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The Immersive Bar Experience

Immersive experiences are taking the world by storm with entertainment and leisure time activities evolving with this craze. From escape rooms to competitive socialising, we are constantly seeking ways to transform ordinary days/nights out into extraordinary adventures.

Immersive bar experiences are no exception to this rule, where creativity and enjoyment collide to create unforgettable nights for those seeking more than just a drink.

Captivating the imaginations of social butterflies and adventurous spirits alike, the rise of immersive bar experiences cater to those looking for more than the usual pub quiz.

With thematic decor, mesmerising lighting, and a blend of interactive entertainment, immersive bars have unlocked a new level of sensory delight. From being locked behind bars to unravelling mysteries in a secret speakeasy, these immersive settings transport visitors to worlds beyond their wildest dreams. As an immersive design agency, we make it our mission here at Imagineerium to head out and experience what our collaborators and direct competitors are getting up to and love seeing the wondrous imagination that goes into some of these remarkable spaces. So fasten your seatbelts, as we dive into the immersive bar scene and discover the magic that awaits within.

Potion Bar - Source


The Rise of Immersive Bars

In recent years, the nightlife scene has undergone a remarkable transformation with high street nightclubs closing down to the emergence of immersive bars. These immersive bar experiences range from wine party tour buses that transport guests across London to magical potions classes around cocktail cauldrons at Potion Bar. (pictured above)

The Imagineerium team at Bristol’s Flight Club, Bristol

After visiting Alcotraz Prison Bar in London last month, as well as, Flight Club in Bristol, the team got into a discussion about the different immersive bars they had been too, even remembering back to their first experiences at the likes of Evans & Peel Detective Agency, and Callooh Callay, home of the “speakeasy wardrobe to Narnia.”

These experiential wonderlands have rapidly gained popularity and become the go-to destinations for influencers, trendsetters, and those looking for a chance to step into a world where reality blurs. But what exactly has sparked this rise of immersive bars?

One ingredient is the growing desire for unique and memorable experiences. In an age where social media dominates, people crave experiences that are not only enjoyable but also shareable. Immersive bars provide the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy moments and stories that will leave friends envious.

Additionally, immersive bars offer a break from the monotony of traditional nightlife. Instead of simply sitting at a bar or waiting for your favourite song to play before you brave the disco lights of the dancefloor, people can step into an entirely different world. From immersive theatrical performances to intricately designed spaces that transport visitors to fantasy realms, these bars offer an escape from reality, even if just for a few hours.

The success of immersive bars can also be credited to their ability to cater to a diverse range of interests. Whether you're a fan of fantasy, science fiction, history, or simply enjoy being immersed in a vibrant and eccentric atmosphere, there's an immersive bar out there for everyone.

Members of the Imagineerium team enjoying time at Alcotraz Prison Bar, London

As word spreads and social media buzzes with exciting photos and stories, immersive bars have gained a devoted following. They have become destinations that people actively seek out when planning a night out, making them a driving force in shaping the evolving landscape of nightlife and the immersive experience industry as a whole.

What sets an Immersive Bar apart from the rest?

As previously noted in our blog, The Psychology behind Immersive Experiences, we know that ‘immersive experiences ignite imagination, engage with emotions and have the potential to transform.’ Step inside an immersive bar and you'll find yourself in a realm that enables all of these encounters, a scenario where reality seamlessly blends with fantasy. From unique themes to innovative drinks, these captivating environments are meticulously crafted to stand-out or remain as secretive as they desire.

Let's explore the key elements that come together to create such immersive atmospheres.

Entrance is key

Now we all like to make an entrance, or to at least take our friends to unexpected places through unexpecting doors, and the immersive bar industry has taken the opportunity to offer just that. La Cabina often comes to mind when we think about that secret entrance. Unfortunately, it has permanently closed, but back in the day you would receive a four digit code upon booking. To enter you would need to punch this into a telephone box on Kingsland Road and the back of this false phone booth would swing open, revealing a staircase down to the secret East London bar.

Entrance to La Cabina - Source

Another one we love for their feeling of discreteness is The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. A secret bar beneath The Breakfast Club in Shoreditch, which you enter through a retro-looking SMEG fridge after telling a member of staff you need to see the Mayor. As awkward as this may sound, it is the only way you will gain entrance to the bar so we recommend pushing your most confident friend to the front to speak up.

It's not every day you get to enter a hidden wonderland through seemingly uninviting doors, fridges, mirrors and more, so we really think this is a wonderful concept to entice people into a whole new world and begin their immersive experience before they have even stepped foot into the venue.

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town - Source

Thematic Decor

One of the fundamental aspects of an immersive bar is its unique theme that is usually represented in its decor. The interior design, furnishings, props, all the way down to the drinkware are carefully chosen to align with a specific concept or narrative.

Whether it's a whimsical fairytale land or a nostalgic retro setting, the thematic decor sets the stage and is the foundation for the immersive experience. Every detail, from the wall decorations to the furniture and even the staff's attire, contributes to the overall ambiance that can fully immerse revellers in the bar's world. Cahoots is a perfect example of a bar experience that prides itself on staying true to its 1940s theme.

Cahoots - Source

Lighting and Sound Design

Lighting and sound play a crucial role in heightening the immersive atmosphere. From vibrant and energetic to mysterious and intimate, lighting sets the tone and guides visitors through the immersive journey. Coupled with soundscapes, ambient sounds, and even music indicative of the theme, the audiovisual experience becomes a powerful portal to another realm.

Interactive Elements

Immersive bars often incorporate interactive elements that engage and captivate customers, offering a more memorable drinking experience. Live performances, such as immersive storytelling, theatrical shows, acrobatics, or themed dances, bring the bar to life and allow guests to become part of the unfolding narrative. Interactive installations, like interactive art displays or touch-responsive surfaces, invite guests to actively participate in the experience. Cutting-edge technology, such as projection mapping, virtual reality or augmented reality experiences, can push the boundaries of immersion even further, as they blur the lines of reality even more.

ABQ - Source

Some standout examples include, ABQ, a molecular cocktail cooking bar inspired by Breaking Bad, and Moonshine Saloon from the creators of Alcotraz, where the concept of smuggling your liquor in is the main goal.

Moonshine Saloon - Source

Unique Beverage Offerings

When it comes to the menu at these bars there is an element of other-worldly exploration with the offering to try some of the most weird and wild drinks out there. From specialty cocktails, to themed drinks, and molecular mixology, a broad and bold menu can elevate the sensory experience for the visitors. However, it doesn’t stop at blends that tantalise the taste buds, presentation is important too and the overall atmosphere can be affected by how visually appealing and in keeping with the theme the drinks are.

Hyde & Co is one of Bristol’s original speakeasy cocktail bars, and has a reputation for award-winning, creative cocktails that infuses tastes that have never been explored before.

Hyde & Co - Source

As a team we also recently took ourselves to The Milk Thistle on Bristol’s Colston Avenue, an establishment that prides itself on weird and wonderful cocktail concoctions, influenced by the old-time classics. Full of elaborate decor that differentiates over the four floors and takes inspiration from its truly unique and historic architecture, The Milk Thistle radiates Victorian charm as it transports visitors to another time and taste sensation.

Attentive and Well-Trained Staff

The staff members themselves contribute significantly to the overall immersive ambiance of the bar, creating a seamless integration between the narrative and the customer's journey. From bartenders who embody the spirit of the theme to waitstaff who engage in character, the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff is what elevates the immersive atmosphere, solidifying the alternative reality.

By combining all of these things, immersive bars curate environments that transcend the ordinary. Immersing attendees in extraordinary realms, blurring the line between fiction and reality, and offering a truly unforgettable experience. This was certainly the case when we headed to the Alcotraz Prison Bar Experience in London last month as part of an Immersive Experience Network Huddle. We caught up with one of the team to find out what they thought...

Our Alcotraz Prison Bar Experience

What stood out for you most about the experience?

Saz: For me, the way the experience engages you from the start. From having our mugshot taken, to changing into overalls, and then waiting to go to my cell, I actually felt nervous, but also had the urge to rebel so I was ready to go rogue and misbehave!

Did you feel fully immersed into the prison atmosphere?

S: I did, the set design was great! The space was large which meant it was easy to get lost, but in a good way, The performers had great banter, and I soon learned that they could be corrupted for the right price…

Would you recommend the experience to others?

S: Absolutely, this is a great introduction to immersive/themed experiences. It is not a show with a narrative, but a playable themed night out, giving the opportunity to engage without it being forced on you. I think it was an ideal showcase for those that have not experienced this type of night out before, and once immersed in the experience there was just the right amount of intensity that enabled plenty of chances for one to play along if they wished…and of course, I did!

Final Thoughts

With the boundaries of traditional nightlife ever-changing and evolving, immersive bars beckon with promises of extraordinary experiences that can put a whole new perspective on socialising. These vibrant havens have captivated the hearts and imaginations of many pub dwellers, offering an escape from the ordinary into places of enchantment and wonder.

The demand for immersive bars, much like competitive socialising venues, has risen as the prominence for unique and shareable experiences has grown. With their thematic decor, mesmerising lighting, interactive elements and thoughtfully curated soundscapes, these bars transport patrons to worlds far beyond their wildest dreams. They immerse guests in narratives that invite them to become active participants in their own extraordinary stories.

Immersive bars are the epitome of experiential entertainment.

Whether you find yourself exploring the secrets of a hidden speakeasy, stepping into a futuristic utopia, or unravelling mysteries in a mystical forest, each visit is a chance to embark on an exciting adventure.

Dedicated staff members who fully embody the spirit of the immersive experience, play an integral role in the seamless integration of narrative and the guests’ journey, with unique beverages being the “cherry on the top.”

So next time you plan to meet friends at the local pub why not swap it for an immersive bar experience - where reality blurs and imagination takes flight. Cheers to an unforgettable journey…

Imagine that!


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