Pop-Up Bars Aim to Recreate the Childhood Magic of Christmas—With Booze!

Dean Maroulakos wants his Miracle Bars and Sippin’ Santa locations to spread nostalgic holiday cheer this winter.

Dean Maroulakos co-founded Skopos Hospitality Group with his brother, Tom, in 2015. Now the group is bringing uniquely decorated pop-up bars and holiday cocktails to its restaurants. Courtesy of Miracle Bars

Holiday shopping, cooking and planning can be stressful, but Dean Maroulakos hopes to offer North Jersey a respite with cocktail pop-up bars.

“When you’re in your early 20s and 30s, it feels like there’s no magic left,” Maroulakos says of holiday preparations. He co-founded Skopos Hospitality Group in 2015 with his brother, Tom. They now own and operate six eateries. In 2018, the duo began franchising Miracle Bars and Sippin’ Santa locations.

Miracle is a Christmas-themed, strictly seasonal pop-up cocktail bar. The franchise partners with bars and restaurants around the world to spread holiday cheer to those of drinking age. Their tropical offshoot, Sippin’ Santa, offers Christmas spirit with a beach theme.

From November 22 to December 31, three Miracle bars and one Sippin’ Santa pop-up will operate at Skopos restaurants Franklin Social (Jersey City), Cowan’s Public (Nutley), The Vanguard (Harrison) and Gus’ Last Word (Wood-Ridge).

Maroulakos says that when guests step into the holiday-decorated restaurants, they will experience “the feeling you get as a kid when you come down the stairs Christmas morning. But this time, it’s with booze—something all adults want to enjoy.”

What goes into decorating the Miracle pop-ups?
Miracle does send us some brand guides as far as decorating goes, but we like to make some of the locations our own. Cowan’s is 1930s speakeasy-inspired because it became a pub right after Prohibition—so we have some antique Christmas-y pieces mixed with classics.

We have weaves of twinkling lights and pom-pom snowflakes. For Gus’ we leaned into the 1950s things you’d see at your grandparents’ house and some other things playing into A Christmas Story, because it was all in that era.

How about Sippin’ Santa?
The Vanguard in Harrison was originally a factory, because that whole area was industrial. We set it like the World War II era, 1940s vibe, to celebrate the home-front. The sailors and troops who were in the South Pacific, that is kind of where Tiki was started; so we did the Sippin’ Santa location there.

We have lots of old fishing nets, lobster traps and crates with twinkling lights spaced throughout the netting. We built a tiki roof for the bar, and we cover the bar in grass skirting. At all locations, there are holiday tablecloths and Santa hats on the back of every chair.

Tell me about some of the drinks.
The Miracle team does a wonderful job creating these Christmas menus. The Snowball Old Fashioned is made with gingerbread-infused whiskey and Wormwood bitters, and it has one snowball-shaped ice cube in the glass. The Christmapolitan is a Cosmo variation with spiced cranberry sauce, vodka, elderflower and rosemary. One of my favorites is the Santa Rex, which comes in a T-Rex-wearing-a-Santa-hat ceramic tiki mug. That one has tequila, mezcal, melon liqueur and some citrus, and it’s always a huge hit.

What holiday-themed events take place?
We do a sleigh ride, where we rent a bus that meets at our Barrow House location. It stops at the three Miracle locations. Guests have around an hour at each location to hang out and have drinks. Within three days it sold out. On December 4, we have a Miracle-wide ugly sweater party. We do a toy drive when Santa and Mrs. Claus come to meet kids, take photos, and each of our locations benefits a different charity. On New Year’s Eve, we throw our end-of-year party for a last chance to get some cheer in before going back to everyday life.

[RELATED: Holiday Concerts and Performances to Enjoy in NJ This Season]

How long have you been involved in the Miracle pop-ups?
We did our first one at Cowan’s in Nutley in 2018, so this is our fourth. We were having drinks in [New York] City one night with our former beverage manager, Eric, and we checked out Miracle on 9th Street. I love Christmas, so as soon as I walked in, I was instantly in heaven. My brother looks at Christmas as just another holiday, but even when he walked in, he was giddy. We saw Miracle was franchising and said, ‘Absolutely, sign us up.’

What’s your favorite part of planning these?
We start planning in July. Finishing up the decorating and seeing everything come together is so rewarding. We are always planning and discussing what we can add or improve to keep things fresh for our guests. When I see people walk in for the first time, and see the reaction on their faces, it’s really rewarding.

How did Skopos Hospitality get started?
My brother Tom and I started the company about six or seven years ago. He is the CEO, and I’m creative director. We started with one little bar in Nutley, Cowan’s. We opened Barrow House in Clifton a year and a half later. In 2019 we opened the Vanguard in Harrison, and in 2019 we opened Franklin Social and the Junto Attic Bar, which is a tavern with a speakeasy above it in Jersey City. This past July we opened Gus’ Last Word in Wood-Ridge, inspired by our grandfather’s 1950s style basement.

We just closed on a property in Verona which was Ariane Kitchen & Bar. That’s going to reopen as a new [concept] in the first or second quarter of 2022.

Skopos Hospitality Miracle/ Sippin’ Santa Locations:
Open at 4 p.m. – 7 days a week

Miracle on Centre (Cowan’s Public) – 229 Centre St, Nutley

Miracle on Mercer (Franklin Social) – 292 Barrow St, Jersey City

Miracle on Valley (Gus’ Last Word) –  191 Valley Blvd, Wood-Ridge

Sippin’ Santa at the Vanguard – 705 Frank E Rodgers Blvd South, Harrison 

Other Miracle Pop-Ups in the state:
Miracle on George Street (Catherine Lombardi) – 3 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick

Miracle at Game Time Bar and Grill (Game Time Bar and Grill) – 110 Schanck Rd, Freehold

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