Can Christmas-themed Miracle bars help save America’s devastated bar industry?
Christmas will come early to New York this year. On Nov. 5, a pair of Miracle bars—the pop-up watering holes that scream “holidays” with twerking-Santa decor, elf-shaped mugs, and high-alcohol ‘Christmapolitans’—will open for business at two locations in the East Village and West Village. Nationally, Miracle bars and their Sippin’ Santa cousins will start selling their festive cocktails on Nov. 23.
The franchise started in the East Village in 2014 with Miracle on 9th Street and has since grown into an international behemoth. Last year, there were 107 Miracle outposts, and while the company is still finalizing the 2020 lineup, it expects around 100 participating locations across the country.
Menus will feature new cocktails such as the Fruitcake Flip—brandy, Jamaican overproof rum, amaretto, and fruitcake—and the On Dasher, made from bourbon, mezcal, sweet vermouth, and spiced hibiscus. The signature “Christmapolitan,” a holiday-themed riff on the Cosmopolitan with cinnamon and spiced cranberry sauce, will be back as well.
The most dramatic difference will be the venue’s vibe. In years past, booze-fueled revelers have been four deep at the bar. In 2020, says founder Greg Boehm, guests will have set times to celebrate. “The bars will be reservation-based,” he says, with both indoor and heated outdoor seating. “They will be more socially distanced and a little more structured.” To-go cocktails will also be on offer this year, along with celebratory mugs.
Despite the incongruity of trying to make the famously raucous and crowded Miracle scene Covid-19-friendly, the program could be a lifeline for bars, especially in New York, where drinking establishments have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Earlier in October, spending at bars was down 80% compared to the prior year.
Although the cost of participating in the Miracle franchise is not cheap—the initial investment to be a franchisee runs from $7,000 to $12,000, according to Boehm, and there are additional costs like restocking glassware because of inevitable breakage—the results have been notable. At Sapphire Fine Food and Fancy Drinks in Knoxville, Tenn., owner Aaron Thompson says his bar did over $200,000 in sales in December 2019, which represented 100% growth. “It makes up for the slower months,” he observes.
One bar that won’t take part in Miracle during this holiday season is Philadelphia’s Into the Valley. Owner Nicholas Elmi says its been a revenue driver in the past, but Covid-19 restrictions make it too challenging for his 30-seat bar. “We’ve done Miracle every year since [we] opened in 2016. As wonderful as it is for getting people out, it’s not the right call for us this year.” He says past sales easily doubled during the month of Miracle: “We would go from $10,000 to $12,000 a week to $25,000.”
Most places, however, that participated and remain open are signing up again, despite capacity restrictions. George Lahlouh, co-owner of Paper Plane in San Jose, Calif., says his bar took in an additional $120,000—a 40% increase in sales over five weeks, compared to the previous year—as a result of the Miracle pop-up. “We knew the stretch between Black Friday and New Years Eve were some of our busiest sales weeks of the year,” he says. “We didn’t foresee being able to expand on those numbers too much.”