Tricks and Treats, on the Rocks and Straight
If you don’t want to wait around for the end of the month to get in the Halloween spirit, Manhattan is full of bars that give the option of celebrating a bit early. Some are meant to spook; some encourage costuming; all are best visited this time of the year. Make those haunted house plans for daytime hours— you’ll want to be sipping at one of these spots at night.
Beetle House (308 E. 6th St.)Two bartenders are quickly making names for themselves by opening drinking dens themed around film-industry celebrities. First, there was Stay Classy New York in the Lower East Side based on Will Ferrell, and shortly thereafter just a bit uptown in the East Village came Beetle House, an ode to Tim Burton and “all things dark and lovely.” Tables for prix-fixe dinners require reservations in advance, but the bar neither mandates nor accepts reservations, meaning you can pop in whenever you wish to relive some Alice in Wonderland or Edward Scissorhands fantasies.
Cobwebs, skulls, and chandeliers that look filched from a vampire’s castle comprise the theatrical set, complete with a Beetlejuice host who will usher you to a barstool. Following some lawsuits from Warner Bros., the establishment is very careful to say that it’s not officially affiliated with Burton, but the cocktails are, of course, inspired heavily by the moviemaker’s creations. There’s Edward’s Lemonade, an old fashioned dashed with orange bitters; the rum-and-coconut Coco Skellington; and, most fittingly for October, the This is Halloween!, with the cinnamon candy spice of Fireball, pumpkin liqueur, and flavors of sour apple all in the same glass.
Headless Horseman (119 E. 15th St)
Like a secret portal back into the past, the Headless Horseman often goes entirely overlooked to passersby, despite being located a block from Union Square. Through its old wooden doors is a bar that looks straight from the 18th-century Sleepy Hollow days of New England, with exposed ceiling beams hanging low and everything cast in an eerie glow of lantern light.
The drink offerings, however, are up-to-date enough to give any of the surrounding bars a run for their money. There are 25 taps of craft and big-name brews alongside on-theme cocktails: the gingery Mr. Crane with bourbon and rum sweetened with honey; the Legend of spiced rum with pineapple, blueberry, and lime; and the Sleepy Hollow of vodka-soaked blueberry lemonade. Bar snacks range from hummus to chicken wings and oysters on the half-shell, making this the type of den you want to stumble across on a misty gray evening and end up sitting in for hours that mysteriously vanish.
Sanatorium (14 Avenue C)
Consider Sanitorium a New York approach to mental health. Carrie Bradshaw had her pink cosmopolitans to help her through the madness of the city, but this spot takes the concept of alcohol-as-medicine to a new level. Cocktails are listed in a menu masquerading as a patient’s file, and each is a heady prescription of its own: the vodka-based Recovery Time, an elixir of raspberry and hibiscus with Earl Grey and lemon, and the Waiting Room of tequila with sweet cherry tomatoes and balsamic spiced with pungent basil and habanero peppers, served with a slice of ibérico ham.
At once posh and retro, décor comes as X-ray light boxes and surgical lamps, thickly stuffed armchairs and shots that you inject into your mouth with a syringe. It may sound camp, but it’s all so glamorously debased that it feels like being in the office of a handsome doctor who may have gone mad himself.
Club Cumming (505 E. 6th St.)
In an interview for New York magazine, Scottish actor Alan Cumming once said that he hopes he’s still going to clubs when he’s 65. He’s certainly making moves toward this goal with Club Cumming, which opened in the East Village in mid-September as a resurrection of the famous parties he used to throw in his dressing room during his 2014-2015 stint as the lead in Cabaret on Broadway.
He dubbed this glitzy shindig space Club Cumming, an after-dark venture that grew to become so popular that it garnered sponsorship from Campari and a bouncer. Now, Cumming is giving these only-in-New-York nights a brick- and-mortar home that ups the size, spectacle, and splash. Whenever you’re looking to dress up for no reason in particular, this is where to come. Themed nights will dictate costumes sometimes, but all nights are sure to draw an anything-goes type of theatrical crowd coming shimmying in the guise of whoever they wish to be.