A new London cocktail bar opening tonight vows to bring a slice of San Francisco across the pond, but Alcotraz, which recreates the historic American prison as a bar theme (with a criminal pun of a name) might be... a misplaced effort. Explained as a speakeasy-style bar experience in which visitors must first don orange jumpsuits, the idea didn’t inspire confidence with Eater London, who have already greeted the news with eyebrows arched.
“Inspired by America’s most infamous prison, Alcotraz is an immersive drinking experience of the highest kind,” the pitch goes. “From the orange jumpsuits upon entrance, to the cold metallic cells, Alcotraz becomes the perfect backdrop to enjoy a drink within an epic yet intimate environment.”
On its website, Alcotraz appears deeply committed to its prison theme, writing in a FAQ section that “Alcotraz is an Adult Offenders Institution and, therefore, you must be aged 18 or over.” A reservation at the bar can be made by clicking on a button that reads “Serve Your Time” and costs £30 — but drinkers must “smuggle” in their own booze, which other inmate impersonators will mix. Per the pitch, “When convicted to Alcotraz, inmates are transported into the world of contraband, bribery and smuggling within the prison.”
Anyone familiar with America’s criminal justice system might have trouble swallowing the idea of Alcotraz, but Londoner Sam Shearman, founder of Inventive Productions and the creator of the bar, insists it’s not in poor taste. Closed more than 50 years ago, Alcatraz — while no party — is itself one of San Francisco’s largest tourist attractions. In fact, Shearman has visited three times, collecting postcards and memorabilia that will be displayed at Alcotraz.
“The purpose of the bar is not to romanticize any wrongdoing,” Shearman tells Eater SF. “The bar just gently opens the door to fiction and TV showing Alcatraz,” aspects of the prison that Shearman says are already commercialized in films like Escape from Alcatraz and The Rock.
For drinks, one wonders, will Alcotraz serve up cocktails named for Capone or the Birdman? For better or worse, that’s not the case. According to the bar’s website, “You won’t find a set menu of drinks here…after all, it is prison!”
That’s some interesting escapism.