Pop-up bars are like lemonade stands for adults. But instead of supporting a couple of school kids trying to earn cash to buy Go-GURT and Surge, you’re giving your money to someone with a bad Michael’s habit who loves to make themed cocktails that contain Blue Curacao.
A well-thought-out pop-up bar can be alluring. I would patronize a bar modeled after the Cafe 80s from Back to the Future II. Who wouldn’t? It’s just that there are so many pop-up bars opening at such a high frequency, that the only way to delineate between which might actually be a fun, good idea and which are just lazy pop-culture or nostalgia grabs is to eliminate booze from the equation.
I know what you’re thinking, there are a lot of activities people wouldn’t normally do if they weren’t drinking, like go to the office, church, the gym, make a phone call, write this article. So, that’s not fair. But for the sake of argument, let’s walk through the following examples of real pop-up bar themes I found with some quick googling. And let’s apply what I’ve coined as The Pittsburgh City Paper Sobriety Metric for Pop-Up Bars.
Would you go sober to a Family Guy-themed establishment rife with 40-year-olds mangling Stewie quotes and Rhode Island accents? I wouldn’t do that drunk. Without the promise of alcohol, do you have the gumption to enter a dimly lit building that used to be Pizza Hut to sit on the floor building Lego castles with other sober strangers? Do you want to see a Salacious Crumb puppet made by a bartender? OK. It’s a maybe on the puppet. But you get the point.
The following is a quote from travelandleisure.com regarding the Pokémon-themed bar that is coming to Pittsburgh in October. I have applied the Sobriety Metric for you. Read it slowly and absorb every ounce of discomfort this bar has to offer. “Amongst the many treats that wannabe Pokémon Masters will get to enjoy will be a live DJ,
themed cocktails, Pokémon trivia, and a costume contest with lots of prizes, Gothamist reported. A ticket also covers a meal, which is your choice of a Pokémon burger with buns that look like Pikachu, Charmander, and Squirtle.” Ew! Could you imagine asking someone for a “Squirtle” without being blackout drunk? I hope not.
I’m not trying to say that all pop-up bars are a trifling waste of time, though 99 percent probably are. I’m just asking that the gatekeepers of public alcohol consumption to apply a bit more integrity to their choices. Don’t half-ass an Avengers pop-up bar just to leach off a billion-dollar franchise. Full-ass your pop-up bar with a theme you really care about.