Halloween in Chicago is usually a time for haunted houses, corn mazes, and trips out to the suburbs to go jack-o’-lantern hunting at the area’s best pumpkin patches. This year, though, spooky season will get a bit boozier when the Black Lagoon—an immersive, horror-themed cocktail pop-up—opens at the Dandy Crown in River West for what’s set to be a frightening drinking experience.
Conceived by bartenders Erin Hayes and Kelsey Ramage, Black Lagoon started last year in Toronto as a pop-up designed for Halloween lovers. The two friends wanted to create a space where patrons could dress up and immerse themselves in a creepy, goth-tinged Halloween aesthetic (think skulls, stand-up coffins, fog machines, occult-inspired decor and a metal music soundtrack) while enjoying expertly-mixed cocktails.
“We both just have a love for Halloween and the macabre, and we found that all the goth clubs in Toronto had closed,” Ramage says. “We just didn’t see anything like [Black Lagoon] existing, and it was something that we would love to hang out at.”
Following the pop-up’s successful 2021 stint in Toronto, Hayes and Ramage are bringing Black Lagoon to nine cities across North America this fall, each chosen for its unique drinking scene. In Chicago, the duo is working with the branding agency Hospitality 201 and the Dandy Crown to bring Black Lagoon to life.
“We wanted to find communities where there was at one point or another a strong counterculture community—you know, metal-heads and big, happening alternative scenes—but also places where there are incredible cocktail communities,” Ramage says. “Because both things are equally important.”
Unlike the kitschy, pumpkin-flavored cocktails served at many seasonal pop-ups—or the simple beer and whiskey shot combos found at punk dive bars, for that matter—Black Lagoon takes a serious approach to mixology, drawing on Ramage and Hayes’ lengthy experience in the beverage industry. (Ramage runs a cocktail consulting and education company in Toronto while Hayes, who previously worked at Lost Lake, directs the beverage program at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.) But despite their industry bonafides, drinks are still imbued with playful touches and come in shades across the Halloween color palette: Blood Rage combines beet juice, falernum and mezcal for a smoky, blood red sipper; while Lilith’s Cup riffs on a negroni with Mount Gay black barrel rum, Aperol, vermouth, sour passionfruit and a dusting of glitter. Several of the drinks are served in Halloween glassware that’s available for purchase onsite.
Hayes and Ramage say each pop-up location will look slightly different, but Chicago guests can expect to wander around a graveyard area stocked with animatronics and other creepy elements, which can be previewed alongside the drink menu during a preview event on September 7 before the pop-up launches full-time in October. The duo hope that Black Lagoon will draw in local Halloween lovers from all walks of life, whether you’re an aging goth kid, a twenty-something in search of Instagrammable experiences or somewhere in between.
“Halloween is one of those holidays where if you’re into it, you’re really into it,” Hayes says. “I think that any Halloween lover is going to have a really great time and that people will really appreciate the music and the vibe—it’s definitely not your kid’s Halloween party situation.”
Black Lagoon will host a preview event at the Dandy Crown (694 N Milwaukee Ave) on September 7 from 7pm-midnight before opening full-time from October 3-31. Hours for the regular pop-up are Monday-Thursday 3pm-midnight, Friday 3pm-2am, Saturday noon-3am and Sunday noon-midnight.