Forget Miracle on 34th Street. This holiday season, there are Christmas miracles aplenty this side of the Hudson.
From mid-November through January 1, with the help of Manhattan-based franchisor Miracle Pop-Up Bar, seven Garden State bar/restaurants transform into holiday wonderlands, with festive decor, whimsical drinks menus and even new names.
Cowan’s Public in Nutley (called Miracle on Centre through January 1) was first in the state to jump on the Miracle Pop-Up bandwagon in 2018. Dean Maroulakos, creative director of Skopos Hospitality Group, which owns Cowan’s and three other Jersey restaurants that become Miracle pop-ups—Franklin Social in Jersey City, the Parkside Social in Verona, and Gus’ Last Word in Wood-Ridge—describes the decor style as “Christmas kitsch.”
“We joke that it’s like the feeling you get on Christmas morning when you were a kid, if you celebrate, coming downstairs and seeing all the toys,” says Maroulakos. “It’s the adult version of that, but with alcohol.”
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Skopos also has a Christmas-themed pop-up at the Vanguard in Harrison called Sippin’ Santa, with tiki-bar-style rum-based cocktails, also through the Miracle Pop-Up Bar group. And there are two other non-Skopos Miracle Pop-Ups in New Jersey: Catherine Lombardi in New Brunswick and the Loaded Spoon in Freehold.
Restaurants buy franchises from Miracle Pop-Up Bar that include cocktail recipes and menus, glassware, and decorating advice; franchisees do their own decorating. At Cowan’s, when it comes to Christmas, there’s no such thing as too big or too much. There’s a huge indoor tree, an oversized Santa statue, and lighting, greenery and decorative paneling that create the feeling of being in a snow globe in one corner and Santa’s workshop in another.
The staff wear their ugliest Christmas sweaters, and candles evoke holiday scents. The drink menus, designed by a different artist every year to resemble Christmas cards, open to a list of inventive cocktails with names like the Christmapolitan, Jingle Bells Nog and Christmas Cricket, served in vintage-style glassware.
At some Skopos locations, there’s also a nod to other holidays, with a Hanukkah Hideaway and decorations like a menorah and Chinese food boxes. “There’s no religious tie-in to this pop-up; we have believers and nonbelievers coming in,” Maroulakos says.
The Miracle Pop-Up concept was created in 2014 by Greg Boehm, owner of the then unfinished East Village cocktail bar Mace, and his manager, Joann Spiegel, as a stopgap decorating ploy. It quickly spread; 154 locations in the United States and Canada (201, if you include Sippin’ Santas) now hold franchises entitling them to the drink recipes, as well as holiday mugs and glassware that patrons can also purchase as gifts.
The drinks, which range from $13-$16, combine humor and whimsy with sophisticated ingredients and curation. Take the Christmapolitan, a blend of vodka, elderflower, dry vermouth, spiced cranberry, rosemary, lime and absinthe mist, or the Christmas Cricket, with blanco tequila, vanilla liqueur, minty amaro, coco pandan, cream, mole bitters and dark cherry liqueur.
The Snowball Old-Fashioned, which adds gingerbread spice to the classic drink, is served with a tiny snowball, made from packed shaved ice, as garnish. The Nice Shot (rye whiskey with gingerbread spice) is joined this year by the Naughty Shot, a spicy mix of tequila, habanero, ginger and hibiscus. While the Nice Shot comes in a shot glass depicting a winking traditional Santa, the Naughty Shot Santa sports a black hat and choker with studs.
The barware is part of the fun: glasses with festive designs or vintage-like frosting, and signature mugs such as Santa’s Head, Santa Pants and SantaRex. Franchisees buy the glassware from Miracle Pop-Up and offer boxed glasses to patrons for sale.
The kitschy Christmas formula has been a boon to Skopos. Weekend dinner reservations for their pop-ups fill up soon after they go online in October; closer to the holidays, lines form outside for a spot at the bar. (A helpful elf brings hot cocoa to those waiting in the cold.) During the holidays, they see triple their usual number of customers, Maroukolos says.
The business boost can extend beyond the holidays. Skopos’s newest restaurant, Parkside Social in Verona, had a steadily growing business after it opened in April 2022. But starting in November, when it morphed into Miracle on Bloomfield, “we were just insane,” Maroulakos says, adding, “Without the pop-up, it might have taken another six or eight months before we built up that demand.”
The phenomenal appeal of his Christmas-themed bars still surprises Maroulakos—and his patrons as well. One December, a customer in front of Cowan’s told him, “I can’t believe I’m standing in line to get into a bar in Nutley, New Jersey.”
Says Maroulakos, “That’s the power of Christmas and cocktails when you put them together.”
For a full list of each Miracle Pop-Up’s dates and hours, click here.
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