Bars provide us with many good things, most of which are based in fermented sugars and distilled liquids. But for our souls, they do a lot more: To walk inside of a favorite is to leave behind the day that came before it. If there are chairs, a counter, bottles of liquor, and a person to serve some of it to you, well, welcome to a better place than the one you’ve just left.
But sometimes—not often—a bar can be a refuge whether you drink in it or not. And that’s what Jupiter Disco, situated behind an inconspicuous industrial door off of Flushing Avenue in Bushwick, provides for all of us. More than most, it is a hidden alternate universe that delights, menu aside. It is a haven of booze and music from science fiction enthusiasts that depicts the future as it was imagined in the 70s and 80s in movies like Dune, Blade Runner, Alien, and Star Wars—the Dying Earth and scavenger variety that are sparse in soft materials, lighted by neon, and powered with analog technology. Add to that a list of 20 craft cocktails, four beers on draft, a wide selection of cans, empanadas to nibble on, and an expertly designed sound system—complete with a classic DJ booth—and, whether you plan on drinking here or not, Jupiter Disco should be your new favorite retro-future dystopia, by which of course I mean utopia.
Co-owners Maks Pazuniak and Al Sotack met seven years ago, Sotack told me, sitting inside a circular corner booth at Jupiter Disco that, like the rest of the bar’s fixtures, is brand new but looks much older than that, with its aqua upholstery and dark wood. The foundation of their friendship (outside of cocktails, that is—Sotack had worked at The Franklin in Philadelphia, and Pazuniak published Beta Cocktail, and was an opening bartender at Maison Premiere, and did experimental cocktail nights at The Counting Room) was based on trading albums and books that each of them liked.
“Both had strong influences on the bar,” said Sotack. “I re-read Dune this year, and there is a quote by Frank Herbert [author of Dune] in the employee handbook.” I told him it reminded me of the bar from Star Wars, Cantina. “In that corner, there is Cantina print that my wife gave to us, it’s pre-production from 1976,” Sotack told me proudly. I pointed to the hefty LED lights hanging above the bar—they easily belonged to Cantina, too, or in any other of the dystopian movies, for that matter, previously mentioned.
Early on, in addition to talking science fiction, the friends brainstormed what their dream bar might be. “We had talked about so many things—Mad Max and Star Wars—but it hadn’t returned yet to the public eye,” Sotack said about their similar shared aesthetic. As a wider trend, 70s and 80s retro-future allusions had not yet infiltrated pop culture in a way that it has begun to now. But they had no hard and fast rules they wanted to stick to for a future space. Instead they had a list of aesthetic touchstones, and figured it out as they went.
“There was an evolution in terms of what we wanted to do, and once we found the space, it obviously helped us finalize everything,” said Sotack. After all an old gas station cum check-cashing facility (hence, the steel plating on the ceilings) turned into a bar in Bushwick will take a very different shape than it would, say, in Carroll Gardens. “It was a perfect vanilla box, and we could do exactly what we wanted,” said Pazuniak. And so with with an assist from Smart Department, that is exactly what they did—including some retro-fit work they did to the main speakers, which they stripped and painted gray to match the industrial aesthetic.
And, speaking of those speakers, they are top of the line. “We wanted there to be a similar vibe for DJs as there are for bartenders,” said Sotack—namely, a lot of toys available for them to play with. In addition to a DJ both, they have a Condesa rotary mixing board and a reel-to-reel tape player, so they can go analog, per the bar theme, but their digital capacity is also top-quality. Sotack and Pazuniak worked with Danny Taylor of House Under Magic and the band Collapsing Scenery, to design their sound. “The sound is as important to the bar as the Cocktails,” said Sotack. “And I think it sounds really fucking good in here.”
And finally—we almost forgot, because as mentioned, just sitting in Juptier Disco is a hell of a time—there is plenty to drink, and a lot of it involves large ice cubes, chiseled with picks, into meteor-like frozen rocks (appropriately). “We spent a lot of time designing the bar, the systems you can’t see,” says Sotack. “We thought a lot about how to make drinks with certain techniques, but to do them quickly and efficiently, and hopefully we achieved that.” As he explained this, the bartender, an old friend who had moved from San Francisco to help them open in New York City, was whacking large blocks of ice down with an ice pick and chisel—once those were made, anyway, quick and smooth sailing could follow.
Drinks are divided into five sections, some shaken, some swizzled, some heavy and booze forward. Sotack and Pazuniak spent a good amount of time writing their menu, pulling from the cocktail revival scene of the early aughts, and their own experience and recipes; that menu is buoyed by four local beers on draft and a wide selection of cans. But when you get there, don’t expect to read about any of them on paper.
“The menu is on those screens,” Sotack pointed to a green-on-black pixelated screen, which hung in the corner and spelled out the drinks in moving text. “Or it’s on your phone,” he offered. “If those things don’t work, your bartender will walk you through it.” As per their entire approach to building the space, the drink menu is also mutable, and will be updated daily, along with the DJ schedule, at jupiterdisco.com.
It was just about 6pm—opening hour, seven nights a week—so it was time to turn off the prep lights and start the neon retro-future show. One of the lighting’s most prominent displays is found on a front wall panel; it’s the first (and only) thing that greets you when you walk through the doors.
“It’s a kind of Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass entranceway,” Sotack said. And, from my experience, that was true: behind the industrial curtain at Jupiter Disco, a very different reality does await you. And this one happens to be quite well-stocked in music, snacks, and booze, to help keep you inside of it for a long time—at least, anyway, until 4am every night.
Jupiter Disco: 1237 Flushing Ave. Bushwick
Images by Jane Bruce