Inside the main entrance to Times Scare is a coffin decorated with skulls and the skeleton of an angel with its tongue sticking out.
Merchandise sold in the lobby includes key chains displayed on skeletal fingers and T-shirts with the “I love NY” logo, only instead of the usual Valentine’s Day heart is a gory reproduction of an actual human heart; the shirts are being modeled by skeleton manikins. Beyond the lobby is a room called The Morgue, an icy place with clinical white seats and a frosty bar that features a display of frightening surgical instruments. In yet another room is a bar decorated with golden skulls. “It is supposed to be the bar from The Shining,” Ira Friedhofen tells me, a Times Scare manager.
The establishment’s name is a play on the location, in the heart of New York’s Time Square neighborhood, the city’s most famous tourist district, and just blocks away from very un-scary family-friendly haunts like Toys“R” Us and the Disney Store. But Times Scare is aimed at attracting much more than just the zombie apocalypse obsessed set. The venue features a restaurant called The Crypt Café—entrees include the “Bloody Good Tomato Soup” and “Graveyard Nachos”—and operates a haunted house. There are also nightly performances by a creepy magician whose act involves “using razor blades, buzz saws, broken glass, blunt objects, blood, mutilated babies…and candy to create a whimsically entertaining non-stop roller coaster ride of pure mayhem.”
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Death and gore make most of us lose our stomachs but a number of restaurants the world over actually feed on fright. London has the Café in the Crypt, located in a crypt beneath St. Martins in the Fields, a church in Central London. There are towering vaulted ceilings and headstones that date from the 1600s. The eerie space evokes the feeling that you are eating in a large Medieval tomb, though the menu is much less creative than at Times Scare. Soup is not “bloody” but simply, “homemade soup served with bread and butter”, and from the buffet the typically British, “pan-fried hake, mushy peas and tartare sauce.” But eaters do seem to enjoy the experience. “This is perhaps one of the most unusual venues for a café,” wrote one person on Yelp, a restaurant review website. “A useful place to recharge the batteries with some food and drink or to shelter from the rain!”
The Crypt Pub, in Savannah Georgia, is located in a building that used to be a pharmacy that was run by one Dr. Stevenson and his wife Jasmine. One evening, the couple disappeared mysteriously. “Some say the night the Stevenson’s vanished they could hear the wife’s scream early in the morning hours,” reads the restaurants website. “Over the years sightings of Dr. Stevenson were often reported…but never any reports of his wife.” The Crypt’s drink menu features ghoulish cocktails like “Zombie Wedding”; fresh watermelon, cucumber, Bacardi, lime and soda and the “Death Head”; tequila, rum, vodka, gin, blue curacao and grenadine served in a souvenir Red Bull cup.
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The king of spooky restaurants may indeed be the iconic New York City spot, Jekyll & Hyde, themed after the famous book by Robert Louis Stevenson about a man with two distinct personas, one good and one evil. The walls are covered with horrifying objects such as mutilated faces and heads with axes struck through them. “The creatures and memorabilia come to life and interact with you while you enjoy your meal,” reads the restaurant’s website. “Encounter bizarre characters such as Claw the Gargoyle, Tobias the Werewolf, Dreadmina the Vampire or a genuine Egyptian mummy.”
Back at Times Scare, Friedhofen leads me into yet another spooky events room. In this one they have Scareoke, and even sometimes salsa dancing. A burlesque show may be coming soon, later in the summer there is an engagement party, and come October Times Scare will host a wedding. As Friedhofen is talking a man wearing a wife beater splattered in blood emerges from a back room. The evening’s show is about to start.