If you had to design a hard seltzer bar, what would it look like? On a triangle lot in the hip Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, three brothers are spearheading the unlikely inevitable with a ”Barragán-meets-Blade-Runner” palace to the joys of getting drunk on fermented cane sugar.
To crown the 3,000-square-foot space, the trio enlisted Philly-local artist Alex da Corte to add his highly considered dose of stained glass Americana. Da Corte’s stunning back-lit mural is based on a 1983 Edna Andrade painting, Mariposa, on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Incorporating design motifs from Pennsylvania Dutch crafts and Baltimore Album Quilts — the moon, roses, an eight-pointed star — the artwork is an expression of local love. “Philadelphia is important to me,” explains da Corte. “I want to propagate the history of beauty made around this place, to consolidate it, to show it to as many people as possible, and to make it permanent.”
Unlike da Corte’s stand-out 2019 Venice installation The Decorated Shed, which offered up a familiar vision of roadside American clutter, this po-mo decorated shed of hard seltzer in Philly is cornering something new. Ashok Nayar, the youngest of the three brothers responsible for Two Robbers’s design envisioned the space as a “dive bar of the future.” Under his direction (in collaboration with London-based Storey Studio), the empty shell of a mechanic’s garage and its pointy parking lot have been transformed by undulating olive and redrock-colored venetian plaster walls that set the scene for a cult Hollywood film that’s yet to be made. Another reference for Ashok’s bold statement is mid-century L.A. diners. “Imagine you’re a kid and down the block you see this big rotating burger — it’s like this lightning rod.”
Two Robbers’s fantastical design and boozy wares have also been a lightning rod in the context of Fishtown. The formerly working class rowhouse neighborhood has been gentrifying since the early 2000s, but most hipster entrants stuck to the post-industrial design language common in Philadelphia — subdued steam-punk, lots of exposed brick — and the classic drink of choice: beer. While rebranding hard seltzer as a cool drink is a much larger cultural shift than Two Robbers Fishtown, Ashok thinks the product’s widening appeal among the neighborhood crowd is a good sign for his business’s future. “They were very very much against it, and now most of them are patrons,” he beams. When the aesthetic lexicon of a new corner joint involves comics, Luis Barragán, spaghetti westerns, and straight-up Alex da Corte, it’s hard to resist the urge to stop by for a pint.