As she walked down the dimly lit hall of a local pizzeria and bar, Vicki Buck had her eyes fixated not on the brick walls or populated booths surrounding her but on the glass door ahead of her that read “Neverland Experience.”
Through the glass, she could spot glittering twinkle lights illuminating the space, pirate flags strung across the ceiling and tropical greenery that seemed to be sprouting from the walls — none of which were typical of the average Columbus bar, but all of which appealed to what Buck was in pursuit of on her night out.
The Neverland Experience Bar is one of many pop-up bars created by global entity Viral Ventures, which one of the company’s U.S. regional managers, Hanna Blazer, said produces immersive pop-ups in various cities across the country. Located in the event and venue space of Harvest Pizzeria downtown, known as The Silo, the Columbus edition of the experience opened March 18, and Blazer said the bar’s Neverland-themed concept provides interactive experiences for all guests.
“This is not your style of going in, sitting down in a darkened theater and watching a performance happen in front of you,” Blazer said. “The action is happening all around you and to you. You are involved in everything that is happening.”
Buck, who attended the Columbus pop-up on March 30, said she relishes the visually stimulating atmosphere created by themed bar venues such as this one. Though she was invited by the Neverland Experience Bar’s promotional team to attend free of charge in exchange for posting about her experience on social media, Buck said she previously saw pictures of the event and had made plans to visit prior to being contacted because of its compelling ambience.
“It being Disney isn’t the draw for me,” Buck said. “It’s more the whole decorations, the whole immersive thing. It’s just like, when you go in there, it’s insane. Like their decorations are kind of next-level, honestly, and you really appreciate the visual effect of everything.”
Buck’s night at the Neverland Experience Bar began with a welcome from Captain Hook and the rest of the Jolly Roger’s crew, each of whom was played by real actors in costume. Frank Mullarkey, who frequently plays Captain Hook and is the event’s site manager, said the real fun begins after guests meet the ensemble of characters.
“I’ll put them through the wringer of proving their mettle or worth to join the crew by having them do a few different games,” Frank Mullarkey said. “Once they master all those skills, they go to the bar and get their prize, which is a big barrel full of grog filled with misty sticks so it smokes.”
Such games, Buck said, involve makeshift archery, a ring toss and knocking over tin cans, all of which were “turned pirate-y” in order to match the theme. Upon completing each station, Buck and other guests received golden doubloons, which they could then exchange for a cocktail at the bar.
In addition to the “pirate grog” that can be earned by audience members, Blazer said the $47 ticket price also includes an initial welcome drink as well as “the brew of belief,” a magical potion that is connected to the storyline of the actors’ performance. Blazer said the event also offers a full menu of cocktails such as “smoking fishbowls,” which are drinks served in a fishbowl that produce fog.
Megg Mullarkey, performer and bartender at the experience and Frank Mullarkey’s wife, said this is likely a factor in the event’s allure.
“It ticks a lot of entertainment boxes,” Megg Mullarkey said. “So the fact that it is Peter Pan, yeah, that is the theme of it. But it’s also a working bar; you’re getting this bespoke cocktail experience.
Though the actors interact with guests entirely in character throughout the 90-minute event, Megg Mullarkey, who is also an upcoming third-year graduate student in immersive theater at Ohio State, said the event allows for as much — or as little — character interplay as an audience member desires.
“I think like any immersive theater experience, it’s definitely what you put into it, you get out of it,” Megg Mullarkey said. “There’s some people who are not going to want to get up and perform and interact, there’s some people who just want to have their drinks and watch the show. But there are definitely some people who want to get in on the action. I think this format allows for both kinds of people.”
Despite stereotypes that may exist surrounding a Neverland-themed bar, Blazer said the event attracts a diverse audience.
“It is a very large cross-section of all different kinds of people,” Blazer said. “This is not something that has any kind of age limits or any kind of grouping that we can assign our audience to. It’s basically anyone who’s interested in coming out and trying something a little bit different than potentially what they’re used to.”
Regardless of an interest in Disney, singing pirates or Neverland-themed games and cocktails, Buck said the event is worth attending because of its distinctiveness from other bars.
“I don’t like just sitting in a bar and eating and drinking,” Buck said. “There’s so much more to do and so much more to see, it’s just not like going out and just getting a drink. You’re going out, getting a drink while you’re getting entertained and you get to see things you don’t see on a normal basis.”
The Columbus edition of the Neverland Experience Bar — set to close mid-June — currently offers performances Wednesday through Sunday, with an alcohol-free, family show Saturdays at 1 p.m. The event takes place at Harvest Pizzeria, located at 940 S. Front St. More information can be found on the event website.