In the age of Instagram, the defining feature of a bar is often determined not by reviews, tastes or intent, but by smart phone. While some spaces are designed with this express purpose in mind, there are certain objects that become inadvertent icons through their unwitting “Instagram-ability.” In this series, PUNCH shares the stories behind the bar world’s most viral landmarks.
“That wasn’t the intention,” explains Lee of the two 1960s vending machines which have, in his own words, “become the most iconic part of our bar.”
Designed to allow guests to serve themselves a prefab cocktail while waiting for seats, the vintage soda machines double as a small homage to the bottled cocktails formerly served at Booker and Dax, Arnold’s beloved, now-shuttered science lab cum cocktail den. But, true to the ethos of Existing Conditions, the magic of these machines is hidden behind the façade. Salvaged from what Lee describes as an “Indiana Jones warehouse of floor-to-ceiling vending machines” in Connecticut, each unit is retrofitted with a digital temperature controller set to negative 4 degrees Celsius—a temperature better suited to a cocktail than a non-alcoholic soda. The team also reverse-engineered the coin slot to accept the bar’s custom tokens via a new, digital device—though that decision was actually made out of necessity. As it turns out, the only part of the machine that the seller wouldn’t part with was the coin mechanism; ironically, they’re very valuable.
Of course, none of this is apparent when standing in front of an illuminated row of Martinis, Manhattans and highballs visible through the old-fashioned glass door. For guests of a certain generation, the experience of pulling a frosty cocktail from the machine recalls the childhood joy of receiving an ice-cold Coca-Cola. When they get it, explains Lee, they instinctively know where to reach to pop the bottle cap. “And then you get a millennial,” Lee continues, “and they’re really most focused on Instagramming it. By the time they’re done fiddling with their phone, they’re holding this bottle and they don’t know how to drink it.”