Is there no greater sign of the changes in event culture than the Pop-Up? From the Saved By The Max a Saved By The Bell Pop-Up cafe to Beetlehouse the Beetlejuice (and Tim Burton world) themed bar to Twin Peaks Roadhouse, Pop-Ups are the new way to place yourself in some of your favorite TV shows and films. But, while the attention to detail and Instagram photo ops abound, the limit of most Pop-Ups is a visit to a piece of the world. Pose by the iconic Saved By The Bell lockers, meet Jack Skellington or order a piece of cherry pie from the Roadhouse. These have been the limits.
Until Grunge Shop Tavern, a 90’s Seattle themed Pop-Up located at Brack Shop Tavern in Downtown LA. The February 11th event (now their second) began at 7pm and ran until 12am… and I was very late. Arriving at 11pm, I didn’t know what would still be happening. But, hey, I’m a curious chick who had adopted “grunge” culture in high school well after it had faded into memory. I was down to poke around. I entered Brack Shop Tavern (525 W. 7th St.) and after receiving a flyer for the band Gutter Bucket I was introduced to Cam Sampson, the mastermind behind a totally immersive love letter to 90’s grunge. Affable and energetic, Cam is a Pacific Northwest transplant working in the art department for TV and film who hated to see the worlds they built trashed at the close of production. And so Grunge Shop Tavern was born.
Immediately she offered me a drink from the carefully curated menu with names such as “Mookie Tai”, “DB Cooper” and (my choice) the “Superunknown”. Despite its unlisted ingredients, it was a fine drink. She walked me past set pieces such as a wall of reprinted vintage band posters pasted below a TV replaying old school 90’s footage from MTV spots to the OJ Simpson trial. From there, we hit the hallway graced with loving REAL photos from past events and the time period itself as well as a small shrine to the real celebrity of the Northwest, Bigfoot.
“Let’s check out the loft!” Cam excitedly offered and, hell, I was already sold on Bigfoot but let’s go. As we ascended the stairs, the smell of incense wafted down and we stepped in a room I haven’t seen since I was a fifteen. Band posters hanging with one dangling corner. Wall hangings over a thick carpet across which a few patrons and the players lounged about. And in a corner, I swear to god, Mario 3 was set up ready to go. Every detail on that era, whether you were in Seattle or a small town in Virginia (me), was present and a nostalgic kick to the senses.
But what was the immersive element?
“There’s a story-arc.” explained Payden Ackerman the stage manager. The first event was set in 1991, Payden continued, with the band Gutter Bucket first hitting the scene while this second event was set in 1994 with the band in full swing but falling to the trappings of fame. Actors are spread around the scene with separate backstories and one story-arc, the rise and fall of Gutter Bucket under the watchful eye of bar proprietor Old Doug. Patrons are encouraged to explore, ask questions and become invested.
I decided to try a taste of this immersive element by sitting down with Cliff, lead singer of Gutter Bucket. This is our interview conducted under the watchful raised eyebrow of Old Doug.
CK: Favorite color?
CK: Favorite drug?
CK: Favorite groupie?
Cliff: My old lady, Claire.
CK: Most regretted tattoo?
Cliff: lifts his sleeve to reveal a black text… “YOLO”
He then offered me a sip of his beer (the second person to do so) and regaled me of patrons themselves building the lore of Gutter Punk and Old Doug via specific questions of past gigs and the patron’s own memories of the ‘90’s. Because, as Payden pointed out, the first event was a party. This second event was more intimate. “Now they know the game. We’re supporting the audience’s story.” Customers are supposed to come in, get a drink or some food and just hang. And you can see it! Even having arrived as things were winding down, I’ve already been pulled into the world. I couldn’t even tell if half the people I was talking to were in or out of character.
As I was about to leave, I sat down with Cam one more time outside on the patio. As we caught up, the entire troupe exploded through the doors chanting her name with affirmations of a job well-done. Shouts of “what year is it, man?” and “Grunge will never die!” rise over as they group hug, exemplifying exactly what they want their audience to experience and exactly what most Pop-Ups are missing. True connection through immersion.
Follow @_experiencesce_ on Instagram for info on the upcoming March 11th event. With plans for a six-month engagement in the future, now is the time to experience this unique immersive Pop-Up event.
From party to art, the grunge story.
Did I mention it’s only $5?