Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A look inside Philly’s Halloween bars

Two are in the Gayborhood, and two others are part of sophisticated Halloween-theme events.

Haunt, a Halloween theme bar, is atop the Pearl Tavern at 1123 Walnut St.
Haunt, a Halloween theme bar, is atop the Pearl Tavern at 1123 Walnut St.Read moreCOURTESY HAUNT

The National Retail Federation says total spending for Halloween will reach $8.8 billion this year, of which I say $7.7 billion will be in odd-colored alcoholic beverages served in silly glasses.

Want a scary bar scene?

This year, I count four new Halloween bars in Philadelphia, plus the usual haunts such as McGillin’s Olde Ale House, which alleges that ghosts are its guests.

1. The Nightmare Before Tinsel Halloween Pop-up Bar has opened at 116 S. 12th St., which for the last two years has been the site of a Christmas-themed pop-up bar called Tinsel from Teddy Sourias, owner of Blume, Tradesman’s, BRU Craft & Wurst, U-Bahn, Uptown Beer Garden, and Finn McCool’s Ale House. Atmosphere by Anne White, with a bar top by artist Scott Johnston, is completely Instagrammable: costumed bartenders, a room of 1,001 eyes, a coffin with a skeleton, zombie wall, a spider web alley, and theme drinks, such as the $15 Elvira, which blends Manatawny maple whiskey, apple cider, and apple schnapps and comes in a plastic skull souvenir mug. Nightmare will wrap Halloween night, as the bar must be knocked down and done over for the holidays as Tinsel.

2. Haunt runs through Nov. 3 on the second floor of the Pearl Tavern, which itself is in soft-opening mode at 1123 Walnut St., a former Irish Pub location. Owner Townsend “Tod” Wentz, who owns the Spanish destination Oloroso next door, has put this project in the hands of his general manager Alison Hangen, who straddles the local hospitality and artistic communities as founder of Arts in the Industry. In addition to theme cocktails and spooky horror-movie-themed decor by Hangen and Bill Strobel, there’s a full slate of special-events programming, including movie nights and collabs with beer and spirit brands.

The next two are more sophisticated:

3. At 2nd Sanctuary, Brian Sanders and his JUNK troupe have turned a former Victorian-era church at 21st and Christian Streets in Southwest Center City into a venue with assorted 1970s-themed attractions, open through Nov. 3. "The Phantom Portal VR Telecom Tour in the Spectral Garden Chapel” is an experience combining virtual reality, live action, and immersive theater. A second, “Dancing Dead Live,” is a performance telling what is described as the story of an old man dancing with death, watching his friends die, waltzing with a skeleton, and then digging them up. A third, “Zoltan’s Zarkade Escape Room in the Lost Lodge,” is an escape room based on the mystery of “Kid Scout Troop 244,” who disappeared one by one in the fall of 1975. Each of these experiences requires separate tickets. A maze and a costumed zombie-disco party (complete with cash bar) are free with a ticket.

4. Dark Passage, running through Nov. 2 at 1004 Buttonwood St. (behind Union Transfer in the Callowhill neighborhood), is a themed indoor maze with a twist: Guests start their tour at a bar called the Strange Spirits Lounge and may take their cocktails with them for what is billed as “an infernal take on the afterlife." Dark Passage may take 30 minutes to two hours. Sarah Elger, a Penn alum who has designed theme park attractions for Disney and for Universal Creative (including Skull Island: Reign of Kong and Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando), conceived it as part of her Penn master’s of architecture thesis.