On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe take a look at the remarkable success of Christmas-themed bar pop-ups and takeovers, with particular focus on the incredibly popular and widely franchised (and copied) “Miracle.” Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the VinePair Podcast. Man, it’s always like getting to the Friday after a holiday is always like you feel like you’ve achieved a lot.
Z: Well, the whole week after Thanksgiving, you’re like, “Wait, we have to do a whole week of stuff. That doesn’t seem right.”
J: Oh, it’s rough.
A: Here’s the thing, and you guys can correct me if you disagree, but I feel like this week is always busy-ish, but then the next two weeks, these first two weeks of December are usually insane. I feel like they’re the two busiest weeks when it’s like the most stuff happening, everyone’s trying to crunch everything in, and then it starts to slow down again. Week three in December is like, “All right, we’re still here, but we’re not doing a lot, we’re not trying to go overboard,” and then it’s over, basically. The 5th and the 12th weeks are going to be insane, and then basically the week of the 19th, everyone is trying to just get there. Just get there.
Z: I do think that the optimal alignment of winter holidays is for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve to both fall on Saturdays. I don’t think it gets better than that because you have, in both cases—
J: You get the Monday off.
Z: Yes. You have the Mondays off, you have that week in between where no one’s doing anything, isn’t weirdly broken up by a weekend or anything, and frankly, probably the Friday before, the 23rd, is anyone coming to work?
A: No. It’s like an observed holiday for a lot of people, actually.
A: No one’s coming in on that Friday. It’s the longest holiday you can get, basically.
Z: Exactly. That’s why it’s the best.
J: Oh, it happens to be good for someone’s birthday too.
Z: Sure does.
A: Oh, right, that New Year’s Eve birthday.
Z: Well, this year is going to be less remarkable. Next year will be a very round number, so that’ll be more of a deal, but this year we’re looking to be very low key. I suspect we haven’t really gotten there yet.
A: Just chilling.
Z: Well, tomorrow, when you guys listen to this one, is my wife’s birthday. So that’s step one and then I’ll start thinking about my own birthday.
J: Happy birthday, Caitlin.
A: What are you guys going to do?
Z: Not a whole heck of a lot. She’s actually, on Friday, getting back from a work trip. As we’re recording this, she’s currently out of town and I think we are just — our son has a birthday party to go to during the day, and then I think we’ll just do dinner at home. She’s not a big like, “Let’s have a big blowout for my birthday” kind of person, although in more years than I have left, but some number of years when she also hits a big number, we will probably do something more celebratory for her 30th birthday, which was not that long after we had — well, it was about a year after we had started dating. She had her 30th birthday and we did 30 cheeses for 30 years, so it might be 40 cheeses this year.
J: Oh my goodness. That is not what I thought you were going to say.
A: You guys like these themes, I’m realizing. You did the 30 cheeses for 30 years, you did the bourbon baby shower, right?
Z: Well, whiskey-theme baby shower.
A: Whiskey baby shower. They do these themes.
J: That’s fun.
Z: When you don’t get to throw a lot of parties, you have to make them count.
A: That’s pretty good. I had a friend — Joanna knows him — Ethan. When he turned 25, we did a Mimosa Samosa Samoa party.
A: He was obsessed with it. We had Mimosas, Samosas.
J: Samosas, and then Samoa cookies?
J: It’s so funny.
A: He thought it was the most hilarious thing ever, and it was just so stupid.
J: It’s so funny.
A: Anyways, speaking of themes though, I think that’s a really good segue.
J: Good segue.
A: If you are in any city in the country right now, there is a very, very good chance that at least one of the bars in your town has converted itself into an all Christmas all the time bar. That means, Mariah Carey on blast, some other songs too, but mostly Mariah Carey, themed glassware, themed cocktails.
A lot of people credit this to Miracle, which started in the East Village, I want to say at least nine or 10 years ago, might be its 10th anniversary, I can’t even remember, at the time right before that same bar space was to open as Mace, which is one of the Top 50 bars in the world, but at the time, they were not opening Mace, they couldn’t get Mace ready in time, so they had this decision to basically for that month turn the bar into a Christmas-themed bar. It was massively successful, lines down the block, and they’ve done it ever since. They’ve franchised it out to other bars around the country. You can literally, and actually around the world, you can buy packages. What it is now is a different bar than Mace, but still owned by Greg Boehm, who also owns Cocktail Kingdom. He has access, obviously, to all of the glassware. He basically sells the package to bars across the country, but there’s a lot of other people that are doing this now too. The Dead Rabbit is converting a part of their bar this year into a Christmas-themed bar. There’s a lot of places to do it without buying a package and it’s extremely successful, but the question I had for today’s discussion is, yes, it’s successful, but is it all a bit too much? Or do we love Christmas so much that everyone should be doing this? What are both of your thoughts on the Christmas-themed bar?
J: Yes. I don’t know. I was just thinking about that. I think there’s a difference between holidays and something being dressed up for winter and it’s cozy, but I feel like the Christmas theme is a bit much and a bit exclusionary for people who don’t celebrate and mostly because a lot of these launch early November, in November, and they’re really hardcore. For the ones that actually buy the package from Miracle, like you said, it’s down to the glassware. It’s not just putting up some tinsel and some lights and maybe a tree. The drinks list changes as well.
A: Yes, everything changes.
J: Everything changes. I don’t know. I think one or two of them is fine where people can partake. I think of Rolf’s in New York City, that German restaurant that is Christmas-themed year-round, and how that’s a novelty and it’s fun for people, but I think that having all of your favorite bars convert to this, with drinks and all, is a bit much, but that’s just me. I don’t know. Zach, what do you think?
Z: I’m going to grinch it up here, but to me, this is just part of a much larger question of to what extent does the entirety of public life need to be Christmas-ified for six weeks? I don’t celebrate Christmas, never have, so a lot of the good feelings that Christmasy sh*t generates and people don’t do anything for me. The music mostly sucks, lights are fine, but over the top, and the rest of it, whatever. To me, it’s this broader question of why does every enterprise need to be completely redone for Christmas. I get it if you’re a toy store or something, but does the hardware store need to have a full-on Christmas display? Are people going to stop buying nails just because there’s not a f*cking tree in the front? I don’t know. To say nothing of the oppressiveness of being forced to, as a service professional for many years, listen to non-stop Christmas music for eight hours a day, four or five days a week, which is not good for your brain. I don’t think. In any case, point is, the bigger issue to me is we’ve talked about the idea of these pop-up theme bars, not specifically connected to the holidays before, and I think that the question to me is, what was once, and maybe to some people it still feels a novelty like, “Oh, wow, this bar is a thing that feels like I’m inside a Christmas movie or whatever.” It’s not like, I don’t know, do you get excited about doing it for the — as you said, I don’t know, like the 10th year in a row, perhaps? Maybe. Maybe for some people it’s the same as watching the same Christmas movies every year, putting on the dumb sweater, whatever the things that people do are. Maybe it’s just that nostalgia, that comfort that I don’t really care if the drinks are any good. I don’t really care if the vibe is good. I just want to do this thing because-
J: The tradition.
Z: It feels like the thing that one should do, and what’s unfortunate to me is there’s no reason that you can’t do interesting things that playing off of Christmas or playing off of the holiday season. There’s lots of interesting flavors to work with. Obviously people are generally in a good mood, a convivial mood, a celebratory mood. It’s not impossible to imagine some of this being well done, but it is to me— I’m going to just call it out, because whatever. There’s a great cocktail bar here in Seattle, Rob Roy, and they do the full-on Miracle takeover every year, and I’m just like, “Why do you guys do this?” I assume money and great, we all need to get paid. I get it.
A: Money, yes. The answer is money.
Z: It’s like you’re a great Seattle bar. You have a great reputation, you’ve been around for a while, people know you, you want to put some Christmasy drinks on the list, you want to put the decorations up, but why are you turning over your whole space to this? I don’t know the people who run it well enough to say this in any way, shape or form, definitively, it’s a weird lack of confidence in your own ability to execute the concept well. It’s like, “Well, let’s just take the package and we know that it’s going to bring people in.” Again, like I said, bottom line is bottom line, we understand the economics of the industry on this podcast,” but it’s just so uninspired to me at this point, that’s the other piece of it, right? As Adam said at the outset, this sh*t is everywhere now. I don’t know, because I don’t get excited about the mall Santa besides little kid. It’s just that for adults kind of?
J: I think kind of. I think like you’re saying it takes the individuality out of the bar, and for a lot of bars that don’t need to do that. When we first started talking about this idea a few weeks ago, we were interested in the economics of it, of actually looking at the numbers because you have a lot of really popular bars in New York City like converting over to this. Do they really need to do it? Wouldn’t people patronize them over the holidays without this full transformation?
A: I would argue that they make money hand over fist.
J: Like more than they would already.
A: Oh, hell yes. I think what the original Miracle is now is called The Cabinet, which is an awesome bar that is tequila– and mezcal-focused. As it was agave-focused and lots of really amazing mezcals, especially, but we’ve talked about this before on the podcast, mezcal is a geeky spirit, and The Cabinet is also located between Avenue B and Avenue C in Alphabet City, much closer to Avenue C, and I think I want to say either 9th or 10th Street. I think it’s 9th Street. It is not a convenient location, but when it switches over to Miracle for a month, there’s a line down the block. That is an insane amount of cash that would sustain— Again, I know we thought of this in other regards, but this is the time of year to make that money to get you through the deep winter. I think a lot of these bars figured, “You know what? F*ck it. We can be this awesome cocktail bar that we’re known for, for the other 11 months, but for this month, we’re going to get what’s ours and we’re going to buy into this program, and not have to think about that much, and buy the decorations, whatever, and make the money so that when we have a short month in February, we don’t have to worry because we had lines out the door for people who wanted to drink a cocktail out of a Christmas ornament.” It’s just, it is what it is, just you guys know, there are now other themed bars. There’s a bar that just got reported is opening at the West Village called the Maccabee Bar that’s all Hanukkah-themed. There will be drinks like the Latke Sour and the Hebrew Hammer, and, crazy, it comes from the bartender—
Z: I assume we will find you there every night, Adam?
A: Yes, I can’t wait. It comes from this bartender Naomi Levy who apparently launched it in Boston in 2018 and has been super successful there. Now, it’s coming to Ollie West Village at 64 Downing Street. It’s going to run from Dec. 13 all the way through the end of December. That again, is people are figuring out ways to get that month, right?
J: Why not capitalize on that? Yes.
A: That’s smart for Ollie Bar, because the other bars are all Christmas-themed, they’re going to get all the juice. Everyone’s going to go.
Z: Does this mean we’re a year out from a festivous-themed bar? I would go to that bar. I would go to that bar.
A: Oh yes, totally. Again, we’ve been talking about this for years and years and years, but it’s all powered by social media. Get ready for all the TikToks, seven, eight years ago it was Instagram, right now we have all the TikToks from Miracle. I can drink, thing is Miracle also is equal opportunity, there is a drink out of dreidel. It’s not good. I had it a few years ago, so maybe it’s gotten better, but a few years ago I had it, it was horrible. They do have other drinks, but I think, yes, it’s all about the bar realizing like, “Let’s just give in, and if this is what it takes to won-up all the rest of our competition,” because think about it, especially I feel like the reason that this has become so much more popular is in most cities now, especially decently sized cities, there are a few pretty good cocktail bars. Not just one or two, there are now a few. In those cities, a lot of those cocktails all follow the same trends. We’re seeing at New York, a lot of cocktail programs all have Martinis on them right now. They also are all playing around with Italian bidders and things like that. Someone, then, is just choosing based on what’s most convenient to them, the ambience, whatever. Maybe if they do a caviar bump with their Martini service.
J: Right, but you’re going to find the same stuff. More or less.
A: Think about it, like Chez Zou and Martinis and— I can’t think of the last one, whatever, they’re all doing caviar and Martinis. They’re all doing Veronica, they’re all doing the same thing. Basically, the cat is like, “F*ck you b*tches, we’re doing f*cking Christmas-themed. Bring it.” They have the one thing that no one else has with still being made by very accomplished bartenders who the rest of the year making high-quality agave-based cocktails and it’s a party. I don’t blame anyone for it. I think it’s like, get it while you can get it.
J: That’s a good point. I’m also just looking at a few of these and over the course of the pandemic, we saw a lot of domes go up in New York City. They’re really working those into their holiday theme bars. Those things are expensive to put out.
A: All the igloos and stuff. Look, I also think what fascinates me about Miracle, I think Greg Boehm is the most successful bar owner that no one talks about or isn’t talked about enough in the U.S. He is very smart. The fact that he has figured out a way to franchise this, is f*cking brilliant.
J: Launched in 2014.
A: People buy in and he does stuff. There’s PR behind it. Every place gets listed in all the press releases. There are devoted websites. By the way, he doesn’t just have this, he also has Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack, which is his other brand, which is also in 20 bars, I think around the country right now, around the world. People get all the glassware, they get the recipes, they get the décor. It’s honestly, basically what he’s doing is, I don’t know if you guys ever read this story on VinePair, wrote about it a while ago or years ago. There were two entrepreneurs from Ireland and they realized that what they could do was they could literally sell bar owners an Irish Pub. Here’s the glassware, here are the benches, here are the draft lines, here’s the whiskeys you should have on the program. They would literally sell Irish bars all around.
J: Cookie Cutter Irish Pub.
A: That’s what he’s doing for Christmas-themed bars. It’s really smart.
J: It’s around the world. You said this, it’s in London, it’s in Amsterdam. I think it’s amazing. Panama City.
A: Honestly, I’m shocked it’s not in Auburn. There’s two cocktail bars in Auburn. I’m shocked one of them hasn’t done this. The amount of people that probably have thought about it has to be massive. I wonder what it does cost to be able to do it. Is it cost prohibitive? You have to assume you’re going to make it back and then sell them. Then it allows you again to make it through the winter because making it through the winter, as everyone knows, is really difficult. Especially, we will talk about this later on in the coming weeks. Dry January is becoming a bigger and bigger and bigger thing and that means there’s less and less people at the bars. Also means it’s the best time to go out and drink, as we discussed before, but that does mean that bars need to do what they need to do to make the money now so that they have stuff in reserve. If this means that a more geeky mezcal and tequila bar can last for two or three months because they were Miracle for a month and a half, cool.
J: Well, Zach, we know you’re not going to any of these, but Adam, would you go?
A: I like some catch, so yes, I’d go. I like a good catch. I would definitely go. I went to Miracle before the pandemic, so it’s been a while since I’ve been to Miracle. I would like to go again this year. Here’s the thing, though, I’m just not going to stand in line. I need to be walking. Unfortunately now that I live in Brooklyn, there’s no Brooklyn bars that chose to do it this year. I don’t think.
A: Thief has?
A: Oh my God, where’s Thief?
J: I don’t know, Williamsburg?
A: I’m in Brownstone Brooklyn, but I just feel like I need to be walking by and see that there’s no line and then I’ll pop in. That’s how I went last time.
J: Got it.
A: I just don’t want to be in the line. The line is the worst. Maybe I’ll be at Thief and just see if there’s no line.
J: I’m with you.
A: Otherwise, I would go. Would you go?
J: No, I don’t think I’d go. I don’t know. It doesn’t appeal to me. The whole thing doesn’t appeal to me.
A: Would you guys watch the movie “Spirited” on Apple TV?
A: It was great. I saw it. Amazing. I watched it twice.
J: I think I’m more of a Grinch, like Zach. Surprise, surprise.
A: It’s so good. Ryan Reynolds, come on, he’s America’s treasure.
J: I know. I really like both of those people, but I just—
A: Will Ferrell?
J: I don’t do the Christmas thing like that.
J: I know.
A: I would totally go. If you want to go to a Miracle with me, hit me up at [email protected]. I’d love to hang out with you because the thing I think about it is there’s so many things I could criticize about it, but it’s still fun. The drinks aren’t as good as when the bar is what the bar normally is. Also, they’re making a lot of the drinks very fast because they’re so crowded most of the time, but it’s still fun. My dreidel cocktail I had a few years ago, I didn’t love, but I still had a lot of fun. I think that’s the thing. It taps into something that makes people feel cool, we’re in the spirit here. This is something special and unique. Look, I think it’s the same reason that you do see people in the summer gravitate towards tropical-theme bars, that same idea. This is a really fun thing for people to do in-
J: The spirit of the season.
A: In the spirit of the season.
J: I have my own traditions, but—
A: What’s your tradition?
J: We do Benihana Christmas and even the tree.
A: I thought you threw coal at little children.
Z: Just from whatever story you live on, just down to the sidewalk.
J: It’s a great idea.
A: Good afternoon. Only if you see “Spirited” do you get that joke? Oh, wait, so you do Benihana Christmas?
J: We’ll go to The Plaza for a cocktail, which is really nice. Then go see people ice skating at Rockefeller Center.
A: Just watch them.
J: Well, you watch and you pick which one’s going to fall.
A: Oh, I thought you picked who would propose.
J: No, no, you pick your horse.
A: You picked your horse. This is so good, I want to do a Joanna Christmas.
Z: I was going to say, Adam is going to — f*ck Miracle. Adam’s going to hang out with Joanna for Christmas.
A: I have my own Christmas tradition, too. We go to, hopefully we’re going to try to do it this year, Peking Duck House.
J: I love that place.
A: It’s the best place.
J: I know.
Z: It’s funny, I make duck for Christmas. My holiday tradition is I make duck for the family, which is fun. I make it differently every year, or try to at least.
A: You know what I like to do for Christmas? Motherf*cker, white truffles, y’all.
J: Oh my God.
A: You just get those white truffles, shame them up, fresh pasta, so good.
Z: Oh my God.
A: With that, again, hit me up [email protected] if you want to go to Miracle. I’m down. The two of you, I’ll talk to you Monday. Happy holiday season to everybody.
J: Have a great weekend.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair podcast, the flagship podcast of the VinePair Podcast network. If you love listening to this show or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast. Whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere. If you are listening to this on a device right now through an app, however you got this audio, please drop a review.
It really helps everyone else discover the show and now for some totally awesome credits. The VinePair Podcast is recorded in our New York City headquarters and in Seattle, Washington in Zach Geballe’s basement. It is recorded by Zach, mastered and produced by Zach. He loves all the credit, keep giving it to him. Drop his name in the reviews. He’s going to love hearing how much you love him. It is also recorded in New York City by our tastings director Keith Beavers, who is the managing director of the entire VinePair Podcast network.
I’d also love to give a shout-out to our editor in chief Joanna Sciarrino, who joins us on every single podcast as our third and most important host. Thank you as well to the entire VinePair staff and everyone who’s been involved in making VinePair as special as it’s become. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next week.