When does a bar stop being a bar and start becoming a theme park for condo-dwelling, Scotch-drinking grown-ups?
Maybe when it has a room with an animatronic smoke-breathing dragon. Or maybe when you have to wait 45 minutes for the main attraction — which, in the case of Shaw’s new pop-up “Game of Thrones” bar, is the opportunity to pose for Instagram photos in a replica Iron Throne.
On Thursday night, the throne had its own waiting list, managed by Deke Dunne, who said that at times he felt like the guy in charge of loading people onto the roller coasters at Six Flags.
“My main concern has been: Are you too drunk to ride this ride?” Dunne said. “Thankfully, there’s no height requirement. Then Tyrion would have been screwed.”
This is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but with swords instead of wands. This is the adult version of breakfast with Mickey and Minnie at Disney World. This is “like a miniature Renaissance fair in a bar!” one guy said to his friends as he ordered a drink in the bar Eat the Rich, which has been outfitted to look like the HBO show’s King’s Landing, with banners representing the kingdom’s houses.
And this is what we want from our bars in 2017: an exhilarating escape from reality. Except instead of rides, we want photo ops.
“It’s purely for the Instagram,” said Lara Paek, 28, waiting with her sister in line outside the bar before it opened.
“You saw it at the Renwick,” said Emma Poltrack, 31, referring to the photo frenzy in popular immersive attractions at the museum. “It becomes more of a photo op than an experience.”
There’s a competitive aspect to it, too. Waiting outside before the opening, 31-year-old Dyle Hein — first in line, having arrived at 3:45 p.m. — planned to make a beeline for the bar and “take selfies everywhere,” he said, a little sheepishly.
“So far, nobody on my Instagram has been in yet. I missed Infinite Kusama,” he said, referring to the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum. “I’m hoping I can inundate everyone with ‘Game of Thrones’ selfies.”
And the bar-as-theme-park concept (or museum-as-theme-park — look at the National Building Museum’s summer attractions) is expanding rapidly. The District has seen Donald Trump bars, a Will Ferrell bar, a “Seinfeld” bar. Derek Brown, the man behind the “Game of Thrones” bar, has previously hosted a “Miracle on 7th Street” Christmas bar and, more recently, a Cherry Blossom/Super Mario Bros. bar. When Brown opened the latter, he told The Washington Post that he served between 800 and 1,200 customers a night.
Other pop-up concepts don’t even give you anything to drink or anywhere to sit. Take Diner en Blanc, an all-white picnic held every summer in Washington, which has a waiting list of 20,000(!) people eager to pay $45 for the privilege of providing their own food, beverages, table and chairs, all adhering to an exacting list of standards set by the organizers. The Instagrams always look great.
Other special bars are lazy, knowing that people will wait in line for just about anything that offers a photo op. For instance, the Rosé Garden, at Whaley’s in Yards Park, is just a small patio with some nice views. What makes it more worth the wait than other patios is that the color of the umbrellas shading the tables is pink, like your wine. Never mind that there are dozens of other patios in the District where you can drink the same wine without a wait. The Rosé Garden has become a destination.
Inside the “Game of Thrones” bar, there are small photo ops within the larger one. You can pose, as one man did, looking as if you’ll be set on fire by the elaborate dragon mural on the wall in the City of Mereen. When the animatronic dragon breathes smoke, all the phones go up.
The tiki-inspired cocktails — a sunny non sequitur to the show’s dark subject matter, but hey, it’s summer — are $13 to $15 apiece, and another chance for photos. One of the most popular is likely to be “The North Remembers,” a potion of Scotch, sherry, coconut and falernum that comes in a horn-shaped tankard. If you want one, you’ll have to leave an ID with the bartender, because those tankards are so likely to be stolen. They look great with your throne pose.
Another drink, the tequila-and-grapefruit tonic “Shame,” is a nod to a moment on the show when Cersei Lannister must walk naked through an angry mob as punishment. Whenever it’s ordered, the bartenders yell “Shame! Shame!” and ring bells, and everyone else joins in — as they Snapchat it. A third drink, “The Dracarys,” comes garnished with a tiny plastic dragon figurine. That drink was placed before one woman sitting at the bar who took a picture of it for Snapchat and captioned it: “I came here just to steal this dragon.”
Back at the throne, Dunne was taking a list of names on an iPad for the 45-minute wait. The throne itself was blocked off with the kind of barriers used to control airport lines. One woman took her throne photo in a tangled-up yoga pose, her foot behind her head. A man stood behind it and rested his chin on a sword, as if it was slitting his throat.
“Some guy yesterday came wearing a huge cloak,” Dunne said. “He sat there and got drunk and let people borrow the cloak” for their photos.
Brown said that the iPad system could eventually be used to manage the line outside the bar — not a long one on this particular night, but people have been known to wait three hours for his pop-ups. If only there were FastPass, like at Disney.