You’d expect anybody or anything—or any New York City theme restaurant, say—that has deigned to adopt the persona of the arguably inimitable Tim Burton to stick out like a sore thumb from whatever crowd—or row of Manhattan brick-and-mortars—it calls its company. Still, that the filmmaker’s visual and thematic penmanship is so specific, and instantly recognizable, is what makes him and his work the perfect muse for homage, be it in the form of tribute film, costume party, or East Village novelty eatery. All of this should explain my surprise in not finding myself swarmed by a crowd of dancing skeleton barkers or a haze of aromatic purple emigrating from the kitchen upon my turning onto 6th Street on Monday evening in search of the city’s latest cinematically inclined attraction, the Beetle House.
On the contrary, the Beetle House storefront doesn’t exactly distinguish from the two Indian restaurants it stands between, save for a protruding sign identifying its name in a fairly macabre font. I’ve got to suspect that questions like, “Is this it?” are not uncommon of those seeking the Burton-themed bar they’d heard had just come to town. But the “Aha!” moment will hit instantly upon entry, as framed artwork depicting characters from Burton’s filmography line the walls from front to back.
A patient trip from the door, past the bar, and into the small seating area should allow any fan to spot references to several of their favorites—Edward Scissorhands, Jack Skellington, and Pee-wee Herman rank among the bunch. Additional adornments further contribute to the “strange” ambiance that Burton himself would hope to foster: off-putting sculptures and framed antique keys.
Of course, the real fun isn’t in the décor, but the libations. Burton’s penchant for ostentatiously named characters and films feed the play-on-words game well, and feel especially apropos when applied to flamboyant mixed drinks. In additional to the obvious shout-outs on the drinks menu—Coco Skelltingon, the Fleet Street Martini, the Big Fish Bowl—there are a few more obscure references due for a chuckle: We Come in Peace (Mars Attacks), Sparky’s Minty Margarita (Frankenweenie), and the aptly dual-flavored Glen or Glenda (Ed Wood). Lame non-drinker that I am, I only ordered a non-alcoholic concoction, though my fellow diners seemed pleased across the board with the flavorful cocktails listed.
The food menu likewise delighted in Burton references, though each dish’s presentation was considerably more conservative than expected… with the notable exception of my friend’s order of Mad Shrimp:
In stark contrast, my veggie burger—advertised as the Veggie Corpse Burger—did not come with a functional demonic twist; though, admittedly, what can you do with a veggie burger? Oh, and yes, I’m aware that by identifying myself so far as a non-drinker and a non-meat eater, I’ve likely alienated a good half of my readers.
Beyond the cleverly named menu items and the galley of artwork, the Beetle House didn’t seem altogether committed to its Burtonian theme. For a long stretch of the night, the loudspeaker played music not at all connoted with Burton films, which is particularly strange considering how musically inclined his cinema is. About halfway into our (lengthy) meal, we did begin to hear original numbers from Nightmare Before Christmas and Sweeney Todd, snippets of the scores to Batman and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (both composed by Danny Elfman), and “Jump the Line” from the closing moments of his 1988 fan favorite.
For what its worth, our waiter did instruct us that he waits in character as the ghost with the most several nights a week, but that the strain on his vocal cords kept him from performing as such daily. We weren’t fortunate enough to attend on one of his “on” nights, though I’d still give him credit for his subtle refusal to say the aforementioned ghoul’s name three times in a row, even upon setting down a trio of. (The moment went something like, “Beetles Juice, Beetles Juice, and…well, you know.”)
Despite what you might call a halfhearted production value, the restaurant did its share to foster the Burton fervor among my fellow diners and me. We naturally engaged in conversations about, the rise and fall of Johnny Depp, and our favorite Burton-directed or -produced films: Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Ed Wood earned due acclaim.
All in all, though Beetle House has a bit of a ways to go before living up to the reputation it imposes upon itself simply by being a Tim Burton-themed establishment, it may just be worth the trip to the East Village solely for the elaborate and flavorful cocktails—and mocktails! I quite enjoyed my virgin Beetles Juice, thank you v—oh no, that’s three times!
Check our gallery for more photos of New York City’s Beetle House. Will you be taking the trip to check out the Burton-themed eatery? Let us know!
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist.