As the elevator doors to an upper level of the theater lobby opens, I hear John Williams’ Star Wars score mixing with modern hip-hop. I follow the music around the corner to see what appears to be a cockpit in front of me. This is the cantina I’m looking for.
Galaxy Bar in Hollywood is a Star Wars-themed pop-up bar located within the TCL Chinese Theatre complex at Hollywood and Highland. An overlay of the already standing VIP bar on the second floor, Galaxy Bar utilizes projections, masks, and props to create a drinking spot that seems to be in a different part of space that’s a long way from here.
Creating a great pop-up experience is a tricky challenge. The location needs to balance any pragmatic goals of the space (in this case, a bar) with the types of immersive elements that generate excitement from fans as well as the requirements of matching (or avoiding) IP rules. Unfortunately, while some aspects of the location show promise, Galaxy Bar does not meet the challenge completely.
The design of the bar itself looks great thanks to the very smart choice of projecting an image of a spaceship cockpit onto the circular doorway that dominates the space. It’s a clever way to transform the space and it is strikingly cool. Having a wristband that changes to various Star Wars colors to the beat of the bar’s music is also a cool and fun item. The rest of the décor is appropriate to the theme with storm trooper, Darth Vader, and rebel helmets strewn around with laser weapons, and even a 5-foot-tall replica of an Imperial AT-AT walker. The items all fit the franchise, but the number of them feels sparse and does not fill the space effectively. To complement the props, utilize the space better, and add to the immersive factor, it would be smart to add a few live actors decked out in alien costumes to interact with the guests.
Another choice that turns out to be a mixed bag is the decision to have a live DJ mix music while images from across the Star Wars universe play on a big-screen display. While music is common in the movie cantinas, mixing modern sounds is a little thematically jarring from a design standpoint. It comes across as an incomplete idea that could be modified to include more appropriate songs or styles, ones that could feel as if they came from the movies.
Finally, as a pop-up bar, themed drinks are typically part of the experience. Galaxy Bar covers this expectation with special concoctions such as The Blue Force, The Red Force, and The Mindtrick, with many of the drinks including dry ice to create a smoking, bubbling element that feels a little out-of-this-world. But at a price point of $16 per drink, the bar may be pricing itself out of having customers stay any longer than it takes for them to finish that first drink. If the bar wants its patrons to hang out, different levels of cost might be a more effective option.
Pop-up locations can be a great deal of fun when enough elements come together to allow audience members to feel as though they’re “in” the world or franchise they’re hoping to inhabit. Galaxy Bar gets some of the pieces right for such an experience but other pieces fall a little flat. With some tweaks to the idea, this bar could be a much stronger draw. Here’s hoping Galaxy Bar makes those tweaks – and maybe even contemplates bringing an alien or two to hang out there as well. If they do that, they’ll be much closer to giving us the feel of long, long ago.