Cocktails for Comrades

Bunker Club fuses the Cold Ward with a dive bar.

story by Emily Hopkins | photos by Trace Thomas

The sweeping suspicion of Russian intrigue animating the current political climate pairs nicely with Hailey and Ian McDermid’s latest Uptown project, Bunker Club. Art usually reflects life, and Bunker’s campy take on fascism, totalitarianism, and Marxism seem spookily prescient of late. But they’re going more for the chuckle of Mel Brooks’s famous spoof of Hitler than the nervous laugh informed by today’s rise of rabid nationalism. Still, you can’t commission a likeness of a Shih Tzu à la Che Guevara without having a sense of humor.

Unlike sister bar, The Pump, Hailey said that Bunker will have tavern-style service from the bar and a scaled-back menu. Upon first visit, though, the Bunker screams anything but simple. If there was an empty spot available in this joint, you can guarantee it’s been filled with a naked Barbie, a silver rocket ship, a transistor radio or a vintage tin of Carnation Malted Milk. It’s like boozing up in an extremely organized vintage shop.

Just some of the cozy kitsch in Bunker Club | photo by Trace Thomas

“We sourced components locally through collectors, swap meets, Craigslist, antique malls and estate sales,” Hailey said. “We shipped a lot of items back from a huge mall in Denver. Almost all the televisions came from eBay. A lot of people even donated items for display when they heard what we were going to be doing.”

Inspired by the space’s original coved plaster ceiling and mechanical chases, the McDermids quickly opted for what they describe as a “Cold War era, backyard fallout bunker/dive bar.” They capture the spirit of the atomic age, a period from the dropping of the bombs during WWII to the social unrest of the late ’60s, in which society was hyper aware of the potential good and lurking menace of technology. (Some things never change.)

It was a time marked by anxiety and optimism, by a surge of scientific influence in the arts and politics—and a real fear of what might come next. Creatives like Ishirō Honda channeled that angst into projects like Godzilla (1954), a 96-minute metaphor for atomic warfare. The monster’s skin texture is even modeled after the keloid scars of Hiroshima survivors. Beneath the ethos and aesthetic of the atomic age lurked the very real threat of nuclear holocaust, a fear that found its way into art and architecture, especially fallout shelters.

Bunker Club plays more into the preparedness angle, stripping away the terror and supplanting it with images of colorful meteors, cheeky aliens and cheekier murals. Tanner Frady of Frady Cat Signs and Ashley Smith of No Regrets Tattoo created the astronaut mural and virtually all the hand-painted signage, and Jay Roberts and Rawb Carter of Mind Bender Tattoo did the Communist party, several mounted pieces and the huge ray gun.

A bunker with a view | photo by Trace Thomas

“Hailey told me their vision for the bar and we collaborated on the design,” Carter said. “I love the propaganda-style art from the Cold War, so I used that aesthetic—bold, stylized, limited color palette—as the foundation.”

That stylized approach carries over into the cocktail list, with a daiquiri named for JFK and a white whiskey drink named for The Manhattan Project. My pick? Make like Alice and go straight to the moon with the Rocket Sauce shot. It’s orangey and creamy and will leave you feeling like a chimp in a Tang commercial.

433 NW 23 rd St. bunkerclubokc / @bunkerclubokc