For years, the future was cyberpunk. That’s the science-fiction aesthetic that imagined a near-future ruled by corporations, dominated by East Asian culture, and soaked in rain and neon. It’s the dystopian vision dreamt up in part by works such as William Gibson’s book Neuromancer and Ridley Scott’s influential film Blade Runner. The genre was anchored in Los Angeles, with images of old Art Deco buildings covered in bright neon and blunt advertisements on rainy days becoming the defining visual of the genre.
That future never came to pass, but now Angelenos can get a taste for what might have been with a new pop-up bar in Downtown. Neotropolis Bar launched on Friday, Nov. 1. Set up on three floors in the back of the Chapman Building at 750 S. Broadway, the space runs through the end of the month and mixes a nightclub feel with elements of interactive theater. A ticket costs $82.
The idea grew out of a fascination with the 1980s and its science fiction, according to creator Jared Butler, who also was one of the developers behind Wasteland Weekend, an annual post-apocalyptic-themed festival that takes place in September in California City.
“We’re 20 years past 1999. When I grew up, 1999 was the future,” Butler told Los Angeles Downtown News at a recent media tour. “We got there, but it wasn’t quite the future we imagined 20 years later, I thought maybe I can create that future we thought we were going to have.”
Neotropolis is the latest themed bar to arrive in Los Angeles, following the path set by spaces like the Star Wars-inspired Scum & Villainy Cantina, which started as a pop-up in Hollywood before transitioning into a permanent Hollywood Boulevard fixture. Downtown has also seen a number of Instagram friendly pop-up venues, but Butler said he wanted to create more than just a visually engaging bar, instead leaning on immersive elements and in-character staff that would bring people back.
The creative staff is quick to state the space is not a Blade Runner-themed bar. That said, the 1982 film, itself set in Downtown Los Angeles in November 2019, is a major influence on the cyberpunk aesthetic, and Neotropolis’ mix of retro-futuristic technology and noir trappings harkens to that dark vision of the future from the 1980s. Butler said that Downtown’s history and appearances in media made it the right location. The Neotropolis team then added custom furniture, art pieces and decorations to iron out the setting.
Neotropolis is set up in the upper mezzanine and basement of the Los Angeles Biergarten (heavy curtains separate the spaces), but the décor draws from 1930s noir, with dark wood panels, Art Deco light fixtures and old fashioned rotary phones. Those are accented with heavy amounts of neon and a series of video monitors illuminating the space with ads, designed by fabricator Mel Ho. An old-fashioned cigarette machine has a monitor affixed on it, with an android smoking on screen. Inside a semi-private office space, a large monitor provides a “window” to a futuristic city.
Meanwhile, staff wear neon-lined outfits, sport silver and white contacts, and there are even characters in the space made up to look like androids, including “the Sandra 4,000.”
Each night will be limited to 80-90 visitors. There will also be guided tours down to the basement, or “undercity” as staff call it, which itself feels like an homage to a brighter future that never came to pass. Paper adverts and signs sport soft-colored, warm, utopian images, at odds with the industrial trappings and dark décor upstairs. After a walk down a steep and winding staircase, visitors find themselves in an underground bar, with closed off furnaces, graffiti and mannequins done up in cyberpunk fashion.
The creative team also includes the DJ, Duke of New York, who made soundscapes for each space, mixing movie scores with electronic music in a blend of sci-fi and noir.
The space is first and foremost a bar, and features five cocktails designed for Neotropolis by drink programmer BC Hoffman. They include a Scotch-based Old Fashioned made with chamomile tea, with smoke pumped into each glass, as well as a riff on Thai tea, using vodka and condensed milk. One rum drink is served in a Chinese takeout container, with noodles inside; “It’s the 1980s in one drink,” Butler said.
The experience at Neotropolis is “semi-interactive,” according to staff. It’s not a fully immersive space, with a full storyline, but patrons will be able to talk to actors in character and be led around the space to uncovered some of the details, according to Butler.
“It’s not a murder mystery, not an escape room. It’s a place to relax and have a drink, but as the month goes on, we’ll unfold a bit more story,” he said.
Staff said the plan is to run at least through the end of November, with the chance of extending Neotropolis beyond that point.
Neotropolis is at 750 S. Broadway or neotropolisbar.com.