t get your own business off the ground. The pop-up idea really allows you to tiptoe into the shallow end of the pool before taking the big plunge. You get to see how people relate to you and your product.”

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Speaking of products, pop-ups also serve as the perfect venue for showcasing local liquors, helping to promote newcomer distillers and brewers from the ground up. Enter Chris Murillo, founder of Astoria Distilling Company and proud maker of Queens Courage, a full-bodied pre-Prohibition era Old Tom gin which has quickly become a cocktail staple at BTW. From a bartender’s perspective, Murillo certainly sees the attraction to pop-ups: “I think that the ephemeral nature of pop-ups means that bartenders have a very narrow window to make an impression, so the pressure is on to make a great impression quickly. I think many creative and talented bartenders thrive on that kind of pressure, so you see flashes of brilliance you might not otherwise see.”

From the other side of the bar, the novelty and sheer exclusivity of a pop-up concept is what keeps thirsty crowds intrigued. To put it simply, pop-up bars come in all shapes, sizes, hours, locations, and themes. Look hard enough and you’ll find something for everyone. Longing for a summer rooftop? Head to a tiki bar pop-up. Taking a break from your typical watering hole? Take a seat at one of the countless pop-up beer gardens peppering the East Coast. Want to impress a first date with some highly coveted insider knowledge? Let social media lead the way to a 24-hour speakeasy. While many pop-up bars are accessible to the general public, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that there’s something special about being one of 291 people who know to obsessively check a Twitter handle for trickling details of the next big bash.

And yeah, those drinks though: a carefree summer night at BTW might find you sipping one of the eight artisanal concoctions, as part of their custom-made Summer Solstice menu that was inspired by the sultry summer flavors of citrus and smoke. Appropriately named and intricately designed drinks like The Flower Power — a refreshing elixir of gin, lavender lemon shrub, pink hibiscus cordial, and (ahem) edible orchid ice cube — pair especially well with that all too fleeting feeling of carefree invincibility associated with long summer New York City nights. Or take one Friday’s Daily Punch, which consisted of gin, grapefruit juice, fresh squeezed lime juice, soda water, and basil simple syrup.

There’s an entire range of pop-up bars popping up at different times throughout the year all over this great booze-enthused country. From tiki bars in Manhattan to brunch-themed cocktail parties in Columbus, you’ll be sure to find your bar crowd of choice–just hurry in before some of these gems are gone for good. No matter which side of the bar you’re on, I think we can all agree that it feels good to be part of an exclusive club, even if only for an hour or two.

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Brooklyn Mirage
Dubbed “party paradise,” this Bushwick-based megaspace located on 99 Scott Avenue boasts 53,000 square feet of outdoor and indoor space filled with bars, lounges, imported palm trees, a rotating list of DJs, and panoramic views of Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Mirage pop-up is open July 4 through September 26. Events vary, so check Brooklyn Mirage’s Facebook page for specific dates and times.

Tiki Tabu
Located on the rooftop of the Lower East Side’s swanky boutique hotel, SIXTY LES on 190 Allen Street, Tiki Tabu is described as a “bright explosion of Hawaiian kitsch,” offering up tropical cocktails, ‘60s surf pin-up collages, and bamboo and banana tree-lined walls.

Tiki Tabu opened its doors in August 2015 and plans on staying open year-round. Get your tropical fix daily from 5 p.m. until “late.”

Better Days
The Miami shabby chic/hipster pop-up is located inside a thrift shop on the first floor of the 500 Brickell building–75 SE 6th Street, Suite 103 to be exact. In the know bargoers can expect to find vintage furniture, pool tables, a DJ booth for live performances, and a full bar featuring a revolving menu of craft cocktails, beer, and wine.

Better Days is open year-round, seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Take advantage of $3 beers, $4 wines, and $5 calls during happy hour, Monday through Friday from 5pm to 8pm.

CoMingle573
At sporadic times year-round, this craft cocktail pop-up in Columbia*, Mo. takes over existing spaces for two-hour parties, sometimes offering brunch-themed cocktails with names like “Wake Me Up Before You CoMo” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

CoMingle573 will leak clues on social media leading up to the official announcement of the next big event (I hear there’s one soon). It’s best to keep up via Twitter @CoMingle573.

Brick & Mortar at Prequel
Located in the heart of Penn Quarter, Prequel is Washington DC’s (if not the country’s) premier pop-up complex, housing dozens of local bakeries, coffee shops, juice bars, restaurants, and bars. And thank the heavens for those bars: Prequel’s in-house speakeasy, Brick & Mortar, features classic pre-prohibition cocktails, Old and New World wines, as well as a variety of local and international beers.

Brick & Mortar at Prequel is open year-round Monday through Saturday from 5pm to 10:30 p.m.. A daily happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. includes $5 beers, $7 wines, and $7 cocktails.

4th Floor Wine Bar at Prequel
Also located in Prequel, the pop-up wine bar is currently serving an expertly curated selection of 21 wines from around the world, including whites, reds, rosés, sherries, and champagnes.

4th Floor Wine Bar at Prequel is open year-round, Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a daily 5:30 p.m. to 7pm happy hour.

Visit Philly Beer Garden Series
This massive annual beer garden is currently taking up residency within The Oval, Philadelphia’s eight-acre pop-up park at 24th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where beer nerds can enjoy a plethora of local craft beers, food truck offerings, and outdoor art installations.

The Visit Philly Beer Garden can be found at The Oval from July 15 to August 23, Wednesday through Sunday 5pm to 8pm.

Festivus Beer Garden at Franklin Square
This four-night only outdoor beer garden will serve seasonal beers alongside a line of food trucks in Philly’s historic Franklin Square.

Festivus Beer Garden is be open four Thursdays throughout summer and fall: June 25, July 23, August 20, and October 24. Food is served from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and beer from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m..

Point Breeze
This Philadelphia pop-up park, located at 1622 Point Breeze Avenue, will be serving draughts and cans well into September. Beer lovers can choose from popular domestic labels like Sierra Nevada or Abita, or they can sample some lesser known local microbrews like Baltimore’s Heavy Seas Crossbones or Philadelphia’s very own American Sardine Ale.

Point Breeze pop-up is open May 16 through September 17, with varied hours: Thursday 4 to 10 p.m., Friday 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday 12 to 11 p.m., and Sunday 12 to 10 p.m..

Small Cheval
This recently opened Au Cheval spin-off in Chicago serves craft cocktails, shots, and beers alongside shakes, burgers, and golden fries. Rumor has it, this summer pop-up may turn into a permanent fixture on 1732 N. Milwaukee Avenue, but it’s best to play it safe and indulge yourself before it’s (possibly) too late.

Small Cheval is open Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.

*This article originally stated that CoMingle573 was in Columbus, Mo.; we regret the error.

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