Quaff intoxicating spirits while surrounded by monster movie iconography - it's like a year-round Halloween pop-up.
Beer and breweries are not normally associated in our minds with Gothic entertainment. Perhaps we we should reconsider. How many horror films have featured scenes of frightened villagers sipping ale in a pub, listening furtively for the hooves of Dracula's horse-drawn coach approaching rapidly after sunset? Perhaps inspired by these iconic settings (not to mention a silent Swedish film directed by Victor Sjöström), The Phantom Carriage Brewery and Blendery in Carson is decked out like a Halloween-themed pop up attraction - but the decor stays up year round. Though not a haunted house attraction, it offers an immersive drinking and (almost) dining experience, allowing visitors to imbibe an intoxicating selection of beverages while surrounded by imagery from classic monster movies.
The Phantom Carriage Brewery Review: Exterior
The Phantom Carriage Brewery and Blendery is located in an inauspicious section of Carson, a few blocks east of the 110 Freeway and not far from the Good Year Blimp Airport. Unfortunately, the establishment is set well back from the road; the street numbers are hard to read, and there is little out front to indicate which driveway leads to the location. A GPS is almost essential; otherwise, you are likely to drive past without realizing you have missed your destination.
Once you do find the driveway, it is a short distance to the building, which from outside hardly resembles a haven for apparitions and phantasms; fortunately, small signs confirm the building's identity. Parking was easy on the day we attended - even though this was during a well-attended special event.
The Phantom Carriage Brewery Review: Interior
The haunted ambiance of the Phantom Carriage is achieved largely through elaborate chalk drawings on the walls, enhanced with some horror movie posters (e.g., 1931's Frankenstein) and props (skulls, skeletons, candles). The supernatural iconography is far from sinister; the emphasis is on idolized depictions of classic characters (Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Creature From the Black Lagoon), with some newer creatures thrown in (Darkness from 1985's Legend). And there is indeed a phantom carriage depicted on the wall near the cash register.
The Tap Room, stacked to the ceiling with casks and featuring a bar with two ordering stations, is impressive in height. There is a side alcove and a separate slightly quieter room for those who wish to remain outside the maelstrom of happy customers crowding the bar in a quest for occult-themed beverages.
There is also a Phantom Theatre, running horror films continuously on an ultra-high-def, 130-inch screen. In contrast to the artwork on the walls, the everyday programming tends toward more recent cult titles - the kind that do not inspire regret if you enter during the middle and leave before they conclude. Wednesday is different: there is a free series called Wednesday Night Thrillers, featuring films that fans want to enjoy from start to finish, such as Beeltejuice, Horror of Dracula, Creepshow, Army of Darkness, and The Fly.
The Phantom Carriage Brewery Review: Refreshments
Since you're not going to be attacked by howling werewolves, you might as well sit down and have a beer. Phantom Carriage specializes in "unusual fermentations," often adorned with names familiar to old-school horror fans (Crawling Eye, Night Creatures, Lugosi, etc). The variety of unusual flavors available may tempt even the most sturdy drinker toward inebriation; fortunately, the on-tap beverages can be purchased in a small, sample size for $2 apiece. In effect, this makes it possible to contrive your own self-curated beer flight, composed of whatever brews sound appealing.
Not being an avid imbiber of beer, we were hesitant to sample the available fare, but the first quaff awakened a previously undreamed-of thirst for ale, both pale and dark. Our favorite was a full-flavored Double Berry Broadacres, followed closely by a lighter Muis, but the other flavors we sampled were nearly their equals.
Needless to say, solid food was necessary to balance the brew. The menu at Phantom Carriage is somewhat limited - more snacks than a complete meal - but the Labneh Cheese we ordered was so rich and filling it formed a completely satisfying combination with the ales and beers we tasted.
Besides the offerings on tap, Phantom Carriage sells bottled and canned brew, plus cider, barley wine, and sangria. The flavors rotate in and out (subject to change without "notice or remorse"); throughout the year there are special events to launch new blends, many of them limited editions available for a short time only. Consequently, the tasting experience can be quite different from month to month.
The Phantom Carriage Brewery Review: Conclusion
Overall, Phantom Carriage Brewery is more fun than frightening. What else would one expect with so many delicious beverages to enjoy? There are other horror-themed dispensers of alcoholic spirits in the southland (the Cauldron in Buena Park, The Vampire Lounge & Tasting Room in Beverly Hills), but the Phantom Carriage Brewery and Blendery has the advantage of its own in-house beverages. These are truly unique creations suited to the venue's theme, not mere renamed versions of traditional cocktails (e.g, a "Vampire Gimlet").
The only disadvantage is the drive to Carson, which is a bit long just to enjoy a round of ale and cheese; fortunately, the special events and the Wednesday Night Thrillers offer a little bit more to make the trip worthwhile. And in a way, the distance is a good thing; otherwise, we would be there drinking till closing every night.
The Phantom Carriage Brewery and Blendery is located at 18525 South Main Street, Carson, 90248. Hours are 3pm to 10pm Monday; 11:30am to 10pm Tuesday-through-Thursday; 11:30am to midnight Friday; noon to midnight Saturday; 11am to 6pm Sunday. Call (310) 538-5834 for more information, or visit: phantomcarriage.com.
Photographs copyright 2017 by Yuki Tanaka, Linda Truong