Wrapping up its run in Hollywood this weekend, Sinister Saloon: Night of the Kampus is a two-and-a-half-hour popup cocktail experience featuring an almost surreal collision of thematic elements – a holiday-themed haunted cowboy bar – but beneath the supernatural overlay beats the heart of a bawdy burlesque show featuring exotic dancers, musical performances, and live character interaction.
The closest recent comparison is Spirit Lounge: Macabre Manor, but with more emphasis on cabaret-style entertainment than horror ambience. Fans of spooky speakeasies should have a good time, but keep in mind that most spirits you encounter will be in the cocktails, and the performers reveal more bar skin than mysteries from beyond the grave.
Sinister Saloon Night of the Krampus Review: Old West Ghost Town Meets Christmas
Sinister Saloon: Night of the Kampus is set within Sassafras Saloon, a wonderful venue simulating an antique New Orleans bar, which to most eyes could pass for something out of an old Western movie. On top of this western setting, a sinister veneer has transformed the saloon into something resembling a haunted attraction, and then on top of that yet another decorative layer has added the Krampus element for the benefit of the holiday season. That’s a lot of theming squeezed into one venue, but it blends together well enough to create a novel setting for a sinister, seasonal event.
Skeletal humans, dogs, and horses have been joined by mechanical figures of Jack Frost, Santa Claus, and Krampus himself. An animatronic bartender pours a drink while asking you to name your poison (the display is courtesy of Scareventures, which offers Fright Nights at Alesmith Brewing Halloween haunt in San Diego). And all around, “festive” Christmas lights fail to disperse the gloom of flickering (artificial) candles, which make the sinister setting resemble a liminal space for gunslingers with one foot in the grave.
The interactive element is decidedly less sinister. Live characters mingle with the crowd: Beautiful dancers chat up customers before performing. A cowboy invites VIP guests upstairs for a card game. And a sad, perhaps deranged young woman cries out in despair for her lost husband (who may or may not actually exist). It is very entertaining but not necessarily spooky (though to be fair, the eerie element seems to vary from night to night according to the availability of live performers).
In addition, several vendors are comfortably tucked into the venue, including one called “Vegan Food by Liv,” which offers such tantalizing options as Red Velvet Oreo Cupcake.
Sinister Saloon Night of the Krampus Review: Cabaret & Burlesque
What Sinister Saloon: Night of the Kampus does provide in abundance is live performances. After the doors open at 8pm, guests have about a half-hour to hitch their spurs at the bar and have a drink before the Mistress of Ceremonies appears on the balcony overhead to introduce the acts, which mix burlesque dancers with musical performers. Mingled with her ribald introductions, the MC admonishes customers to tip the ladies and threatens comically over-the-top violence if any men dare to touch the dancers, who perform on the floor by the bar.
Because this is a burlesque show, the dancing is actually striptease (with pasties to avoid full topless nudity). In keeping with the seasonal theme, some women wear Santa caps or Krampus-horns in case any eyes happen to be looking in that direction. Snark aside, the performers are enjoyably slinky even before disrobing, and one or two have a trick up their…er…sleeves. The best of the bunch augmented her unveiling with some spectacular fire-breathing and fire-eating that had an incendiary effect (only figuratively) on the amazed crowd.
Alternating with the dancers were several singers. A Marilyn Monroe-esque chanteuse crooned “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” A country-and-western duo (male guitarist and female singer with an amazing range) put their spin on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” Best of the bunch was a balladeer named Marcus, who eschewed Christmas classics in favor or solo renditions (accompanying himself on electric guitar) of Billie Elish’s “Bad Boy” and Chris Izaak’s “Wicked Game” before appropriating the tune from “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” for some depressing lyrics (“There is no joy without you here”). His voice was not always as strong as it might have been, but he had the guitar chops to back himself up and the attitude to sell the performance to the audience.
Sinister Saloon Night of the Krampus Review: Premium Experience
The more expensive Premium admission offers a few bonus features: a drink ticket, a dessert, and a magic show upstairs. The dessert is just a gingerbread cookie, but the free cocktail is welcome since you are probably going to order at least one anyway. The magic show turns out to be the “card game” that cowboy named Hoyt offers to those wearing the premium admission wristband.
We have all seen card tricks but closeup table magic takes the experience into another realm, and here the prestidigitation is all the more amazing because the magician is virtually surrounded – viewed by a skeptical audience from about 270 degrees of a circle as they sit round the table and peel their eyes in search of trickery – but fail to pierce the veil.
The performance is enhanced by banter, some disparaging from other characters, but the magic remains the real star. The closer was a baffling trick which appeared to go wrong: the volunteer’s card was supposed to be a Two of Hearts, but Hoyt revealed a Queen of Hearts – which upon closer examination, revealed that the Queen was holding a Two of Hearts in her hand!
Sinister Saloon Night of the Krampus Review: Cocktails
Sinister Saloon: Night of the Krampus promises “themed elixirs” to go along with its cabaret entertainment, and the cocktail menu certainly delivers – although judging from the names, the theming is more E.A. Poe than Father Christmas. Libations on offer include “The Raven,” “Dream within a Dream,” Annabell Lee,” “The Black Cat,” “Mask of the Red Death,” and “The Cast of Amontillado.” (Teetotalers can take advantage of the non-alcoholic “Oval Portrait”).
In general, these are recognizable as variations on traditional cocktails. For example, “Morella’s Mule” is derived from the famous Moscow Mule, but in addition to the traditional recipe of vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer, customers can order the drink with gin, tequila, or whiskey instead.
On the advice of our hostess for the evening (thanks, Jacqueline!), we opted for “The Tell Tale Heart” (Jameson Black Barrel, Salted Caramel, Simple Syrup, Pechaud’s & Angostura Bitters), which was well balanced and slightly sweet. Strangely, we could not identify the caramel flavor; to our palate, the combination of ingredients suggested something closer to licorice but without the cloying intensity we associate with the flavor of absinthe-based cocktails.
Based on our previous experience at Sassafras Saloon (which hosted the Stardust immersive show last year), we anticpated that the cocktails would be good, and The Tell Tale Heart certainly lived up to our expectations.
Sinister Saloon Night of the Krampus Review: Conclusion
Sinister Saloon: Night of the Krampus bills itself as an “Old West Burlesque Cocktail Experience,” and it certainly lives up to that description. To some extent the Krampus decor feels like an overlay to make the event (which ran earlier this year simply as “Sinister Saloon”) feel relevant during the year-end holidays. Customers seeking an eerie immersive experience will certainly enjoy their surroundings, even though the entertainment is more salacious than sinister.
As a cabaret-style show, Sinister Saloon: Night of the Krampus delivers so much bawdy fun that it feels wrong to criticize it for not being haunted enough. The parade of performers is so well paced that it is nearly impossible to become bored. There is always something new about to happen, with just enough time in between to cozy back to the bar for another drink before turning eyes back to the next act, whether its a Christmas crooner or a fire-eating burlesque dancer.
Sinister Saloon: Night of the Krampus
1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
The theme of Sinister Saloon: Night of the Krampus is mostly an overlay on a western-themed burlesque show, but it’s a good show, so it’s hard to be disapointed by the dearth of scare-actors among the cast of characters “haunting” the experience. Still, because it falls a little short of what the title promises, we are giving a three-star review to the General Admission Experience.
Overall, the $39.99 cover charge for general admission is worth the price, especially considering that there is no minimum drink purchase required, and the cocktail prices are reasonable.
The Premium experience is worth the extra $30. It includes a cocktail, which would cost you approximately $15, so you are really paying only an extra $15 for admission to the upstairs magic show, which is very good and really benefits from being a value-added item available only to a small audience, who can peruse the card tricks up close and still not figure them out.
Final performances of Sinister Saloon: Night of the Kampus take place this weekend, on Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 6pm and 9pm, and Sunday at 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are $39.99 for general admission and $79.99 for premium admission; the later includes a welcome cocktail and dessert in addition to access to the experience. Tickets are available here. The show is presented by Midnight Souls and Witches Brew Events. You can visit the Witches Brew website here or get specific information about Night of the Krampus here. Sassafras Saloon is located at 1233 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Sinister Saloon Night of the Krampus: Photo Gallery
Photographs copyright 2023 Steve Biodorowski