As its Instagram bio reads, Horror Bar is “a cocktail bar for fans of the strange and unusual.” But you don’t have to have all of John Carpenter’s movies memorized to thoroughly enjoy yourself here. According to owner Nate Szklarski, the half-chic, half-spooky interior of his new bar has already created a comfort zone for an eclectic crowd beyond just horror devotees, a bonus he didn’t anticipate.
“I had this whole demographic in my head that we were shooting for,” he says. What he didn’t expect, however, was “the variety of people that showed up who found something to love.”
Szklarski admits that initially, he assumed there were enough weird-loving cinephiles to make a seemingly niche concept work. But that group doesn't account for the lines down the block as people scramble to get in the doors and get their eyeballs on Colfax’s latest attraction.
The Horror Bar concept combines his interest in "horror films, cult movies and weird stuff” with his experience in the food and beverage industry. And as he correctly notes, there's really nothing else like it in the Denver market. He's also a tattoo artist and owned an art gallery before he came up with the notion: Visits to sports bars (he's not actually interested in sports) sparked the idea of creating something similar, but with a change in decor and what's playing on TV.
For Szklarski, the process was gradual, the culmination of jotting things down as they occurred to him — cocktail concepts, films to show, immersive events. He told himself that if the bar still seemed like a good concept after a full year of “collecting ideas,” he was going to go for it.
Friend and Bellwether owner Josh Schmitz was key in helping Szklarski get Horror Bar up and running. What initially started as a pop-up concept in the space soon transformed into something more fleshed-out that demanded its own arena, and Schmitz was excited and willing to help make that happen. “Sometimes you have to put things down to let new things grow,” says Szklarski, “utilizing what you have and making more out of it.”
Horror Bar certainly makes more of the space that had been Bellwether, transforming it with horror-centric gimmicks. “Gimmicks can be so good; they’re so interactive for customers," Szklarski explains. "We’re embracing being left-of-center, taking influence from cults, cinema and from things outside of your actual surroundings.”
He describes the interactive nature of Horror Bar’s atmosphere as a “funhouse feel,” with a bell to ring for every pivotal, gory moment in a movie and a bathroom covered floor to ceiling with horror film characters’ heads. “I just thought, ‘Where do I want to go? Where would I like to visit, or work?’” he explains.
The answer involved more than the decor and the movies he planned to show; he wanted whatever's being sent across the bar to be high-quality, too. “I wanted to challenge the stereotypical cocktail scene,” Szklarski says. “We want to be a good bar in general.” With that goal in mind, he built a bartending team with a stellar background, resulting in a menu that rivals some of Denver’s most popular cocktail destinations.
On tap are brews by Cerebral, Fiction and TRVE; there's also a nitro line from Queen City Collective Coffee, for those looking to stay awake for late-screening films. Cocktails include a tropical King Kong ode made with Nutella rum and banana liqueur, as well as the bar’s own play on a rum tiki drink, complete with gummy eyeball as garnish.
As for the films in the lineup, Szklarski started with his own huge collection and considered a number of factors about the movies — some old, some new, some highly regarded, some with intense cult followings. Certain weeks will have themes “to keep things fun and weird and wild,” he promises.
Horror Bar is located at 5126 East Colfax Avenue and is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily. No tickets or reservations are required; guests must be at least 21 years old. Follow along on Horror Bar’s Instagram page for upcoming film screenings, events and more information.