Say the phrase “theme bar,” and what pops into most people’s heads is a loud, obnoxious atmosphere not unlike that of a T.G.I. Friday’s or Chevy’s, where tacky decorations crowd the walls and cloyingly sweet drinks are served in gallon-size bowls. (Not that we mind any of this by the second or third round.) But associating all themed bars with scenes like that does a great disservice to the many fun, innovative watering holes around the world. If you’ve ever wanted to sip a cocktail underwater or drink in a zombie safe house, a trip to one of these spots is definitely in order.
Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Calling itself “a defiant outpost of madness in a world gone sane,” Donny Dirk’s opened in 2009 as both a place of respite from brain-eating fiends (there’s a chainsaw behind glass in the bar with a sign that says, “In Case of Zombie Attack, Break Glass) and a celebration of their culture. (The bar shows zombie-centric horror movies regularly.) When hunger strikes, use the bar’s “Batphone” to order food from its sister restaurant, Psycho Suzy’s.
Museum HR Giger Bar: Gruyères, Switzerland
If you’ve ever seen the movie Alien, you’re already familiar with surrealist artist HR Giger’s work. He created a whole museum in the Swiss town of Gruyères that houses his haunting fusions of man and technology (as well as some alien props from the movie), an aesthetic that also characterizes the museum’s bar. The walls and ceiling form one giant skeletal structure, which makes anyone sitting in the bar feel like she’s inside a foreign, intimidating creature.
Kagaya: Tokyo, Japan
Japan’s famous for its bizarrely themed restaurants and bars, but only one of them (that I know of) has a server, Mark, who asks you to pick a country and then bases your service—meaning, his costumes and performance art—on your choice. The venue itself is small and inconspicuous, so when he jumps out at you in a frog suit and hands you a mug that starts vibrating (they’re battery-operated), you’re more than a little surprised.
The Red Sea Star Bar: Eilat, Israel
Holding a conversation must be tough in this bar, where every window allows patrons to get lost in the fascinating sea creatures and plants thriving mere inches away from them. The Red Sea Star complex, which also holds a restaurant and an observatory, offers an experience unlike any other. What’s more, the Red Sea Star works with marine-life experts to protect the nearby coral reef.
Greenhouse: New York, New York, and Hallandale Beach, Florida
If eco-friendly establishments are your thing, look no further than Greenhouse, a LEED-certified nightclub built and run sustainably, using recycled materials and environmentally sound equipment, such as LED lighting and water-free urinals. Even the alcohol is environmentally sound—Greenhouse uses 360 Vodka, among other spirits. The multiple types of leaves and greenery covering the walls and floor make the club feel even more like an escape from polluted city life.
The Clinic: Clarke Quay, Singapore
Bars are hardly synonymous with hospitals and good health, but this bar’s looking to change that with its odd medical setting. The drinks are served in test tubes and from IV drip bags, the seats are made from hospital beds and wheelchairs, and each room is shaped like a pill. The design is the brainchild of Damien Hirst, a British artist who also showcases his work in the bar.
Depeche Mode Baar: Tallin, Estonia
Nothing says a rockin’, raucous good time like a Depeche Mode song. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. Nothing says a semi-rockin’, contemplative good time like a Depeche Mode song. And you can have just that at this bar created in honor of the English band, which is evidently more revered in Eastern Europe than anywhere else. But what Americans among us wouldn’t drunkenly sing along to “Just Can’t Get Enough” if it came on the jukebox?
Guacara Taina: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Sixty feet deep in the earth lies Guacara Taina, a three-floored dance club with rocky, dense surroundings. Guacara Taina boasts amazing acoustics, thanks to its cavernous walls. That’s good, since as many as three thousand people can break a sweat on the dance floors at one time—and judging by one travel magazine’s assertion that busloads of people arrive at the doors every weekend, it probably reaches maximum capacity (or close to it) quickly.
Vowz: Tokyo, Japan
Buddhist monks aren’t renowned for their mixology skills, mostly because most Buddhists monks aren’t drinkers, but the ones at this bar have a more liberal stance on alcohol. The spiritual and the secular are at one here, where folks interested in getting spirited rub elbows—literally, as it’s a tiny space—with religious men or pray at the altar in the corner.
The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar: San Francisco, California
You can’t write a themed-bar story without including at least one tiki room—and Tonga’s one of the most famous of its kind in the United States. Rumors of its imminent closure abound, but for now, customers can still drink from lava bowls and experience the faux rainstorms and thunderstorms that occur throughout the night while a band floats along the indoor pond, playing music from a boat.
Clearly, the world has much more to offer in the way of themed bars than what we’re most familiar with in the United States. It’s good to know that such unique drinking spots, be they under the sea or buried beneath the earth, are out there for all of us to experience. Because being served by a Buddhist monk or sucking a Sex on the Beach from an IV drip tube is something everyone should try at least once.Photo source: synthsis (cc)