For months, Star Wars fans have been marinating in excitement as Disney has rolled out trailers, porgs, and a wide variety of toys in anticipation for The Last Jedi. So what better time to unveil a Star Wars-themed pop-up bar?
The Darkside Bar is now open in New York City, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Its press release promised specialty cocktails, trivia nights, secret missions, and Star-Wars themed burlesque. So, naturally, a band of Star Wars nerds/film critics were eager to give in to the Darkside.
Welcome to the Dark Side Bar. pic.twitter.com/gX6fX2dGA3— Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) December 10, 2017
Here’s how this special pop-up works. You can make a reservation for up to 8 people in advance, but you have to pay $33 a person, and then an additional $9 in gratuity and tax. So per person, you’re at $42 before you even walk through the door. But hey, that’s for two-hours access to this supposedly super cool space and two of their custom cocktails. So really, as far as a night out in Manhattan goes, it’s not bad.
From the the outside, the bar is nothing much to look at aside from a neon red light that says “DARKSIDE BAR.” When you get inside, there’s a small antechamber area where you give your name and get your drink tickets. We later realized how crucial this antechamber is, because to get through the door to the proper bar, you need to have paid in advance. And once you get through that door, you realize this place should have been named Admiral Ackbar, because…
It’s less a bar and more a hallway littered with the occasional table or booth, and PACKED to the brim. On one wall, they projected trailers for the movies, but didn’t dare screen the films in full. Along another wall were a few spacey looking guns, and an unlit lightsaber, all of it underwhelming. The lights that hang from above seemed vaguely Death Star inspired and glowed an empire red, as did the neon lights that lined the ceiling. But that was about it for decoration.
As we maneuvered through the crowd to the bar in the back, my Mister turned to me and said, “We could put together a better Star Wars-themed bar in our apartment given maybe 45 minutes of prep time.” He’s not wrong. We at least have action figures on display and all the movies—and yes even the original without Lucas’s CGI revisions—at hand. Still. We’d paid in advance. Nothing to be done about that, so we reached the bar to get our drinks. That’s when we saw the absolute nonsense that was the cocktail menu:
The bar is packed. The bartenders are overwhelmed. And the cocktail menu does not list a single ingredient under its specialty drinks’ names. (But it sure is sticky!) Here’s the common exchanges I overheard, “Which one has whiskey?” “Which one gets me a glowing ice cube?” What’s that cool-looking one called?”
Our first round, the bartender—who, yes, seemed very annoyed that she had to explain the menu—said the Red Force had “like, pineapple and citrus and grenadine with vodka” and the Blue Force “is lemonade with gin.” THESE are what counts as custom cocktails, nevermind that Red Force and Blue Force mean nothing in a galaxy far, far away. These were the drinks we paid about $18 apiece for. They tasted fine, one like sugar, the other vaguely of gin and lemons. But hey, they had dry ice cubes to make them froth, and glowing ice cubes to make them look cool in a dark dirty bar.
The next round, my Mister got the one with whiskey, which a friend said tasted “like a decent, real drink.” That turned out to be the “Darkside”. I got the “Jedi Mind Trick” after a different bartender explained to me: “It’s got tequila.” Tequila and what? My guess after tasting it: tequila and garbage juice. This time we didn’t even get the mists of dry ice or the glowing ice cubes. Just two dark drinks, one which was undrinkable. But my friends and I made the best out of this blah situation, making a game of everyone trying this horrible cocktail and trying to decipher what its ingredients were. Melted sour patch kids? Flat beer? Is tequila and seltzer a thing?
Now, it’d have been an easy workaround to put the cocktail ingredients on the bar’s website. But they don’t. It’s just photos full of lies. Our group tried every one, and none had a rim of spice or sugar, and none looked remotely as photogenic as those pictured. We began to suspect the reason there’s no descriptions of the drinks written down is that the recipes shift depending on time and inclination of the bartenders.
I can’t imagine how trivia would play in such a packed space. While we were there a stormtrooper and a Darth Vader did their best to host an ill-placed dance contest in between the bar and the only place where there was room to breathe. This went over about as well as you might think. Some people scrambled to get video of Darth doing the Running Man, because I guess you need to prove there was something worth the price of admission. Others stayed in the seats they’d secured and looked bored, underlit by glowing sugar water booze. As for us, we stood in the corner (an RSVP for 8 does not guarantee a table apparently), and riffed on how OUR Star Wars pop-up bar would be different. Amusing ourselves was the best we could do.
Now, considering the word Disney is nowhere on the press release, I assume New Gold Empire Inc. faced legal limitations in bringing The Darksider Bar to life. Maybe that’s why its burlesque dancers weren’t dressed like Star Wars characters, but more like two goth girls who stumbled out of Hot Topic circa 2003, sporting short, black mesh dresses, multiple ponytails, platform boots, and jewels in the middle of their foreheads. They had no stage, and so had to shimmy on the back of the booth’s benches. To their credit, they showed more enthusiasm than anyone in this bar, even as they danced and sung along to such sexually explicit songs as Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It).”
Do you see the dancers? Yeah, barely. The lighting scheme also meant that photo ops were all FUBAR.
The problem isn’t just the lack of actual Star Wars stuff, but also the utter lack of effort. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a picture of the DJ that night. I don’t remember his name, but instead of a fun Star Wars-like name, it was just like “DJ MIKE!” He was a lightly bearded, plump, white man wearing a white and black fleece. He made no attempt at a costume, and didn’t wear any apparent Star Wars apparel. In the hour and a half we were there, he played exactly two Star Wars parody songs, Weird Al’s “The Saga Begins,” and a parody of Adele’s “Hello,” that sings “Hello, from the Darkside.” (This absence of thematic music particularly and understandably rankled Rebecca Pahle, who is a big fan of the Star Wars-themed heavy metal band Galactic Empire.)
The DJ’s lack of fucks seemed to perfectly encapsulate this tourist trap for Star Wars nerds. The Darkside Bar’s whole vibe is: “We don’t even have to try by coming up with clever cocktails or cool decor because you’re so thirsty you’ll come anyway.” Looking around, you realize why “patrons are encouraged to come in costume,” because by doing so you immediately add production value that New Gold Empire Inc didn’t bother to.
So now you know. Don’t be tempted. Don’t go. To celebrate The Last Jedi, DIY your own night of cocktails and Star Wars stuff. You can get a decent deal on light-up ice cubes on Amazon and spare yourself mysterious garbage juice drinks.