Exploring The Paint Bar Craze

A new generation of bars is rising in Westchester, where customers can knock back a few while crafting their next great masterpiece.

Now you can wake up after a night on the town with more than just a headache and an empty wallet. Paint bars let you enjoy many of the same potent potables that are standard fare at traditional saloons as you brush to the music with friends and loved ones—and they’re popping up around Westchester like hayricks in a Monet. While the concept of a paint bar might seem a bit strange, the fun atmosphere coupled with clear directions from a teacher who guides students in the creation of eye-popping artwork quickly feels natural—especially after a few glasses of Merlot.

Two notable paint-bar chains, Muse Paintbar and Pinot’s Palette, have both expanded into Westchester in just the past year. In June, Muse opened a location in White Plains and another at Ridge Hill in Yonkers six months later. Meanwhile, Pinot’s just opened its very first Westchester outpost in Tuckahoe last December, with two more slated to open soon.

“It is an opportunity to get away from the daily grind,” says Stan Finch, president and co-founder of Muse Paintbar. “You come for two and a half hours, and you aren’t thinking about work troubles or anything like that. You get to create your masterpiece while hanging out with friends and family. It’s either fun and entertaining or therapeutic—or a combination of all those things.”

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Marylee Enright, a student at Muse, agrees that the paint bar is undoubtedly enjoyable. “I have always liked to draw, and they say that anybody can do it—and they give step-by-step instructions—so I thought I would give it a try. It really is a lot of fun!”

Owner of a Pinot’s Palette franchise in Tuckahoe, Pat Cipollone believes the draw of paint bars lies in the feeling of achievement they provide customers who may be unaware of their own artistic talents. “Everyone who walks out of here has something that they’ve created,” he notes. “There is a real sense of accomplishment. I think people are kind of blown away by their own ability to do something that they never thought they could do.”

Beyond the paintings themselves, spending face time  with friends and family has proved one of the most valuable aspects of the trending activity. For Finch, this was one of his main motivators when founding Muse. “Now, more than ever, people are so entrenched in technology with their phones and computers. This provides an escape from all that,” he says. “There are not a lot of things to do nowadays that are tactile. It is almost like going back in time, to a degree.”

Paint bars also draw crowds due to their dissimilarity from other evening excursions, providing a good combination of activities one might enjoy on a typical outing. “When you see a movie or a play with friends or on a date, everyone is simply a spectator,” explains Finch. “It’s fun, but it is kind of hard to talk. On the other side, if you go to dinner or a wine bar, there is no entertainment aspect to it. Muse is in between. It is a good opportunity for entertainment, but there is also ample time to catch up with friends, show off your art to each other and have great conversations.”

Participants pose during a class at Pinot’s Palette in Tuckahoe.

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When asked why they attend paint bars, customers will usually respond with one of three reasons: It’s fun; it’s therapeutic; or it serves the functional purpose of interior decoration. While most assume the first and last of these points, it is surprising how many participants insist that spending an evening at a paint bar is eminently calming.

“It was three hours of almost a meditative session,” says John Reilly of Bronxville, a student at Pinot’s Palette. “There are a lot of customers who come in multiple times a month, and it isn’t just because they’re trying to decorate every room of their houses,” notes Finch. “They’re finding it therapeutic and a good opportunity to escape from the status quo.” Yet people are without doubt looking to spruce up a few walls in the process.

“I just moved from Pittsburgh and left a lot of stuff out there, so I need some reasonably priced pictures,” says Marylee Enright of her decision to stop by Muse. Reilly also notes that he will be hanging the paintings both he and his daughters produce in his living room, while Antonia Pirraglia, a student at Pinot’s Palette, similarly concedes: “I actually have a bunch of them hanging in my kitchen already.”

What makes both the experience of attending a paint bar and the ensuing product so deeply rewarding is the extensive planning that goes into the setting, teachers, and location of each studio. “We are really particular about creating the right vibe, so we tend to select locations that have some kind of character to them,” says Finch. “The White Plains location, for instance, has a lot of exposed brick inside. We invest in some old rafters and try to locate ourselves in areas where it is complementary to other, nearby businesses.”

Finch notes that Muse custom-makes their tables and bars from reclaimed wood and that all trash cans are made from recycled wine barrels. The same concept has been adopted by Pinot’s Palette, where the bar is constructed from reclaimed palette wood and topped with sheets of acid-stained copper.

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Beyond interior decoration, the selection of teachers receives equal scrutiny. “We have a lot of high-quality programs and are able to really get high-quality artists,” says Finch. Cipollone adds that he works hard to find the right artists, who must be able to both paint in several styles and go up onstage to clearly communicate with patrons. And then there’s the food and wine.

“We have a unique menu in each location, and we work with local businesses, to do a lot of taste-testing for customers,” says Finch. “We have 12 beers and 12 wines and try to run the gamut of all the varietals. On the food side, it’s all stuff that is fairly easy to eat with one hand.” Food options at Muse include edibles such as flatbread pizzas and pulled pork sandwiches, while Pinot’s Palette sticks with cheese, dried fruit, and nuts.

All of these many attributes come together to drive home one point: Paint bars should be comfortable and enjoyable for everyone. “I think people are intimidated by art. What a place like this does is break that barrier down,” says Cipollone. “It really says: ‘Look, art is an expression of who you are and not so much about talent.’”

Going forward, both Muse and Pinot’s Palette hope to expand their offerings to a wider audience. Muse will be branching out into other media, such as vase and wine-glass painting, while Pinot’s Palette hopes to restructure their offerings to be more appealing to children.

Above all, paint bars seem to awaken attendees to something that lies within them, whether it is a hidden talent or a newfound love of art. As he puts the finishing touches on his still life of a vase filled to the brim with red mums, Reilly can’t help but crack a smile. “I like the fact that paint bars are totally different from anything you could do,” he says. “It is so peaceful and calm, and you are truly creating something. Maybe everyone has an artist within them.”

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