I’m Obsessed With This Bar’s Halloween Makeover

In “My Obsession,” writers take an object and explore its significance. This month: Jen Doll finds joy in Brooklyn Public House’s temporary horrors.

Several blocks away from my Fort Greene apartment—far enough away that I can’t see it from my bedroom window (healthy!), but close enough that I can stumble home in about five minutes (handy!)—is Brooklyn Public House, a bar I’ve been going to for the last seven, or eight or maybe 10 years. You stop counting after a while.

It’s a homey, dark, casual bar with Elvis paintings and movie memorabilia; a beautiful, classic tin ceiling; and comfy leather booths in the back. They serve solid happy-hour nachos, lots of beers and mixed drinks and the bartender pours extremely generous glasses of wine. You can show up in a dress after a wedding or in the sweatpants you slept in the night before. And while there are TVs playing sports, there are plenty of spaces in the place where you don’t even have a view of one, if you’re against that sort of thing. I’m on board for it in so many ways, not least because it remains the same in a world of change. Even the Halloween decorations are consistent.

Every year in early October, Brooklyn Public House goes all out. It starts with the facade, where a malevolent, fanged clown face grimaces from above the doorway. He—I’m pretty sure it’s a he—has red-apple-colored cheeks, a dapper yellow polka-dotted bowtie and some kind of juggalo-inspired eye makeup; he’s just as horrifying as you’d hope he’d be. Behind him, the windows and name of the bar are covered in red lights. You cannot miss this spectacle when heading down DeKalb Avenue, and every single time I see it, it elicits an audible gasp. Once inside, there are purple and red lights and black cobweb-like streamers everywhere—and, oh yeah, the dangling heads and bodies of screaming ghouls and bandaged corpses. There are also full-sized, costumed mannequins propped up in one area of the bar.

Brooklyn Public House Halloween

The truth is, I’m not a Halloween person. My best attempt at a costume was simply wearing my robe to a party. I don’t care much for horror movies. I hate being tense, or on edge or witnessing anything that might be considered gross. But Brooklyn Public House wins me over by channeling the childlike joy I used to feel about a holiday that let you be whoever you wanted to be.

Best of all, you don’t even really have to do anything to enjoy it: Just show up and take it in. There’s nothing cool or hip or impeccably curated about it—at least not in the typical way we’ve come to expect. These days, when so many bars and restaurants seem coated in the same sheen, Brooklyn Public House is original. Especially in October when it’s earnest and excessively done-up—no stone of decorating unturned, no spot lacking its proper tchotchke. There is so much care put into it, such enthusiasm! And that gets transferred to the customers, because, really, what’s more fun than drinking surrounded by bandaged mummies or dangling bats or costumed skeletons?

“I think it adds to the camaraderie and helps us escape, but in a playful way,” a friend who’s a regular put it. “As opposed to ‘I’m escaping in this seventh glass of wine,’ it’s a seventh glass of wine in a funhouse.”

Or it’s just a chance to feel like a kid again. Walking into the bar in October reminds me of those first, best fears—when, as a little girl, I very nearly peed my pants when someone popped out and said “boo.” Back then I could laugh in the face of terror. Now, when the outside world is more horrible every day, I turn to the soothing, temporary horrors of Brooklyn Public House.

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Jen Doll is a freelance journalist as well as the author of the young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage and the memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest.