This morning, a friend of mine in London announced on social media that “East London [was] dead to [him],” thanks to an announcement that a new Alcatraz-themed bar would be opening on Brick Lane, a street that once epitomized the very hippest elements of the UK’s capital.
Alcotraz (get it?) does indeed sound pretty terrible. For £30, you have to take your own liquor with you (which a bartender will then turn into a “tailored cocktail”), wear an orange jumpsuit, and spend an hour and 45 minutes inside the “cold metallic cells.”
“Alcotraz is an immersive drinking experience of the highest kind,” the website claims. “Alcotraz becomes the perfect backdrop to enjoy a drink within an epic yet intimate environment. When convicted to Alcotraz, inmates are transported into the world of contraband, bribery and smuggling within the prison… Just make sure the warden doesn’t catch you. Luckily, our working inmates have creative ways of hiding contraband.”
Alcotraz is not the first venue to try and capitalize on one of the Bay’s most famous tourist attractions. Tokyo’s (rather confusing) Alcatraz E.R. is a bar and restaurant where diners eat in cells, served by sexy nurses. Atlas Obscura notes: “The menu includes cocktails served out of syringes and bloody mannequin heads, pitchers of beer served in bedpan urinals, and a drink billed as ‘sperm juice,’ which is served with a banana carved to look like a penis.” Sounds totally reasonable!
The greatest insight into Alcatraz E.R. though, comes from the (often unintentionally hilarious) reviews on TripFinder. “The theming was slightly odd,” one reviewer says. “Wasn’t too sure where the range of sex toy themed food/drink and graphic artwork on the walls fit into the medical prison theme, but maybe I’m just naive.” Another writes: “We like the decoration, the real crazy monster frightening when it goes dark… enjoy cocktails, fun, and the toilet are terrific! Congratulations to the team! A must try but without kid.”
Alcatraz Discotheque in Spain has a token cell on the premises and a website that declares “NOBODY ESCAPES” (which is a pretty ominous message to send to women entering a nightclub, but okay…). It does appear to be situated in a location about as warm and welcoming as the real Alcatraz though. “Alcatraz disco is located in the heart of Lloret de Mar’s Partyzone,” the website tells us, “in the street between Burger King and McDonald’s.” Nice!
It should be noted that some of the world’s Alcatraz venues are putting in almost no effort at all to honor their namesake. Zagreb, Croatia has not one, but two Alcatraz-named bars that, though reasonably rough ‘n’ ready-looking, have no actual theme at all. Then there’s Hungary’s Alcatraz Music Bar and the Alcatraz Penal Bar in Davao City, Philippines, which are just massive dance clubs. Though the latter does use the prison’s silhouette in its logo, that’s about it. Does this look even vaguely prison-y to you?
Thailand’s Alcatraz Agogo calls itself “Pattaya’s most intoxicating Go-Go bar and nightclub” (it more closely resembles a strip club, actually), and promises “the beautiful prison wardens will take care of your every need and you’ll feel like the only man in the world with plenty of sexy inmates to keep you company? What’s going to be your last meal request?” Also: “With its unique prison theme, super high tech dance floor and beautiful go-go girls, there is something for everyone.” Really though? Everyone? Not just straight dudes? Because this place seems very specifically geared towards straight dudes. Anyhoo…
If you want to get really weird, Taiwan’s Eden Motel (where every room has a specific theme) has an “Alcatraz Island”-themed room available, that CBS Local says “includes prison bars, photos of locks, murals depicting stripe-wearing inmates, handcuff and barbed wire accents.” Sounds delightful! Other rooms available at the Eden include “Andy Warhol’s Rhapsody,” “Love Pufeng Wind,” and “Song and Dance Prostitute’s Town.” You get the idea…
Closer to home, there’s The Roc, a bar that acquired an Alcatraz and sports theme (interesting combo, there) after featuring on Spike reality show Bar Rescue. At the start of the episode, the Fisherman’s Wharf bar was called Fort One, had a mouse problem, mold in the ice machine, the rattiest couches in the world, and a ton of debt behind it. At the end, it had some photos of Alcatraz, Al Capone, and a couple of other prisoners on the walls. Yelp reviewers give the bartenders a lot of praise, but pretty much everything else a thumbs down.
All of which makes the actual prison look positively enticing. We’ll be sticking with the real Alcatraz, thanks.