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Review: Macabre Manor materializes in Montclair

Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor is a spooky speakeasy offering live entertainment and delicious spirits in a delightfully haunted setting.

Note: Since original publication on September 16, this post has been updated with a review and photographs.

Looking for a way to imbibe Halloween spirits this Fall? Look no further than Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor at The Set in Montclair. The Set is a speakeasy, hidden within That 80s Bar, which offers a 100-minute immersive experience themed to the season. At other times of the year, patrons may find themselves aboard a submarine or a starship; this autumn, during the months from September to November, The Set is transformed into a spooky speakeasy, complete with photo ops, interactive surprises, a themed drink menu, and roaming characters visiting your table or performing on stage.

If the concept sounds familiar, the reason is that Spirit Lounge debuted at a Brea location in 2019, produced by the Sinister Pointe Productions. After going on hiatus during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, the event has been resurrected in its new location, with an expanded title, promising an “eerie fusion of The Munsters and The Addams Family.”


Spirit Lounge Macabre Manor Review: Introduction

Since writing the above post, Hollywood Gothique has trekked out to Montclair to enjoy the delicious delights haunting Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor. Read on for details…if you dare!

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The only unfortunate aspect of Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor is the manner in which the event under-sells itself. The official description on The Set’s website is loaded with generic phrases such as “ghoulish delights,” “photo ops,” and an “immersive Halloween-themed experience” – the kind of language that suggests the copywriter is struggling to find something worth hyping. The description leads you to believe you will spend an hour or two in decorated bar drinking cocktails – which is nice if you live in the neighborhood, but is it worth a making a special trip?

The answer is an emphatic yes. Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor is everything we could have hoped for – and more. Yes, it is a Halloween-themed popup bar, but there is more to it than delicious drinks and delightful decor. The venue is haunted by costumed characters, who wander from table to table, giving you their personal attention, and there is a small stage area where live entertainment takes place. Characters and entertainers may change from night to night, so your experience may vary, but ours was wonderful.


Spirit Lounge Macabre Manor Review: The Set

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Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor takes place inside The Set, but since The Set is a speakeasy hidden inside That 80s Bar, the only sign you will see from the road is for the parent establishment. Convenient parking is located at a swap meet across the street. Once you cross over to the parking lot, you will see a separate line to the left of the main entrance, where you check in and wait for your appointed time to enter. You can also pre-order your first cocktail so that it will be ready when you get inside.

Entering That 80s Bar is a bit of a disorienting experience. The place is loud and boisterous – exactly the opposite of the quietly haunted experience you are expecting. However, you will be led past the main room, toward the back, and through storage areas until you reach an unmarked door. Passing through this portal takes you into another world; the noise and adrenaline of That 80s Bar fades away, replaced by spooky vibes and decorations that are sinister and yet strangely welcoming.

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Simultaneously evoking the spirit of Halloween and the era of the speakeasy, a recorded playlist fills the air with novelty songs from a bygone era as you take your seat at an assigned table and soak up the spectral ambiance while enjoying the first of your two-drink minimum. Around you the set design suggests the interior of a well preserved but nonetheless eerie mansion: morbid mementos adorn the walls, paintings spring briefly to life, and the windows reveal torrential rain along with the occasional glimpse of a shadowy figure peering inside. Looking up, you see paneled lighting with a variety of creepy-crawly critters skittering and slithering in silhouette: snakes, spiders, and cockroaches.

The closest equivalent we can recall is The Cauldron in Buena Park, but Spirit Lounge Macabre Manor is even more elaborately decorated, and the isolated nature of its speakeasy setting creates a sense of being cut off from the outside, quietly and comfortably ensconced in the kind of place you wish was open year round.

Or perhaps not quite so quietly. There are so many visual treats that you may find yourself acting like a ghost hunter granted admission to a haunted house, snapping photos and selfies of everything you see. Fortunately, there is plenty of time for you to bag your share of digital memories on your smart phone before you settle into your seat, finish your first drink, and wonder…what next?


The Spirit Lounge Macabre Manor Review: Performance

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You and the other outsiders are not the only ones inhabit this uncanny establishment. A ghoulish resident or two is on hand to welcome you to the macabre mansion like a gracious host. Pleasantries mix with secrets whispered in the ear, some of them ribald. With luck, you will find yourself entertained by a monstrous magician performing tableside tricks or encouraging you to try a wicked little game that delivers a shock to your finger (not too painful after a cocktail or two).

We were fortunate enough to enjoy a performance by Mudd the Magnificent, who dazzled us with some card tricks performed beneath our proverbial nose before taking to the stage for an energetic performance that mixed apparently supernatural feats of legerdemain with unexpected humor. He either pretended to botch half his tricks before successfully pulling them off or rhetorically asked audience members “Wouldn’t it be amazing if…?” before following up with “But I can’t do that.”

His most amazing trick involved a bit of audience participation, in which he first made an egg disappear from a small bag. then repeated the stunt – this time walking off the stage and leaving the bag in the hands of the volunteer. She was unable to find the missing egg inside the magic bag until, as Mudd had done before her, she turned the bag inside out, and there it was! Our hat is off to you, Mudd; you truly are magnificent.


The Spirit Lounge Macabre Manor Review: Cocktails

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Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor lives up to its claim of being the “Kookiest and Spookiest Immersive Themed Speakeasy” by incorporating cocktails named with The Addams Family in mind. The two named after the children, Pugsley and Wednesday, are mocktails, appropriately enough. Others include hard liquor, such as the whiskey-based Gomez Old Fashioned.

Fester’s Buzz Bulb (Gin, simple syrup, raspberry, and strawberry, along with fresh lemon for tartness) is an interesting, interactive concoction. It comes with the sweet ingredients mixed in the cocktail glass and the liquor in a light bulb-shaped decanter, allowing the customer to add the latter to suit herself – all at once or bit by bit, gradually changing the ratio. It’s a great way to make a drink fun as well as refreshing.

Not everything on the menu is themed to the Addams Family or even Halloween. Berried Alive (gin, Licor 43, fresh mint, strawberries, simple syrup), Uncle Kong (rum, dark chocolate liquor, macadamia nut Liquor, fresh banana), and Banana Ban-Chi: (vodka licor 43, latte di cocco, latte condensato, fresh banana) are good for drinkers with a taste for sweeter beverages. The last got a big thumbs up from Mrs. Hollywood Gothique.

Samara (Japanese rice whiskey, dark chocolate liquor, espresso liquor, heavy cream, espresso beans) and Caramia (rum, dark chocolate liquor, heavy cream, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cherry) are also sweet but more alcohol forward and richer thanks the the chocolate liquor. We recommend the Caramia as great sort of dessert drink to leave your tongue sweetly tingling as you leave.

We also sample the venue’s signature drink, The Set Vesper, made with Kettle One Vodka, Aviation American Gin, and a twist of lemon. It is not quite the classic Vesper Martini described by James Bond in Casino Royale, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. It is, as Bond said, strong and cold and very well made – just the thing to fortify your soul as you play card tricks with a mischievous magician at your table.

A small word of warning: The cocktail prices are rather high, cancelling out the reasonable cover charge. With tax and tip, the two-drink minimum plus the price of admission could easily add up to $75 per person. Fortunately, the quality will leave you feeling that your money was well spent.


The Spirit Lounge Macabre Manor Review: Conclusion

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Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor is not our first Halloween-themed popup bar, but it is the best, because it offers much more than a simple overlay of store-brought skulls and spiderwebs. Think of it as a mini-version of Haunted Soiree – it is roughly equivalent to spending your entire time at that event in the upstairs bar of the Nocturne Theatre, sipping drinks and watching the cabaret show. The Set has a much smaller footprint, so Macabre Manor is a much smaller show, but we fully enjoyed the 100-minute experience anyway. Halloween fans seeking a great way to bid farewell to the 2023 season should take advantage of its final days in November.

Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor (review)
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Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

We wanted to give Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor a five-star rating because, though small, it is absolutely perfect for what it is. However, we are knocking one star off only because, when the price of drinks is added to the price of admission, the total cost is roughly equivalent to much larger events like Haunted Soiree. Nevertheless, this is highly recommended.

The Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor concludes its run at The Set engagements on November 10 & 11. Entry times are 8pm & 10pm both nights, with an additional 6pm slot on Saturday. The Set is located inside That 80s Bar at 10555 S. Mills Avenue, Montclair CA 91763. Tickets are $10 on Thursday, $20 on Friday-Saturday. Plus, there is a two-drink minimum . Admission is restricted to ages 21 and up. Get more information at ExperienceTheSet.com.

The Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor Review: Photo Gallery

 

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.