The idea of a pop-up bar—a limited-time drinks concept—creates excitement for consumers and on-premise operators alike. While the idea isn’t new, pop-up bars have earned a lot of attention over the last few years. Pop-up concepts allow bar owners to test an idea before committing to a full-time space and create instant interest for guests who know the venue won’t be around forever.
Yediel Kadosh was working on an idea for a new wine bar in Miami when the opportunity arose for him to take over a pop-up space in the city’s artsy Wynwood District. Kadosh eagerly accepted the offer and opened Ciao Bella Natural Wine Bar for a three-month stint this summer. “It would be foolish to turn down a chance to test a concept while limiting downside risk,” Kadosh explains. “For me, this is a trial run to see if this concept can support a permanent location.”
Ciao Bella serves natural wines from around the world, including New Zealand’s The Hermit Ram Sauvignon Blanc and Cantina Orgosa Nero, an Italian red blend ($13-$16 a glass; $45-$90 a 750-ml.). Kadosh says the venue has been well received during its short-term stay and that he’s seriously considering a permanent iteration when the pop-up ends. “Because this is a trial run, it changes the way I measure success,” he adds. “Pop-ups shorten the time frame in which operators must turn a profit, but profitability isn’t my focus. The goal was to introduce as many people to the concept as possible. Pop-ups are an amazing way to develop and foster a connection with your audience.”
Miami also houses the cocktail-focused pop-up Sweet Beach in the Shelbourne South Beach Hotel. Operated by the team behind popular Miami restaurant and bar Sweet Liberty, Sweet Beach opened at the hotel this summer as an outdoor seasonal venue, boasting a casual beach club atmosphere and a tropical cocktail menu (drinks are $14-$17). The Watermelon Margarita ($17), made with Cazadores Blanco Tequila, Cointreau, watermelon and lime juices, jalapeño agave syrup, and Tajin spices, was a popular call during the summer. “Having a pop-up allows us to test new ideas and have a lot of fun at the same time,” says Sweet Beach partner David Martinez, who has also operated pop-up concepts in New York and Colorado. “Pop-ups allow us to take chances and try new things. They’ve been popular for years and will continue to be.”
In Chicago, the Kimpton Gray Hotel opened the summer seasonal Seltzer Shop in late July for a three-week run. The bar offered free drinks to hotel guests and visitors, capitalizing on the popularity of hard seltzers and overlapping with Chicago’s hosting of the Lollapalooza music festival. The Seltzer Shop offered tasting flights and sipping seltzers complimentary to guests and general manager Nabil Moubayed said it was very well received.
“The Seltzer Shop is a first-of-its-kind pop-up and complimentary experience in a nostalgic soda shop setting,” Moubayed says. We’re always looking for new opportunities to bring unique and enjoyable experiences for our guests. Seasonal pop-up programming adds distinctive elements to heighten our guests’ stay. The novelty of the new experience, with the limited time frame, creates a sense of urgency.”
The temporary nature of pop-up bars is a key contributor to their success. Colorado-based company Switch Pop-Up Bar Concepts was formed during the Covid-19 pandemic and opened a location of the nationwide winter holiday-themed pop-up bar Miracle in December 2020. When Miracle closed in January, the owners of its space on Main Street in Louisville, Colorado, decided to try a new pop-up, the ski lodge Äprā Skē. And following that, they unveiled the tropical bar Tiki on Main Street. After three successful pop-ups, the company is fully on board with the temporary and rotating bar idea and has already announced plans this fall to open the Halloween-themed Nightmare on Main Street in the same space.
“We’ve decided to change the venue to a year-long pop-up concept and change concepts at least four times a year,” Switch event manager Gillian Millar says. “It allows us to keep things fresh and always deliver something new to customers and to try new food and drinks concepts. We expect the space to thrive because it builds excitement and teases what’s to come next.”