Bulleit Brought a 3D-Printed Bar to Tribeca Film Festival

Complete with a robotic bartender

Bulleit and design firm Machine Histories brought a massive 3D-printed bar to its pop-up bar and screening room in New York. All photos courtesy of Taylor Strategy
Headshot of Marty Swant

What pairs well with a 3D-printed cocktail lounge? A 3D-printing robotic bartender.

For its second year sponsoring Tribeca Film Festival, Bulleit and design firm Machine Histories brought a massive 3D-printed bar to its pop-up bar and screening room in New York.

At Studio 525 in Manhattan, Bulleit’s 3D-printed bar became the anchor destination for the second year of sponsoring the festival, where attendees of films like “Crown Vic,” “Plus One” and “In Living Color” arrived for after-screening parties. Bulleit also sponsored the New York Shorts Film series, which included 63 films from the U.S. and elsewhere.

Sophie Kelly, svp of whiskey at Diageo North America, said the team wanted a combination of “entertainment, impact and functionality.” Initially, they looked at creating a design that resembled the style of the French designer Philippe Starck.

“I love the way the digital world describes minimal viable product,” Kelly said. “And the notion of going through an iterative creative process to get to what is the right thing. I think with [Machine Histories] that’s what we did. We started at points, we tested the limits, we extended it.”

According to Machine Histories co-founder Jason Pilarski, the team balanced the number of parts they could print with the amount of space provided by the venue. That led to printing 3,000 parts over the course of more than 2,000 hours. However, the bar has to be assembled in sections each time. (Before going to Tribeca, the bar visited Oakland, Calif., and Austin.)

At its core, the design is a series of line work that started with a zig-zag crosshatch design before it was given dimension. Pilarski said that to him, it almost feels like traditional steelwork that’s both “architectural and atypical.”

“In the context of the bar, the frontier runs up against an edge, and beyond the edge, it’s chaos,” he said. “And so for us, we were very much trying to find out where that would be before it starts to disintegrate—before it’s no longer a bar. How far could we push that and make it happen and still be on the edge, but still have some form, some snap?”

The printing happened through a process called selective laser sintering to create nylon pieces from a laser and a bed of powder. In order to make it structurally dependable, the nylon used was glass-filled similar to a fiberglass. That’s different than traditionally 3D-printed parts, which uses fused deposition modeling that draws layer by layer—but at any point, it can snap.

The entire printing process took about a month using a number of machines making all of the parts. Each build took well over a day, with as many as 12 machines running at some times. However, it wasn’t the printing that worried them most, but the labor that it took to put it all together.

In another room, a robotic arm was busy 3D-printing bourbon cocktails, inserting tiny beads of lemon oil into a shot glass that, over the course of about a minute, spelled out NYC or created a DNA-like double helix. The technology was created by a startup called Print A Drink, founded by Phillip Hornung and Benjamin Greimel as a university project to better understand robot arms.

The designers were created with a CAD software, which allowed the team to either manually draw or script the 3D-printed forms so that they properly float within a drink without falling apart or clumping too closely together. For example, for the DNA structure, the designers designated how far apart each 3D-printed dot should be before translating it into a robot language. From there, Print A Drink simulated it within the software before writing the file to run on the robot.

Over the past few years, Print A Drink developed ways to either print in a constant flow or in a “chicken head” movement to draw each one before tearing off. The spacing between the drops varied from 0.1 microliters to 10 microliters. For the Bulleit event, they were filled with 3 microliters to have a diameter of 1.6 millimeters.

“Between the drops, we needed a certain spacing,” Hornung said. “And the spacing is a few tenths of a millimeter, maybe three tenths of a millimeter each. Otherwise they fuse, because they attract each other. We just inject a small amount of liquid into another liquid, and the physics behind those liquids are matching in some cases, and therefore the liquid we are injecting is forming a perfect shape of a sphere due to the surface tension of the liquid of the drop.”

In order to keep it from floating up or down, Print A Drink calibrates factors including alcohol and sugar content of a drink, which could affect their weight. (The most important factors are temperature and density; when conditions are right, they become suspended in space for 10 to 15 minutes.)

“We work against the physics in some cases, and other times, we use the physics,” Hornung said.

Machine Histories wasn’t actually Bulleit’s first choice for a partner. Kelly and her team met with three other architectural firms, all of which said building a 3D-printed bar couldn’t be done. That led to the intrigue for both Bulleit and for Machine Histories to see if they could actually pull it off.

“You’ve got some of the most famous bartenders mixing and serving behind there from Dead Rabbit and Please Don’t Tell,” she said. “And we’ve got people storming it, right? So we had to test the viability of the structure.”

While the structure ultimately proved to be viable, that wasn’t always the case for some of the drinks served over it. At one point, one attendee set down their cocktail for a second, but it couldn’t properly balance on the jagged edges, causing it to slip, fall and shatter on the ground.

@martyswant martin.swant@adweek.com Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.