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VOL. 132 | NO. 167 | Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pop-up Food and Drink Concept Activates Underused Spaces

By Andy Meek

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A few doors down from the main entrance to Cafe Society, a small chalkboard message announces in bright colors “Down the rabbit hole,” with an arrow pointing to the door that visitors are encouraged to walk through.

The immediate entrance is dark. Visitors open another door and then they come to it: an Alice in Wonderland-themed visual extravaganza that’s taken over the space adjacent to Cafe Society. A space that’s now the first pop-up bar concept brought to fruition by Miles Kovarik and Hayley Milliman, the team behind Dream Bars.

Dream Bars is the concept they’d like to expand – basically, short-term, themed pop-up food and drink experiences they’ll bring to interesting places around Memphis.

The level of visual detail at the first location – which they’re calling the Wunderland Dream Bar that is open through Sept. 30 – is such that the longer you take it all in, you keep noticing new details. Playing cards are splashed across one wall. The woodcut-esque Alice-themed imagery. Shag-like carpeting, and a host of other psychedelic design touches, the likes of which Lewis Carroll would surely approve.

Miles Kovarik is the co-owner of Dream Bars, a new venture in Memphis that takes empty, underused space and turns it into a themed bar for a few weeks. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“We definitely want to expand,” Kovarik said of the concept. “We came up with this because we’d saved up, done a lot of traveling and every time we landed in a place we looked up the latest and greatest thing. And one of the things we kept seeing was in most places it happened to be a pop-up bar.

“We’re open here from 7 p.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday. After Sept. 30, it’s gone. This theme will be erased, and we’ll never do it again. And then we’ll hop to either another bar or reopen a pop-up theme completely different that has nothing to do with Alice.”

One idea they’re considering next is doing something based loosely on the current national political climate. Kovarik said they’re thinking about something like a Russian spy bar, complete with maybe an ice slide and vodka shots.

“We’re meeting with some folks now, but I can’t tell you who,” he said about where they’ll take the Dream Bars concept next. “But we’ve got two places we’re looking into very in-depth right now. One of them is in a basement, and the other is in a very construction zone-oriented place. We’re looking at probably October for our next one.”

For now, they’re having fun with their current theme based on the novel about a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantastical series of adventures. The limited menu includes items like the Mad Hatter’s Tea and The Queen of Hearts’ Peppery Tarts.

The space, Kovarik said, seats about 45 people.

“Pop-ups are so trendy and popular right now, and for good reason,” said Holly Whitfield, the writer behind the “I Love Memphis” blog. “They let people try out new concepts and explore underused spaces without a huge risk. Memphis has a good track record of these kinds of pop-ups turning into permanent solutions, too – see Crosstown, the Tennessee Brewery, MEMFix events and Lucky Cat Ramen, which started as a weekly pop-up at The Cove Bar.

“It’s exciting to have these creative events in Memphis,” Whitfield said. “They’re fun, and they can facilitate entrepreneurship, and that’s good for the city.”

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