While Tim Burton fields questions once more about the likelihood of the long-rumored "Beetlejuice 2," those who have long loved "the Ghost with the Most" are flocking to Manhattan's East Village, where a Tim Burton-themed restaurant called Beetle House has been scoring all kinds of attention.
In the name of journalism, SPINOFF spent a night out at Beetle House, so we might all get a taste of Manhattan's maddest new sensation.
Having grown up on movies like "Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands," "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Batman Returns," I was positively giddy at the opportunity to fangirl out at a cocktail-slinging joint that celebrates all things Tim Burton. However, it should be noted at the jump: Beetle House is the brain child of self-described "super fans of Burton, his films, and all things Halloween." The theme restaurant has no connection to Tim Burton or the studios behind his movies, which has already spurred a "cease and desist" order.
But this isn't the proprietors' first go 'round in the realm of movie-inspired night spots. Previously they opened the cheeky Will Ferrell movie-themed bar Stay Classy New York. But with Beetle House, they've expanded their ambitions boasting not only an elaborate cocktail menu but also a conservative food menu. To get the most out of the experience, I rounded up some fellow Burton fanatics for dinner and drinks.
From the outside, Beetle House is the kind of unassuming storefront you could blow right by. Once inside, it's layout is cramped and simple in the glorified hallway style prevalent in Manhattan's hippest (read: most expensive) neighborhoods. It's a narrow straight shot of a bar followed by a smattering of tables in the back, where we were led by a thin man in a black and white striped shirt, apparent through a thin white dress shirt, paired with black suspenders and black pants. It was a look that seemed like a mix between Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, a sort of casual cosplay.
At the top of the menu is a delightfully dark bit of humor and a solid "Sweeney Todd" reference: "ALL MEAT SOURCED LOCALLY FROM 100% INNOCENT HUMANS CAPTURED WILD ON THE STREETS OF NYC.(ACTUALLY CHEMICAL FREE MEATS) (V) CAN SUBSTITUTE VEGETARIAN."
But the menu items lacked in cleverness or much in the way of solid movie references, with dishes dully titled "The Beetle Bread" (bruschetta), "Edward Burger Hands," "Veggie Corpse Burger" and "Cheshire Mac." The menu was full of missed opportunities, and some utter fails to connect to the theme. Considering the iconic dinner scene from "Beetlejuice," why not have shrimp scampi on the menu? Instead there's a "Showtime Shrimp Quesadilla" and "Mad Shrimp" (pictured below) which did have the flare of being on fire, but was regrettably not served with the shrimp propped up in a menacing could-be claw.
Other dishes like "Corn Bucket" and "Steak Taquitos" didn't even bother with theme names, but perhaps most galling of all on this food menu, there's no named desserts. The promise of "a daily assortment of fresh baked treats and treasures" are offered instead of desserts inspired by a movie set in both Christmas and Halloween ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") or a movie set in a fantastical, drool-inducing chocolate factory ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")!
The food itself was fine. Our group sampled the Cheshire Mac, Mad Shrimp, Edward Burger Hands, the Hello Alice Hot Wings, and the I Love It Meat Pie, which was "deconstructed" despite not being described that way on the menu. There were no real complaints, aside from the small portions versus the high prices. But hey, you're not really paying for the food alone when you lay down $10 for a side of mac and cheese. You're paying for the atmosphere.
Imagine the possibilities of a restaurant themed for Burton's macabre movies. It could be striped in black and white décor. Its walls might be conscientiously cluttered with odd touches and freaky flourishes. Perhaps some movie memorabilia? A wait staff dressed in characters like Lydia Deetz, Alice, Willy Wonka, or Pee-Wee? Nope nope nope.
Splashed in black light, Beetle House's décor feels more Hot Topic than Tim Burton. Around our table there were shadow boxes of petrified sea plants (I'm guessing?) and skeleton keys. The bulk of the relevant decorations were up by the bar, and consisted mostly of fan art inspired by "Frankenweenie," "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," "Nightmare Before Christmas, " "Edward Scissorhands," and of course "Beetlejuice."
But the place just opened, so maybe they're still working on getting the look down. Still, an easy element to add to a Burtonesque atmosphere is music. Yet for all the time we were there, we only heard a handful of songs from Burton's long-time collaborator Danny Elfman. Amid streaks of Nine Inch Nails, The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins, two versions of "This Is Halloween" played (the original and the Marilyn Manson cover), along with "Jump In the Line" (from Beetlejuice's jaunty resolution dance number) and the "Batman" theme, which marked the only reference to Burton's two Dark Knight films. (Perhaps Beetle House's owners fear DC Entertainment's lawyers more than Burton's?) Also not represented (as far as we could tell), was "Big Eyes," "Sleepy Hollow" and Burton's "Planet of the Apes" reboot.
I was particularly disappointed to discover the in-house Beetlejuice teased in their social media promotions would not appear, no matter how many times I said his name. The aforementioned casual cosplaying Host With The Most confided he only went full Beetlejuice on Fridays and Saturdays. After that, he needed to rest his voice, but he obligingly gave us a preview, and even earned a laugh when he delivered us three Beetle Juice cocktails by saying, "Beetle Juice, Beetle Juice, and -- well, you know." But when a chance to get silly with an iconic ghoul is a dominant draw of Beetle House, not having someone in the role nightly was a major bummer.
Here is Beetle House's saving grace. Their cocktail menu is diverse, offering tequila, gin, rum, whiskey and vodka drinks with a range of flavor profiles. Our crew shared (drinks and germs) to get a fuller experience. Giving a delectable combination of muddled blackberry and limes, Tequila, Blackberry schnapps, Angostura bitters, splash of cranberry, "The Beetle Juice" was light, fruity and a big hit. "The Bio-exorcism" was a solid summer cocktail made of muddled cucumbers, lime, Hendricks Gin, and club soda, while the "Dark Shadows"-inspired "Barnabas Collins" delivered a bold bite in Bulleit Rye whiskey, crushed brown sugar, chocolate bitters and Peychaud's bitters.
I had high hopes for the "Ed Wood" drink "Glen or Glenda," which blended tequila, mango purée, citrus, agave, chipotle powder, Peychaud’s bitters, garnished with rosemary. While the flavor was a thrilling mix of sweet and spicy, the texture was atrocious. The mango puree wasn't properly strained, so it left fibers on my tongue, which gave that sensation of having hair stuck in your mouth with every sip. And I was no fan of the Coco Skellington. It's mix of Bacardi Rum, creme de coconut, lime juice and orange blossom, fittingly tastes like candy. But it was so sweet that it became too much of a good thing.
Sadly, none in our crew could be convinced to try some of Beetle House's more perplexing concoctions like the This Is Halloween made of cinnamon whiskey, pumpkin liqueur, sour apple Pucker, and apple cider, or the lone "Big Fish" item, the "Big Fish Bowl" for two: Vodka, Malibu rum, Blue Curacao liqueur, sweet-and-sour mix, pineapple juice, Sprite, Nerds candy, and Swedish fish candies. Maybe next time?
Will there be a next time for Beetle House? Assuming the cease-and-desist doesn't get them shut down, maybe. Overall, the theme is woefully half-hearted. Its menu lacks wit, whimsy or evens solid allusions. Without the kind of showmanship other theme restaurants offer, the mediocre food menu feels overpriced. But the drinks were mostly good to great, so with lowered expectations, I'd be game to return with Burton-loving friends to snag the occasional cocktail from its quirky bar. But only on Fridays and Saturdays, when Beetlejuice will be in full Showtime mode.