When Mark Ballog walked into the Christmas-themed bar last December in Nashville, Tennessee, he was both dazzled and inspired. He loved the lights, the vintage decorations, the yuletide-inspired cocktails, and the holiday vibe.
The owner of Lucky 12 Tavern in Nags Head said he also had a thought: "I can do this."
Ballog spent the past year collecting lights, decorations and all manner of Christmas knick-knacks. Come December, he will transform the popular Beach Road eatery into Jingle 12.
“I’m not inventing anything, by any means,” Ballog said. “There are people who do these things. No one’s done it here.”
Indeed, it’s common practice for bars and restaurants to decorate for the holidays: put up a tree; string lights; hang ornaments. But Ballog intends to go full Griswold. Lights all over the restaurant. Tinsel and ribbons and paper. Lots of blow molds — plastic, three-dimensional yard art pieces. Two-dimensional melted popcorn pieces. Extra shelves with displays of old and vintage toys and decorations. Snow globes on the tables. Christmas-themed salt-and-pepper shakers and soap dispensers in the bathrooms. He’s even having a new sign made for the front of the restaurant.
“If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it,” he said.
Ballog learned that the bar he walked into in Nashville was a customer of a company called Miracle, a New York city-based outfit that creates Christmas pop-up bars. It goes into bars and transforms them into over-the-top, holiday venues for brief periods. The company began in 2014, when a New York bar owner turned a space he was developing into a full-on Christmas display during the holidays. His friends enjoyed the atmosphere and wanted to duplicate it in other bars. The idea took off almost immediately, and last year the company had nearly 100 bars in cities all over the U.S.
Ballog said he reached out to Miracle, mostly for ideas and background, but never heard from them.
“All of their places are in big cities, and we’re probably a little too small and rural for them,” he said. “It’s OK. I have a lot of (holiday decorative) stuff anyway. I don’t need to pay somebody to come in and do it.”
Ballog plans to close the restaurant Dec. 2-4 to decorate, and he will reopen Dec. 5. He will keep the decorations up through Jan. 1, 2020. He said that he’ll probably black out the windows while he and his staff and friends decorate, so that no one can get a sneak peek, and have a proper unveiling Dec. 5.
He wants it to be inviting for families and kids, as well as regular bar patrons. He hopes to attract small gatherings — if not formal office parties, perhaps informal groups. Lunches, gift exchanges, after-work get-togethers. He said he might advertise the transformation, but he hopes that word-of-mouth and social media provide a boost.
Ballog said the tavern is generally plenty busy in December and through the holiday season. Vacationers and people on holiday break frequent the place, and sports fans often come in to watch events — NFL and college bowl games, college and pro hoops, hockey — on one of the many TVs. He wants to give regulars and those who have never set foot in his place something different.
“This is something that’s kinda fun to do,” he said. “After New Year’s, we’ll come in here one night and take it all down and get back to normal.”