PHOENIX — 2020 was a tough year for many, many businesses and industries in Arizona. That could perhaps be the understatement of the year, but over the last 10 months, businesses have found ways to adapt to keep their doors open and their employees paid.
For the team at Barter & Shake Creative Hospitality, the group behind a trio of immersive cocktail bars in Phoenix -- UnderTow, Platform 18, and Grey Hen Rx -- it was a year of adaptation and creativity.
They had to temporarily close all three of their bars for months to comply with state guidelines, reopened for to-go alcohol sales at one point, conducted virtual cocktail making classes, and were named a Top 4 finalist for "Best New American Cocktail Bar" in the 2020 Spirited Awards.”
“It’s hard. There’s no other way to describe it," said Rich Furnari, who co-founded Barter & Shake Creative Hospitality with Jason and Kailee Asher.
"We always built our business to be a form of escape and some of the magic gets lost when you can’t fill the room and that’s understandable. It’s still there, but it’s hard.” he said. "Fortunately, we found ways to adapt and, ya know, survive, and I think anyone who is surviving will probably tell you the same thing, that they found a way to adapt.”
Part of that adaptation includes relocating UnderTow, their coveted subterranean cocktail bar themed after a 19th-Century Clipper ship, from Sip Coffee & Beer to their Century Grand building, which is next door and houses Platform 18, their immersive cocktail bar that resembles a Pullman train car, and Grey Hen Rx, a New Orleans-inspired tasting room and retail store.
UnderTow will replace Century Grand, which was their restaurant/cocktail concept that served small plates, cocktails, and wine. The restaurant closed shortly after the pandemic began and did not reopen.
Furnari said it was not only a business and budget decision to consolidate the concepts in one building in light of the pandemic, but it would also allow them to expand and address some of the limitations of the previous space — such as its size, which some felt to be a little claustrophobic, and low ceiling height — and make the experience slightly larger and better.
“What we can do with our lighting and what we can do with our sound effects is going to be increased dramatically,” he said, noting that they will be the first business outside of a movie theater in Arizona to use Dolby Atmos surround sound.
The bar will be 30% larger, have more seating around the bar, an additional booth, and three portholes vs. two, he said.
He said there would be more seating around the bar, an additional booth, and three portholes vs. two, plus more decorations. But, the experience will hopefully be the same.
“Just keeping the experience fresh and new is one of our goals because we want you to come back and discover old things that look new, and new things that are definitely new,” he said.
Construction has been underway for the last several weeks and the team expects to open in a few months. For now, Platform 18 and the Grey Hen are open and reservations are required.
A pop-up version of UnderTow is in the works at the Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale. It will not be the same immersive experience. But, people will be able to enjoy some of the cocktails from UnderTow’s previous menus, as well as current drinks.
The plan is to open in mid-January. Once solidified, details would be shared on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
As for UnderTow’s previous space at Sip, owner Josh Katz has teamed up with Moe Murillo and Sheldon Wiley to open 36 Below Modern Martini, which will be their own version of an immersive cocktail lounge.
Not many details have been revealed about their concept yet, but Katz told ABC15 that he wants people to “experience a whole new world” when they visit.