It’s November 1983. Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” is topping the charts, Wayne Gretzky is playing for the Edmonton Oilers, and Will Byers has gone missing. Ok, maybe that last one didn’t actually happen, but it took place on Netflix and that’s good enough.
If you don’t know who Will Byers is, then get on to Netflix and start watching Stranger Things STAT. But in a nutshell, the show is about a 12 year old boy, Will, who mysteriously disappears and the subsequent investigation by his mother, his friends, and a police chief to uncover his whereabouts. The search for Will leads them to supernatural forces, fearsome beasts, a girl with special abilities, and an alternate dimension, known as The Upside Down. This post is all about Edinburgh’s own “The Upside Down” – the Stranger Things themed bar by The Pop Up Geeks.
You may remember a previous post about Blood & Wine, the Game of Thrones pop up bar (if you haven’t read that one yet, you should totally check it out here). Well, the latest endeavour by The Pop Up Geeks takes us back to the 1980s for vibrant synth-pop tunes, colourful drinks, and monsters lurking in the shadows. In the basement of Six Degrees North, The Pop Up Geeks have transported us to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Once again, the attention to detail is incredibly sharp and The Pop Up Geeks have put immense thought into the décor and menu of their pop up bar.
At street level, the bar is marked with a “Welcome to Hawkins” sign and an upside-down bike, as though Mike Wheeler has hurriedly thrown it aside in pursuit of his missing friend, Will. Upon entering the bar, the soft glow of fairy lights gives visitors a false sense of security because not five feet away, a Demogorgan is climbing out of the wall. A smoke machine under the Demogorgan periodically clouds the room, reminding patrons that this alien creature brings with it impending doom.
The entire venue is adorned with memorabilia and props that take you back to a simpler time. Film posters for Alien, The Evil Dead, and The Thing hang on the walls, harking back to a ripe era in sci-fi history. On each table there is a relic that will make 80s and 90s kids smile: a VHS cassette with a custom made “The Upside Down” label and a lit up tape reel. This artifact (let’s face it, VHS cassettes and VCRs are in museums now) brought back memories of childhood trips to Blockbuster and the good ol’ “Be kind, please rewind” rhyme that encouraged renters to not be inconsiderate d-bags. The time period is further brought to life with a light-up Coca Cola sign glowing behind a row of Dungeons & Dragons books. Old 80s records and vinyl covers add character to walls, while a variety of old board games are strewn across the tables, including the special Baby Boomer edition of Trivial Pursuit.
As if this weren’t enough, the audio-visual element of the bar is “on point” as the kids say nowadays. The playlist churns out classic 80s hits like Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf”, Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Elton John, The Police, Eurythmics, New Order, and The Smiths also featured in the vast playlist that kept spirits on an 80s high. A few screens in the bar added to the ambiance, with one playing Stranger Things episodes and the others playing classic 80s fare like The Shining, Stand By Me, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
And of course, in keeping with the theme, the bar recreates Stranger Things scenes. Joyce Byers’ alphabet wall is front and centre. While sipping a drink, you can’t help but wish for a cryptic message from a paranormal dimension to flicker in the lights. In a nearby corner, Eleven’s blanket fort beckons you in with hanging sheets, soft cushions, plush toys, and a walkie talkie. And then there are the drinks…
The drinks menu is an ode to 80s pop culture and the Stranger Things series itself. In the Hard Shakes category, you can choose from 4 options inspired by 80s song titles:
- Sweet Dreams – rum, banana, and dark chocolate;
- Burning Down The House – rye whiskey and salted caramel;
- I’m Still Standing – bourbon, coffee, and mint;
- Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues – vodka, white chocolate and orange.
The I Scream Floats are named after films like The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Thing. You’ll be happy to know that the flavour combinations are fun and intriguing. An American Werewolf in London – for example – is a Dr. Pepper float with a Glenfiddich 12yo and honeycomb and salted caramel ice cream. For a fruitier palate, the Child’s Play float combines cherry Coke with a bourbon, shortcrust and cherry ice cream. Alternatively, you may just want some solo scoops of boozy ice cream and the Demogorgan’s Kiss – a sloe gin, brandy and white chocolate ice cream – can help you out with that.
As for the cocktails, The Pop Up Geeks have created tall and short drink pairings. While the tall drinks represent the classic cocktails of the 80s, the short drinks embody their Upside Down alternatives. For instance, the Pina Colada (golden rum, pineapple, coconut, milk, cream) is countered by the Escape, a short cocktail made with pineapple, rum, coconut, and lime. Similarly, the Tequila sunrise (tequila, orange juice, grenadine) becomes Sunset Over Hawkins (mezcal, maraschino and orange bitters) in the Upside Down.
I opted for 3 drinks, all of which I very much enjoyed. First up, the Sweet Dreams shake: it was smooth, dead tasty and just boozy enough. I probably could have handled a pint of this stuff! I loved that the glass bottle came equipped with a “Have you seen me?” tag detailing Will Byers’ appearance and his mother’s contact number. It’s exactly what you’d expect to see in Hawkins during Will’s disappearance. These little touches make this pop up bar a unique experience and they rightfully uphold The Pop Up Geeks’ reputation as creative trailblazers in Edinburgh’s bar scene.
The Pina Colada was bright, big, and fruity – my kind of cocktail. The slice of pineapple and the orange umbrella gave the drink an “Isla Bonita” kind of 80s vibe. The flavours in the drink came together well so needless to say that I had no problem gulping it down. And I ended with the Tequila Sunrise which was topped with a mini umbrella, a slice of orange, and a maraschino cherry. Again, the drink was vibrant, the flavour was pleasant, and the maraschino cherry added a gentle sweetness.
One last thing before I sign off: I noticed on the menu that an Eggo waffle could be added to the Demogorgan’s Kiss so I inquired if it were possible to get just waffles. Of course it was! Yes! The menu item is a cute nod to Eleven’s fondness of the American snack and in my mind, it was essential to get waffles. In honour of Eleven’s badassery, my table ordered 2 portions of waffles with vanilla ice cream, one with caramel sauce and the other with chocolate sauce. They were delicious (and much better than Eggo waffles, which I thought were awesome as a kid, but they are quite disappointing as an adult). I’d recommend getting a plate of the better-than-Eggo waffles while visiting the Upside Down!
The Pop Up Geeks have done a fantastic job with this themed bar and you should definitely visit! The Upside Down is open for a limited time only – it runs until October 31st every Sunday to Friday from 4pm until late. So don’t miss your chance for an 80s throwback that will get you buzzed on good music, good vibes, and good drinks!