The unspoken pop-up rule — decorate until there’s no empty space left — is honored at Pittsburgh’s two newest pop-up bars, Red White & Booze and Level Up.
Red White & Booze started as Zombie Den, opening for its first run in the Fall of 2018. The space, adjacent to The Original Oyster House, was a dive bar for the undead.
The bones of a dive remain in Red White & Booze, but instead of zombies, the bar displays neatly framed pictures that chronicle important U.S. moments. Pieces of history — The Declaration of Independence, Uncle Sam, and posters for Mohammed Ali — hang next to portraits of presidents and football stars. Flags fly from the walls, glowing red, white, and blue under strings of lights that line the ceiling. Outside, a grillmaster, guarded by a bronze soldier, flips burgers and hot dogs.
Three signature cocktails — red rum punch, white sangria, and a blue G&T —– are menu highlights. They’re delicious (and potent). The sangria, made with tequila instead of brandy, doesn’t taste like wine at all. It is, as the server describes, more of a “wine cocktail,” aka very strong. The red rum punch, made with lots of fruit, sips like a melted popsicle.
Level Up, the latest from Pop Up PGH, an ever-rotating bar that's hit all major holidays and Game of Thrones, is now set to the tune of 8-Bit. Every inch of its white walls is covered by fake brick, maps of gamescapes, or giant versions of the games themselves. Cut-outs of Bowser, Princess Peach, and other beloved characters are plastered between Nintendo’s signature green pipes; Mario and Luigi wave from behind the bar. Drink and compete on the two fully-functional consoles: a flat-screen displayed Nintendo and a classic arcade machine.
Pop Up PGH's drink menu has come a long way since it opened Jingle Bar. Both drinks, The Mario Manhattan and the Finish Me! were balanced and clean. The Manhattan left behind a touch of a whiskey burn and the sweetness of Finish Me! leveled nicely with a bitter Aperol end.
These two bars have mastered the art of a pop-up. They don’t stay open for long (to quote Level Up: “we’re here for a good time, not a long time”), but the next concept is always close behind, promising to be better than the last.
Level Up, 268 Forbes Ave., Downtown. 412-471-0400; Red White & Booze, 20 Market Square, Downtown.