“I’ve always believed the environment you create is most important to the overall experience,” says Handcraft Kitchen & Cocktails general manager Tyler Rothenberg. “The decorating for us was the biggest piece of the puzzle.”
Handcraft Mt. Pleasant, the sister restaurant to Handcraft NYC, opened this summer on Coleman Boulevard. Rothenberg says that when they officially opened the doors for the Miracle pop-up Mon. Nov. 25, “it was the busiest Monday we’ve had.”
It makes sense — Handcraft is the only restaurant or bar in the state hosting the Miracle pop-up this year. The holiday-themed concept was founded in 2014, and now has popped up with elaborate glassware and franchise rights all over the world, spanning 38 states and eight countries. Is it a gimmick? Of course. Does it draw in customers who wouldn’t typically make the trek down Coleman on a school night for loaded baked potato dip? Absolutely. But there’s something about the holidays that makes Cindy Lous out of Grinches — the Miracle pop-up is over-the-top fun. And Handcraft’s version is particularly impressive.
To become a Miracle pop-up, Rothenberg says hosts first go through a vetting process. Once your bar makes the cut, you receive a cocktail menu that every Miracle bar in the world uses, with 10 original cocktail creations and three festive shots — nice, naughty, and mistletoe. In addition to the drink recipes and glassware, participating bars also receive help from a Miracle PR team as well as marketing help from Miracle. Each bar is responsible for their own festive decorations and design, including upfront costs.
“They own all the rights, and we pay a fee,” Rothenberg says.
“There are no parameters,” he says. “There will be bars you walk in with Christmas trees and lights, but we want this to be a destination. We want to be a destination for everyone in the state.”
Handcraft hired the local team at Intrigue Design and Events — “one day I’m pretty sure they worked 24 hours straight,” says Rothenberg. They transformed the restaurant, inside and out, covering the walls in wrapping paper, stringing lights, hanging upside-down Christmas trees, garland, ornaments, and bows. The patio is a winter wonderland, with snowflakes galore, frosted sliding doors, and two huge igloos that can be rented for 10-person private parties.
“As someone who has opened bar concepts, this is not for the faint of heart,” says Rothenberg. “I feel like I’ve literally opened a different bar — you’re trying to run a bar while you’re opening another bar under the same roof.” He says he’s had to hire and (quickly) train 14 new employees to handle the holiday rush. Where once you could stroll in and grab a seat on any given night, during the pop-up, reservations are recommended. Even before the sun sets.
“It’s an investment,” says Rothenberg. Miracle guests may easily forget, upon entering the candy-cane themed front door with a dancing Santa serving as host, that behind the mesmerizing facade there’s a team crunching numbers and organizing events and hiring designers. But that’s OK. Rothenberg says it’s all about the experience. “We want to enhance our storytelling capabilities, the way you feel without having to take a bite of food or sip of drink.”
That means creating a space akin to Santa’s North Pole storage closet. It means serving a rum-based cocktail in a Santa pants mug and a tequila and iced hot chocolate served in a Christmas carol barrel. Both glasses, and a winking Santa mug, are available for purchase, of course.
The Miracle experience includes social media handles — @miraclepopup — and hashtags #miraclepopup. It includes holiday tunes blasting and influencers jockeying for the perfect shot of their vodka Christmapolitan.
The theme hits you in the face like a Rumple-soaked snowball.
But then, as you settle in and order your Snowball Old Fashioned, your heart starts to grow a bit. Yes, it’s a franchise, and yes, it’s not anything like how your mom decorated, or how you would ever decorate your own home. But it’s uncanny, the feeling that you’ve been here before.
Stay up to date with Handcraft’s Miracle-themed events taking place this month (including Breakfast with Santa and Christmas Karaoke) by following them on Facebook and Instagram. Handcraft’s Miracle pop-up runs through Dec. 31.