Ordinary dive and sports bars are just not enough for the Los Angeles population anymore -- full of artists, writers, and essentially anyone trying to chase their dreams, these consumers are picky to where they spend their hard-earned cash. Chasing an overpriced Miller Lite in a stuffy room on Hollywood Boulevard is simply overrated in 2017.
Instead, thousands leave for a night out looking for a specific environment; maybe even one that incorporates some of your favorite things like Star Wars, Disney, or your favorite Tim Burton movie.
Themed bars seem to add more pizazz to the already bustling night scene of L.A.. Walking up Sunset, you can find glowing lights that lure you in with bizarre cocktails and sophisticatedly decorated storefronts that are competing with the standard bars of Southern California.
Neil Saavedra, the Assistant Program Director for KFI AM 640 and host of “The Fork Report” covers all things food. He is aware of the distinct growth of themed bars in Los Angeles, noting that “old-school themed bars like HMS Bounty, Bigfoot Lodge and Tiki Ti have been staples” for the city for a long, long time.
“There has been a resurgence in themed “speakeasies” and bars that seem to be taking it up a notch. From steadfast locations like Breakroom 86 and Good Times at Davey Wayne’s to movie themed places like Beetle House and the “pop up bar,” Scum & Villainy…the nooks and crannies of L.A. are filled with fun and interesting places to drink and grab a bite,” Saavedra said.
Zach Neil, founder of the Tim Burton themed bar, Beetle House L.A., believes that themed bars can flourish anywhere in the country if done the right way, paralleling the structure of a themed bar to Pinterest.
“These bars work well everywhere if done correctly. It's really just taking things that people already like, and adding food, booze, and a great atmosphere,” Neil explained. “It’s almost like a sports bar on steroids, if you will. There's common threads of people liking certain types of things. If you like lord of the rings, you may like Star Wars. It honestly just pools everyone! You're just bringing people together, basically like Pinterest.”
Neil’s equation for themed bars goes like this: take a specific interest, add specially curated drinks and food with a crazy atmosphere, attract the crowd.
And for the most part, this equation has worked pretty well for Neil, who previously opened Stay Classy New York, based on the wildly popular comedy ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ starring Will Ferrell.
He didn’t expect the bar to gain as much hype as it did. “We were literally feeding people on the street waiting four blocks down the street, and all I could think was ‘I know it’s worth waiting forty-five minutes...but not six hours.”
But themed bars are not always a hit. Neil was also behind Merica NYC in the East Village, which was inspired by the election cycle of 2016. “It was our tongue-in-cheek way of how see America,” Neil said.
The bar was decked out in red, white, and blue, sporting guns, war references, and of course, burgers. You could even find a Trump burger or an Obama dessert on the menu.
“It was a total joke but people just did not get it. Everyone thought it was serious. There was so much press for it and it was so interesting to the media, but not to the people who were around. We lasted five weeks and shuttered on election night.” He continued, “we made no money, along with death threats. Just… avoid politics.”
Thankfully for Neil, Beetle House LA is jam-packed, especially during the Halloween season, bringing in 250-300 reservations a night on average. The place is so swamped that the West Hollywood bar started to open more days a week to accommodate all the customers who want the Burton experience.
The joint itself has around 125 seats, and Neil estimates that the bar turns over 3-5 times on average every night, and maxes out at 400 people in the bar at once. The bar side picks up the younger, late night crowd while the restaurant portions brings in families and older people, hitting as many demographics as possible.
The establishment has proven to be so successful that now, Neil is hoping to expand to more cities around the country. “The goal is 10 cities. But we still want to keep it special, exclusive. Right now, we’re looking at Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Boston.”
Inspired by all things goth, punk, and horror, Burton had a profound impact on Neil after he snuck into the movies to see ‘Beetlejuice’ with his older sister. Since then, he was a giant Halloween fan, and always wanted to create something that represented the idea of Halloween every day.
Neil believes that Beetle House LA appeals to the Los Angeles population because it represents a subculture of people. “The people who love the darker side of society, not in a negative way. They love scary movies, halloween, black lipsticks, witches. They are the same people that get excited about wearing boots and sweaters. Those are my people,” Neil said.
“This bar resonates with them, because you can let your creep flag fly. It’s for total weirdos that are into the weirdest culture.” Neil laughed, “I was never going to have a sports bar.”
Barbara Jacobs, the Chief Operations Officer for the upscale, old-world styled bar, The Edison, believes that themed bars are growing in Los Angeles because of the simple fun of them.
Located in Downtown L.A., The Edison is known for its absinthe and craft cocktails, burlesque and live music nights, paired with extravagant design. Many are attracted to the establishment because of the bars distinct location in the Historic Higgins Building, in the basement.
Created by Thomas Higgins, after years of the space being empty and underwater, it was rescued by entrepreneurs Andrew Meieran and Marc Smith, who proceeded to make “a post-industrial steampunk venue for Los Angeles nightclubbers” according to LA Weekly.
“The venue is in the first personal power plant west of the Mississippi. The decor and design is unique, and we have won numerous accolades and awards,” Jacobs said, noting that The Edison is known for having the best design in L.A., and in most of the country. “We, oftentimes, see our lighting and themes in small town bars around the country. It is a compliment,” she said.
Awarded Best Decor in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 by Zagat, voted Best Bar and Lounge, Happy Hour and Nightclub by the the L.A. Downtown News, and one of the world's top 20 bars by Esquire and Conde Naste and the Los Angeles Times for three years in a row, The Edison is all about glamour in fantasy. Coupled with high-end cocktails and delicious food at a moderately low price, there’s no surprise to why tourists and residents flock to the bar year-round.
Jacobs also attributes the success of the bar to its high standards. Since opening in 2007, the establishment continues to maintain extremely high standards for all aspects of the bar; talent, decor, food and beverage.
“And our staff is some of the most dedicated and talented people in the industry. Many of our staff have been here since we opened the doors,” Jacobs explained.
The Fork Reporter pinpoints L.A.’s themed bar growth to the fact that the city is full of “crazy, creative people”. “It’s a natural to have these types of immersive bars here in our town,” Saavendra said.
“L.A. diners and drinkers are savvy. They not only want inspiring food and beverages, but they also want inspiring experiences as well.” he continues, “We are the entertainment capitol of the world…our bars and eateries are expected to reflect that as well.”
In time for Halloween, don’t be surprised if you see groups of night goers in costumes bouncing from themed bar to themed bar in the city. Maybe you’ll even see Jack Skellington walking into Beetle House, ready to let his own “creep flag fly”.