Neon has been a part of cocktail culture since 1913, when one of the world’s first neon signs, a spectacular, block-lettered advertisement for a brand of vermouth, radiated from a Paris rooftop. “Liquid fire” has been used to attract imbibers pretty much ever since, and some of the most distinctive neon designs ever have lit up the facades of bars. Here, Wayne Heller, a designer and Art Director at Lite Brite Neon in Brooklyn, singles out six of the coolest neon bar signs on the planet.
New York, NY
This neon sign falls into the category of what I would deem NYC vernacular, in which you solve design problems by winging it, or using readily available materials (see also: NYC bodega signs). The sign says BAR, and it came with the building, but your business is called EAR Inn? No problem, just paint out some of the glass on the B and make yourself in E. Viola, done! It's a plus that the inside of this place is basically a time machine to pre-war NYC. (That's pre-Civil war.)
Hong Kong is without a doubt one of the neon capitals of the world, even as the signs have dwindled over the years. Without even knowing what the signs say (my Cantonese is pretty shabby), I could write an entire essay about the aesthetic virtues and moody charm of the puddles of neon that fill the streets of Hong Kong. But there's something beautifully simple about Little Bao's wordless sign. Unlike its spectacular cousins over on Nathan Road (where neon signs go to achieve nirvana), Little Bao's pink neon baby head has a magic that relies on simple line work and off-kilter positioning. I'd swear that people hang around outside sipping drinks just to gaze at the neon, if it wasn't common knowledge that May Chow is running one of the best restaurants around.