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Two Robbers Fishtown, Philly’s first hard seltzer bar, is anything but bland

Hard seltzer got popular for being light in calories and flavor. This sit-down restaurant and taproom is definitely not neutral.

The moss green color on the bar inside Two Robbers Fishtown also blankets its exterior.
The moss green color on the bar inside Two Robbers Fishtown also blankets its exterior.Read moreRACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer

In a bar scene as busy as Fishtown’s, it can be difficult for newcomers to make a splash. But the Two Robbers Hard Seltzer tasting room that opened in late December at Frankford and Shackamaxon managed without much effort.

“What is the new ugly green building on Frankford Ave across from Frankford Hall?” asked a commenter in a Fishtown Facebook group in January. (Debate about the bar’s aesthetic, pricing, and contribution to the economy ensued.)

It’s as fitting a welcome to the neighborhood — and to Philadelphia — as any, especially for a bar with a contentious backstory. Even before Two Robbers was officially approved to build, locals were wary of what another bar would bring to this already crowded corner.

To be fair, the moss green shade that blankets Two Robbers’ exterior is a bold choice. It reappears inside, coating the U-shaped bar and the modern light fixture floating overhead like a mirror image. It blends better there, paired with other saturated colors such as the burnt-orange walls or the butter-yellow panel of coolers and illuminated shelves.

On any given shift, pitchers of fresh-squeezed juices line the edge of the plaster bar, ready to be mixed into a handful of cocktails even a seltzer skeptic can get behind: a tart mango michelada with a generous shot of Valentina hot sauce, a pineapple ginger buck with bourbon, a raspberry rum daisy served in a retro wine goblet. There are six draft lines — two with Two Robbers contract-brewed beer — but most seltzers come canned, with a glass on the side; it stays fizzier that way.

Is this what a hard-seltzer taproom looks like? It’s tough to say. Though well-represented on store shelves, the beverage has comparatively little brick-and-mortar manifestation. A handful of seltzer-specific taprooms have opened across the country since the category took off like a bottle rocket in 2019. There’s been perennial speculation thereafter that the trend is losing its fizz.

But the Canadian-born twin brothers behind Two Robbers — founders Vikram and Vivek Nayar, now joined by older brother Ashok — set out to make the Fishtown bar more than just a shrine to hard seltzer. “We wanted it to be a very food-forward, cocktail-forward, design-forward space,” Vikram says.

Mission accomplished: This former autobody shop and CrossFit gym is barely recognizable, save for garage doors that will open onto the patio come springtime. London firm Storey Studio designed the space along with Ashok, who has an engineering background and a passion for architecture and food. “We sort of playfully referred to it as a dive bar from the future,” he says, citing Blade Runner as a design reference.

Curved walls near the entrance are meant to invite customers into the space — that is, after they’ve admired the billboard-size art installation from Camden native and art-world bigwig Alex Da Corte. General manager Mark Mooradian reports that the stained glass-esque paintings have drawn in passersby just to take pictures for Instagram.

“I chatted them up and convinced them to come in and have a drink,” Mooradian says.

For a lot of people, hard seltzer is an easy sell. It rose to popularity because it’s lighter, lower in calories, and even more (how to put this politely?) flavor-neutral than light beer. You might have expected the Nayars to embrace a similar, blandly accessible approach when creating Two Robbers Fishtown.

But that’s often not the case — most evidently in the food, also spearheaded by Ashok, who took inspiration from a small, haute-cuisine supper club he ran in Chicago. The “Bu̶r̶g̶e̶r̶s̶” section of the menu offers eggplant tonnato, grilled avocado with ponzu, and scallop crudo. One hardly knows what to expect from an order of stracciatella tacos. What emerges is a bed of creamy cheese shreds garnished with blood orange segments and granola, all obscured by a stack of watermelon radish slices the size of saucers. Bar food this is not.

So it’s not terribly surprising that the burger is the best-seller. Even that has some potentially polarizing touches in its thin-sliced raw red onion, Kraft American cheese, and Martin’s potato roll. But the double-smashed burger — made with five ounces of Primal Supply beef, Thousand Island-style burger sauce, and full-sour pickles from Fishtown Pickle Project — is simple, well-constructed, and easily devoured.

With Two Robbers Fishtown, the Nayars are targeting tastes that range from high-concept to lowest common denominator, and burgers and seltzers — the bar’s original name — are the bridge.

So far, they’re pulling it off. Mooradian says business has been brisk in the winter months, with a mix of older millennials and Gen Zers. The 100-seat indoor space has a waitlist some weekends. They expect to see even more volume during peak seltzer weather and once the 60-seat patio opens.

Still, the owners hope to keep from letting the atmosphere get too crazy, possibly as a nod to the resistance they faced during development. “The goal when we started this also was to have it be a family-friendly place,” Vikram says, noting that Two Robbers’ brand has historically appealed to a comparatively more mature audience than its competitors.

Mooradian chimes in: “It’s not people just going out to get hammered. It’s more about really appreciating the seltzer for what it is.”

Two Robbers Fishtown at 1221 Frankford Ave., is open Tuesday and Wednesday 4 to 9 p.m., Thursday 4 to 11 p.m., Friday 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday noon to midnight, and Sunday noon to 8 p.m. 215-279-7574,