Santa is the secret to this pop-up bar's success | Crain's

Santa is the secret to this pop-up bar's success

  • Yuletide-lovers flock to a Miracle pop-up in New York City. | Photo by Melissa Hom

    Yuletide-lovers flock to a Miracle pop-up in New York City. | Photo by Melissa Hom

  • An array of Miracle cocktails, all of which are holiday-themed and come in festive glasses. | Photo by Melissa Hom

    An array of Miracle cocktails, all of which are holiday-themed and come in festive glasses. | Photo by Melissa Hom

  • The Snowball Old-Fashioned is one of several cocktails designed for Miracle. | Photo by Melissa Hom

    The Snowball Old-Fashioned is one of several cocktails designed for Miracle. | Photo by Melissa Hom

In late 2014 Greg Boehm was in the middle of construction on his newest New York City cocktail bar, Mace, when he got a call in the middle of the night. It was his mother—who was traveling and got the time difference wrong—and she had an idea. Instead of working through December, she suggested that he stop construction and open a temporary Christmas-themed bar in the pre-Mace space.

"The next morning, when I thought about it, I thought it was a great idea," he said. "We halted construction and we started decorating."

And so, Miracle was born.

Three years later, the pop-up bar has grown exponentially, with plans for more than 50 locations this holiday season. Christmas-themed cocktails, Yuletide decor and cheery playlists will take over at participating bars in cities around the world starting the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 24.

The pop-up runs every day through Christmas Eve, and this year, 10 percent of all glassware proceeds go to Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization dedicated to ending world hunger.

Boehm spoke with Crain's about the inception of Miracle, how it caught on and what the future holds.

Q: Setting up a pop-up in your own bar is one thing, but how did you end up expanding it?

A: I actually owned another bar called Boilermaker, so we extended it [there]. Then a couple of my friends, also in the bar business, decided that they wanted to know more about it. They had been customers at the Miracle on 9th Street, the original location. So we expanded the next year [2015] with two of my business friends. We went to Washington, D.C., and then tried a smaller market in Norwalk, Conn. And because I own a company called Cocktail Kingdom, which is a supplier of high-end barware to high-end cocktail bars, I have a lot of people that I know in the industry. Then we had 17 locations in 2016, so at that point we had reached out to people that I knew through the cocktail network. Now it’s over 50 [locations]. The final count’s not in yet, but we’re heading closer to 60.

Q: How did you navigate the growing process? Did you hire a team?

A: We have a small team where a lot of them are from the bar business, actually. So they understand the bottlenecks that can happen with a pop-up and the short amount of time you have to set it up and make it look right. And then we collaborated with my other company, Cocktail Kingdom, because they have an art department. So the art department was able to set up mood boards and really take information from the existing locations and figure out what it was that drove sales, in terms of aesthetics. Also, Cocktail Kingdom designs all the glassware. So there’s specialty glassware [like] Santa mugs, all sorts of coupes for cocktails, all decorated with the Miracle logo but also custom, nostalgic Christmas artwork on all the glassware to make it a more complete experience.

Q: How did you expand internationally? I imagine it was more difficult.

A: There were definitely more obstacles expanding internationally. Just the logistics of getting the glassware there, but Cocktail Kingdom handles that. They’re pretty sophisticated. And also understanding the difference, the culture. I hope to expand to Germany more. I actually spent 12 years in a row in Germany for Christmas, so I know the market there a little bit. But there are definitely some differences, and availability of ingredients can be different. And this pop-up is quite American in the way it looks. All of our mood boards and decorations that we’ve created all are based on U.S. experiences from 30 to 40 years ago. Our Christmas aesthetic so far in locations outside the U.S. were really well-received. They’ve seen "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation" enough times, or "Elf," or whatever it is, that they have some sense of an American goofy Christmas.

Q: How do you get the word out enough to keep the locations growing?

A: It has grown through our network of bartenders, and that’s how people found out about us to work with us. ... we’ll have a [new] website so it’s a more organized way where people can find out which ones are near them. A few people have told me they have some pretty ambitious ideas of how many they’re going to try to get to in the month. There were a couple different people who tried to go to all of them last year, I don’t think anyone succeeded. I was also a little surprised by how many regulars we had. Especially because they had to wait on line to get in and they still kept doing it. We’d see the same people there over and over again.

The quality of the cocktails is also important in that the cocktails are created by people like Nico de Soto and Joann Spiegel who are well-known bartenders. They’re created extremely carefully to represent Christmas flavors but also to be delicious. It’s not a gimmick on any level. The glassware is extremely well-made, the cocktails are well-crafted, the music is well-curated. It actually took a lot of time and effort to get it to that point. It’s not a joke to us, we’re kind of serious about our cocktails.

Q: What do you think customers like most about visiting a Miracle pop-up?

A: Almost every night I’m working at one of the bars around the country, so I’ve definitely dealt with the customers directly a lot. It is the fact that it’s so all-encompassing. I think the favorite moment seems to be people sitting there with a drink in their hand that has Christmas flavors while one of their favorite Christmas songs is playing. So overall it’s the experience and the nostalgia of it.

Q: Have you ever considered doing more pop-ups? A different holiday or type of venue?

A: Yes, the staff has a few other things we’re working on. We haven’t come across one specific concept, because my real interest lies in month-long pop-ups, not short-term pop-ups. And there’s not another obvious subject. Halloween, for example, would be great for about a week, but I don’t think I could pull a full month out of it. So we’re definitely thinking about how to expand, especially since our partners have been really happy with the way we’ve organized everything. We’re working on concepts, but we don’t have a new launch yet.

October 23, 2017 - 1:06pm