Berlin Bar, Melbourne
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Theme: Cold War-era Berlin. Stuck in the austere East or living it up in the West? Ring the doorbell to find out which side of the Berlin Wall you’ll occupy in this Cold War-era-themed bar. On the West, it’s all velour banquettes and cocktails; on the East, there are bunk beds, old grenade boxes and barbed wire.
H.R. Giger Museum Bar, Gruyeres, Switzerland
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Theme: The Alien films and the work of H.R. Giger. Just seeing the vertebrae-like arches over the bar sends shivers down the spine. Fans of Swiss artist H.R. Giger and his famous work on the Alien films will relish the feeling of being stuck in the belly of a huge, cold-blooded beast at this extraordinary bar. In stark contrast to the quaint cobblestone street of the medieval city of Gruyeres in which it’s located, the H.R. Giger Museum Bar is all grim, surreal organic-mechanical. It was designed by the late artist himself.
Lala’s Little Nugget, Austin, United States
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Theme: Christmas. In an unassuming red-brick strip mall in suburban Austin is a dive bar that’s unseasonably festive for most of the year. For whatever reason, Lala’s Little Nugget put up decorations for Christmas one year and then just never took them down. Here, it’s been Christmas since 1972 and drinkers appreciate the adorned Christmas tree, the rooftop reindeer and the plethora of baubles, Christmas lights and Santa Clauses that decorate the otherwise nondescript building. Our only question is: what do they do at Christmas?
Vowz Bar, Tokyo, Japan
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Theme: Enlightenment. Two Buddhist monks serving up killer cocktails with a side of Zen? It’s true, we’ve often considered that the path to true enlightenment may be found at the bottom of a highball glass… Yoshinobu Fujioka and Gugan Taguchi have higher aspirations than just getting their customers sloshed. The monks wanted to make themselves and Buddhism both central and accessible to the community – and what’s more regularly patronised than a neighbourhood bar? Serving up chants, ceremonies and spiritual guidance, Vowz is unorthodox, yes. But soul-soothing? Absolutely (unless you order the Never-Ending Suffering in Hell cocktail).
Beetle House, New York City, United States
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Theme: The films of Tim Burton. A bouncer dressed as Beetlejuice, Sweeney Todd meat pies (be assured all the meat is sourced from “100 per cent innocent humans captured wild on the streets of NYC”) and Burton-movie-themed cocktails (This is Halloween! has Fireball, pumpkin liqueur, sour apple pucker and apple cider) all form the Tim Burton experience at Beetle House. You’ll see Scissorhands fans in costumes, a plethora of gravestones and Willy Wonka chocolate martinis – though you’ll never see the man himself. The bar has garnered itself a number of cease-and-desist notices for copyright infringement – and so its proprietors are at pains to state that they are mega-fans and not associates of the director.
29th Apartment, Melbourne
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Theme: An apartment belonging to Katishe, a missing prostitute. OK, here goes: the concept behind 29th Apartment, according to its owners, is to re-create the home of a (fictional) artist/lady of the night named Katishe, who worked the streets of St Kilda in the 1980s. She brought clients back to a home covered in her own abstract oil paintings and was fascinated by New York’s underground art scene. What became of her? Nobody knows. The bar is decked out with a retro TV set, a Kelvinator fridge stocked with excellent retro board-games and a rickety cast-iron bed.
The Edison, Los Angeles, United States
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Theme: Steampunk. Fittingly, The Edison is located in what used to be LA’s first private power plant. The bar is a sumptuous melange of past, present and future; the 1910 building has been transformed into an enormous, lavish adult playground. Think artisanal cocktails, acrobatic performers and a cigar lounge with everything taking place around defunct generators and discarded mechanical equipment – all the better to evoke the era of invention.
Lebowski Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland
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Theme: The Big Lebowski. The 1998 Coen Brothers comedy classic The Big Lebowski spawned a religion. Dudeism, the religion followed by members of the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, was created by journalist Oliver Benjamin and its philosophies include “going with the flow” and “taking it easy”, á la Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges). Both of these activities are welcomed at Lebowski Bar which is decked out in classic American diner/bowling alley style and serves an impressive range of takes on The Dude’s favourite tipple: the White Russian.
Neko Bar Akanasu cat bar, Tokyo, Japan
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Theme: Cats. You may have to stand if a fickle four-legged furball has decided your bar stool belongs to him at this cat bar in Tokyo’s Ashigaoka neighbourhood. Cat cafés are common in Japan but a cat-centric pub is a whole new world for the wine-and-cat lovers among us. The felines (all rescue cats) run the show here: patrons are not to pat or pick up the cats if they’re not in the mood, and don’t make the mistake of sampling the snacks set out on all the tables – they’re not meant for you.
Le Cercueil, Brussels, Belgium
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Theme: Horror. It’s not six feet under, but this demonic bar (Le Cercueil means “The Coffin” in French) is hell-bent on its creepy theme. The front window features cheery skeleton emerging from its casket and, inside, the funereal theme continues, with coffins for tables, staff dressed as undertakers and some fairly disturbing-sounding cocktails (L’Urine de Cadavre, anyone?). Instead of the sounds of muffled weeping, however, all this is accompanied by the cheery banter of patrons sipping from skull-shaped mugs. Memento mori.
George’s Bar, Melbourne
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Theme: Seinfeld’s George Costanza – or as the bar puts it, “A Bar About Nothing”. Pretzels that’ll make you thirsty, Trivial Pursuit with an answer-card reading “Moops” and a Big Salad on the menu: these guys know their Seinfeld. It has memorabilia, an Art Vandelay (double cheese) toastie and a Twitter endorsement from Jason Alexander himself, but the beauty of this bar is that you don’t have to be a Seinfeld fanatic to have a great time.
Joben Bistro, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
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Theme: The works of Jules Verne. Step into the fantastical world of novelist, poet and playwright Jules Verne at the steampunk-y Joben Bistro. Design firm 6th Sense masterminded the space, taking inspiration from Verne novels such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days. The space is all Victorian-futuristic with mechanical gears, repurposed industrial junk and weird installations.
The Lockhart, Toronto, Canada
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Theme: Harry Potter. There are so many Potter-related sites around the UK that you can base an entire holiday on them. Now Toronto has fallen under the Potter spell with its own themed bar, named for the overbearing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart. Potter eggheads will have a great time identifying the bar’s many references to the books, while casual readers who can’t quite remember what happened in The Philosopher’s Stone will enjoy cocktails such as the Befuddlement Draught with gin, peach vodka, Blue Curacao, cherry brandy, Triple Sec, Bacardi and ginger ale set off with an open flame. The owners, Matt Rocks and Paris Xerx, are both self-confessed Hufflepuffs, so you can be sure of a warm welcome and a generous pour.
Rue La Rue Café, New York City, United States
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Theme: The Golden Girls’ Rue McClanahan. Technically, Rue La Rue is a café, but its theme is so on point that we’re giving it a place on this list (plus, Rue La Rue is open until 10pm and has a great happy hour). Located in Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights, Rue La Rue is the brainchild of Rue McClanahan fan and close friend Michael J. La Rue. The actress, who played seductive southern belle Blanche Devereaux on the long-running sitcom, was an avid collector of Golden Girls memorabilia. La Rue met McClanahan in 2001; she joked that she wanted to marry him so that she could become Rue La Rue. When she died, he bought much of her collection and decided to share it with the world through Rue La Rue, which he opened with McClanahan’s son Mark Bish. The café even has McClanahan’s Emmy and the dress she wore to accept it. And yes, there’s cheesecake on the dessert menu.
The Wreck Bar, Fort Lauderdale, United States
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Theme: Underwater world. The entertainment at The Wreck Bar goes beyond the usual live bands and trivia comps with real live mermaids. Located at B Ocean Resort, the underwater bar is designed to resemble a sunken Spanish galleon and patrons can regularly enjoy visions of mermaid-y splendour through the portholes as underwater dancers stage half-hour mermaid shows.
Ninja Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan
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Theme: Ninjas. Things really sneak up on you at Ninja Akasaka. Black-clad waiters noiselessly deliver menus in the form of scrolls, others imperceptibly place drinks before guests and yet more materialise to perform elaborate sword tricks before fading into the background. The space is designed to resemble a castle of feudal Edo times – the entrance’s only giveaway is a small black sign.
The Way Station, New York City, United States
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Theme: Dr Who. Even if you’re not a fully paid-up Whovian, going to the toilet in a life-sized Tardis is fun. This Brooklyn bar is just what The Doctor ordered – in fact, erstwhile Doctor Matt Smith made an unannounced visit to the bar to watch the season finale with fans in 2013.
The Upside Down, Chicago, United States
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Theme: Netflix’s Stranger Things. The Netflix series Stranger Things has only released one season so far but it’s already a cult-hit, spawning a cottage industry of themed endeavours such as T-shirts (What About Barb?), Twitter accounts and, now, a bar. Excellently named The Upside Down is a pop-up in Chicago that’s done a bang-up job of conjuring the show’s 1980s world. There are those blinking Christmas lights, the Byers’ family couch and furniture clinging to the ceiling. There isn’t any food – not even frozen waffles – but there is a fun cocktail list including Eleven’s Eggo’s with bourbon and maple syrup and the She’s Our Friend and She’s Crazy, a tequila-based cocktail with amaretto, strawberry and lemon. It’s open until the end of September 2017.
The Lock-up, Tokyo, Japan
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Theme: Prison. Expect to be shackled to a stern yet sexy prison warden/waitress and yanked to your cell upon arrival at The Lock-up. The theme of this izakaya is slightly confused – it’s part-prison, part horror-movie, part mad-scientist’s lab – and all fun. Cocktails come in beakers and test tubes (complete with eyeball garnishes) and service may be interrupted for an all-out cell-shaking, ghoul-heavy prison-break partway through the evening. Once the cops have successfully apprehended the mischief-makers, service continues as “normal”.
Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, Atlanta, United States
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Theme: Church. The inspiration for this church-themed bar is a runaway nun, Sister Louisa, the alter-ego of owner and former divinity school student Grant Henry. Apparently Sister Louisa made a real break with the church because things are more sacrilegious than sacred here. Expect provocative artworks, religious kitsch, a multi-tasking confessional/photo-booth and regular ping-pong tournaments. A sign above the entryway beckons, “Come on in, Precious!” Go on – join the congregation.