'Twas about a week before Christmas, and all through the town, New Yorkers and tourists alike were looking to get down. Sort of, I guess. The last week or so leading up to Christmas is the time to cram in last-minute plans before everyone goes to visit family for the holidays. A few days ago, a friend of mine who's been struggling through final exams, looking to get high on Christmas spirit, texted me and another friend of ours. "Let's do something seasonal," she said.
I don't ice skate, and there's no snow to speak of yet, which in our estimation left one spirited possibility: drinking. But, you know, seasonal drinking. Which is how we came upon the existence of Christmas-themed pop-up bars.
It shouldn't really have been much of a surprise; there are pop-ups for nearly everything and bars for nearly everything else. And sure enough, after Thanksgiving New York becomes home to a handful of holiday-infused drinking establishments. And they are not for the faint of heart.
The VNYL, the already extremely extra "barstaurant" on Third Avenue (perfectly situated to attract the Third Ave weekend regulars in from Jersey, who are looking for something "fancier") is getting in on the action, of course. The basement area is temporarily branded as the "Holiday Hideaway," offering a "Santa's Milk Punch" and showing Christmas movies on Mondays. There were supposedly free things being given away, but I gave a hard no to this location, if only because I don't drink milk and I'm still very wary of its very deliberate lighting design.
For a moment we settled on Miracle on 9th Street, a pop-up by Mace NYC which as of this year is popping up in several different cities around the country. This one was my vote because the cocktails sounded interesting. According to Saveur, offering include "the Brazen Britzen, a gin-and-pine liqueur number layered with vanilla syrup, lime, mint and club soda; the aquavit-and-sherry Muletide with ginger and pumpkin pie soda; and the Jingle Ball Nog, an eggnog spiked with brown butter fat-washed Cognac and Amontillado sherry." Right? But by a quick twist of fate I happened to make my way over to a Yelp review that mentioned something about waiting half an hour to get in (because apparently people go hard for their seasonal alcohol). It was 18 degrees out. We weren't willing to risk it.
So this is how we settled on Sippin' Santa's Surf Shack, the Hawaiian Christmas pop-up by Boilermaker and sister to Miracle on 9th Street. With varied and very holiday-themed drink offerings, it seemed like a solid bet. There was a host to seat us (not an experience we're used to at East Village bars), and we nabbed a corner table next to a santa hat-wearing lawn flamingo. The tables are covered in those vinyl tablecloths people put on picnic tables, except covered in holly and other seasonal designs. There are presents hanging from the ceiling. It's a specific and self-aware kind of tacky. This, I thought, I could handle.
I turned out to be wrong. I ordered a Nantucket Sleigh Ride, which is made of apricot brandy, allspice liqueur, dark Jamaican rum, aged Demerara rum, lime juice, and grapefruit juice. If that sounds like a lot of booze, you're right, which is why perhaps I have no one to blame upon getting the drink (garnished with a slice of lime, apricot, and a bendy straw) and realizing that it was incredibly strong. Like, "thank god it's filled with ice and I can suck it down fast" strong. Which is to say, it did not taste very good. I couldn't really taste any of the supposedly included ingredients over the pure taste of alcohol. Oh well. Some people would consider that a good value.
The fateful drinks: Hawaiian Milk Punch, Nantucket Sleigh Ride, and Kevin McAllister.
My Christmas-cheery friend ordered the Hawaiian Milk Punch, which she seemed to enjoy but eventually admitted was a bit overly strong, too. Our other friend had been wise enough to play it safe and order a boilermaker--the Kevin McAllister, which includes the Saranac Caramel Porter and a "gingerbread shot," whatever that means. It actually turned out to be a solid choice, which is just proof that when in doubt, you should just always get beer.
Needless to say, the two of us who opted for cocktails were fairly sloshed by the time we finished our drinks, which is not what we expected to do on this particular Monday evening. Actually, the alcohol content, combined with the sugar content, had me feeling pretty rough for the rest of the night. But hey, not all of us are cut out to celebrate the season. I'll keep my Christmas out of bars and vice-versa for the rest of the season, thanks.