On Virgin, I’ve appreciated my fair share of soothing purple lighting and touch-screen drink ordering. But for my next cocktail in the sky, I really want to visit their first-class cabin. In a design collaboration of Virgin Atlantic and VW+BS, first-class passengers from NYC to London will have the opportunity to walk not onto a plane, but into a glowing, spacious bar situated right inside the door, fitted like a Tetris piece against passengers’ seats.
"Air travel used to be exciting and rare and we wanted to bring some of that excitement back," VW+BS’s Ian Macready tells Co.Design. "We were very much influenced by the rise of the pop up bar and the new speakeasy. We wanted to create a space that created a different dynamic for the passenger rather than just the straightforward bar shape. It should be a part of the aircraft that encourages interaction, that blurs slightly the boundary between the crew and the passenger, and that allows for places to stand, to sit, to lean and to perch."
The atmosphere is meant to focus on the "immaterial" in which every surface reflects light like a JJ Abrams film, from the polished aluminum stools to the space’s champagne lacquered finish. It’s a mix of plastic, stone, and metal—all punctuated by color-changing LEDs to set the mood—combining to create an ethereal bar experience that might only make sense at 30,000 feet.
"The futuristic aesthetic was very much influenced by aviation," writes Macready. "The way the project evolved was a very specific response to being up in the sky and does not necessarily work elsewhere, except possibly on a high-speed train or at the top of a new skyscraper. The language doesn’t have context to anything else on the ground."
But the design isn’t just an opulent statement of aviation aesthetics; it’s a glitzy red herring for the entire clinical, safety-regulated flight experience. Few will even realize that the bar serves two lives, storing ice buckets, spirits, and stemware for entertainment, but also revealing oxygen kits and wheelchair storage for safety and comfort.
Indeed, what’s most impressive about Virgin’s new bar isn’t that it fits on a plane; it’s that it might not fit anywhere else.