Drink Up

Themed pop-up bars and clubs represent an up-and-coming form of experiential initiative. Recent examples include both enterprises that are officially licensed or otherwise tied to a licensed entertainment property and those that are unofficially inspired by licensed IP:

  • The Plaza Hotel in New York oversaw a rebranding of The Rose Club, its noted jazz venue, as the Elle Décor Café in a four-month marketing effort that continues though March of this year. The club, which is filled with furnishings from Hearst’s upcoming licensed home goods line tied to the magazine brand, continues to feature jazz performances on some nights. Elle Décor has four permanent branded cafés in Asia.
  • Sweet Tooth Hotel in Dallas launched a Prince-inspired pop-up cocktail bar called Reign. Cocktails were named for Prince songs (Raspberry Beret, Little Red Corvette) and the lighting and décor in the main bar area were purple. There were four rooms featuring different immersive, music-based experiences that guests could visit while sipping on their cocktails.
  • Also in Dallas, a bar called Whippersnapper was transformed into the Drunken Clam, the bar depicted on Fox’s TV series Family Guy. During the month-long pop-up, the exterior of the venue closely resembled the bar’s look on the show. The inside was Family Guy-themed, with cocktails and décor riffing on the show’s characters and locations.
  • Replay Lincoln Park in Chicago hosted a Harry Potter-themed bar (one of a number that have popped up in that city and elsewhere in recent months and years), with themed foods and cocktails such as pretzel wands and a take on Butterbeer (called Buttered Bier). It also featured décor inspired by Hogwarts Great Hall and other locations in the books and films, and activities such as cosplay and trivia contests. The same location has previously introduced themes tied to the TV shows Game of Thrones and Parks and Recreation.
  • Alcohol brand Mike’s Harder sponsored a pop-up that replicated Sister Margaret’s School for Wayward Girls, a bar depicted in the Marvel film Deadpool 2, among other promotional elements such as product placement, exclusive can designs, and in-theater and digital advertising. The bar was open for three days each at New York’s Alligator Lounge and Los Angeles’ Slipper Clutch. It offered foods prominent in the film, such as pizza and chimichangas, exclusive flavors of Mike’s Harder, and activities such as being able to play on Sister Margaret’s pool table and place bets in a “Dead Pool.”

Most of these examples occurred in the second half of 2019; the Drunken Clam took place earlier in 2019 and the Mike’s Harder/Deadpool effort in 2018. It should be noted that licensed and themed bars, including both pop-ups and long-term branded efforts, have existed in the past. The pace of new launches has picked up significantly, however.

While a couple of the initiatives mentioned here, such as Mike’s Harder/Deadpool and Elle Décor, are officially sanctioned, most are not. That said, the proliferation of examples, licensed and otherwise, indicates that both bar owners and consumers embrace the idea of marrying favorite entertainment properties with the experience of going to a bar or club. Not all IP are age-appropriate or thematically relevant, of course. But entertainment licensors with viable properties might do well to think beyond licensed cafés and coffee shops and consider their options in the world of bars and clubs.

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