Everyone could use a miracle right about now — and for those of legal age, a really good drink.
The Miracle at the Freight House, 421 W. River Drive, Davenport, fortunately offers both. In its second holiday season, the Christmas-themed cocktail bar is now upstairs at The Diner. Part of a national franchise (with 100 locations in five countries), Miracle is a Christmas-themed pop-up cocktail bar that serves holiday cocktails in a festive setting.
With kitschy holiday décor, professionally-developed cocktails and the nostalgic energy of the best office party you’ve ever been to, Miracle is sure to get even the grouchiest grinch in the holiday spirit, according to miraclepopup.com.
“So far, so good with Miracle,” Davenport co-owner Lars Rehnberg said recently, noting they opened on Black Friday, Nov. 26. “The feedback has been fantastic. There’s not a bad drink on the menu.”
The concept was born in 2014 when upon the advice of his mother, New York City-based owner Greg Boehm decided to halt construction of what was to be his new East Village cocktail bar called Mace and transformed the unfinished space into a pop-up bar serving holiday-themed drinks among over-the-top Christmas decorations.
As crowds swarmed the NYC location, Boehm’s friends throughout the bar industry asked how they could recreate the holiday magic on their own turf and expansion became inevitable. The following year, Miracle expanded to four locations and in 2016, it went worldwide with pop-ups in Greece, Montreal and Paris. Today, there are Miracle holiday bars in 33 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, England, the Netherlands and Panama (there is one in Des Moines, but no Miracle locations in Illinois).
Ethan Bailey, president of the local Miracle, is a native of Fairfield, Iowa, and director of sales for Boehm’s Cocktail Kingdom — which makes barware, glassware, and related tools, and owns restaurants and bars in New York. Bailey moved from Boulder, Colo., and bought an 1879 house in west Davenport in 2016.
“I’d been working at home forever, so the pandemic was not a big deal,” he said. “It’s great, because I enjoy the products, and I have a background in bartending. Watching Greg build the Miracle franchise over the last eight, nine years – he’s been on me since the beginning. ‘You gotta do one of these.’ When I moved to Davenport, I thought this was a great time to do Miracle.”
Bailey planned to start the local franchise before the pandemic, and when they committed to open by August 2020, it looked like COVID was on the decline.
Rehnberg had been working in the events business, and once that shut down, he had time to work on Miracle. He was (and is back with) a Raleigh, N.C.-based company called Tour Tech, installing wi-fi networks for major festivals. “So we took a year off because there were no events,” he said.
They did a lot of research on where to locate Miracle, requiring a lot of space, and Bailey wanted to be in downtown Davenport.
They talked to Steve Ahrens of Davenport’s Riverfront Improvement Commission, who was very supportive of it, Rehnberg said. The city owns the Freight House complex and rented space to them, to clean and renovate it.
First year next to Front Street taproom
The first Miracle location in Iowa last year was in the 2,400-square-foot space next to the Front Street Taproom, formerly occupied by Fresh Deli, which closed in late October 2019, and now occupied by Chill Ice Cream & Eats.
“It worked out for everybody for really well,” Rehnberg said, noting they opened in mid-November 2020, limiting capacity to 40 people. The Diner has a 96-seat capacity and 3,200 square feet. Last year, they stayed open weekends through the third week of January.
“It was neat to give Ethan a platform to try out some of his own recipes,” Rehnberg said. “We get the recipes from the franchise, and we can tweak them. Ethan is our master taster. In that January run, we had Ethan just make a menu.”
“That was well-received. It was fun to have an extra few weeks,” Bailey said.
“Steve Ahrens was so great to work with, and he suggested it might be a good fit to work with Tara and Toby and their space,” he said of The Diner. “They’re open in the mornings through lunch, and the space was empty in the evenings. We had a lot of momentum behind the name, Miracle at the Freight House, from last year. So we wanted to be back in this building anyway.”
“It’s worked out well,” Bailey said. “It’s a true pop-up.”
“There are trade-offs – we get the nice infrastructure of a restaurant that we need,” Rehnberg said. “But then we have to set up and tear down every day.”
It’s common for Miracle franchises to take place in existing restaurants or bars, Bailey said. They’re open Sunday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 5 to midnight. The Diner usually closes at 2 p.m. daily (it’s not open Mondays).
“At night, everything is lit up – every wreath is lit, every tree is lit,” Rehnberg said. “You have the twinkle of all the lights.”
“I love it; I tell everyone, I love coming to work,” Tara Elkins, co-owner of The Diner, said. Of all the decorations, she said: “It’s amazing. I wish I could say I did it, but I did not.” The Miracle explosion of holiday decor helps improve The Diner’s regular business.
“Let’s just call it Polar Express and roll with it the rest of the year – Christmas in May, June, July, August,” she said.
There’s no crossover in the food and drink menu between The Diner and Miracle, Rehnberg said. There’s just a few salty snacks at Miracle.
“It’s weird to me – it’s both bigger and cozier up here,” he said, compared to last year. “I’m really enjoying this space. The customers I’ve talked to have said it feels like a loft vibe.”
A wild, colorful drink menu
The price range for the cocktails average $15 to $18, with everything made fresh from scratch.
“The menu has changed – about half and half from last year,” Rehnberg said, noting there are five new cocktails this year. Last year, some people tried to sample every drink.
One unique new cocktail is called “Elfing Around” – made with Prosecco, Gin, Mulled Wine Reduction, Grapefruit Shrub, Aromatic Bitters, and Orange Bitters. Another new one is “On Dasher” — Gin, Vanilla Liqueur, Marshmallow, Cardamon, Black Pepper, Lemon, Cream, Egg, and Soda.
Other holiday libations (each made with a specialty glass or fun container available for purchase) are:
- Jolly Koala — Gin, Vermouth, Pine-Cardamom-Sage Cordial
- Snowball Old-Fashioned — Rye, Gingerbread, Angostura Bitters, Wormwood Bitters, Orange Essence
- Christmas Carol Barrel — Reposado Tequila, Coffee Liqueur, Dry Curaçao, Spiced Chocolate, Aromatic Bitters, Orange Bitters
- SanTaRex — Blanco Tequila, Mezcal, Melon Liqueur, Almond Orgeat, Lime, Tiki Bitters
- Jingle Balls Nog — Cognac, Cream Sherry, Almond Milk, Cream, Egg, Vanilla, Nutmeg
Miracle at the Freight House will not sell to-go cocktails like last year, and they’re not going to stay open through January at The Diner, but will have New Year’s Eve as their last night.
“Like last year, it kind of never stops,” Rehnberg said of holiday décor, noting the twinkling snowflake lights are new this year. “You add things here and there. It keeps it fun for people who really like the place and try all the drinks. We have a few really diehards; we love them.”
He is back working with national festival engineering – this past year working with Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Firefly, and the NFL Draft.
Firefly is a big camping/music festival in Delaware, at a 1,000-acre site, and Rehnberg was the network engineer for that. “It’s exciting to get back in the event space,” he said. “It’s difficult to woo someone back in the field; remember what it was like to work in the rain? Remember the 12-hour days?”
“I love it, because it’s a really niche, weird job,” he said. “It’s totally my jam. During the pandemic, the company spun off a software division as well, so I mostly work from home, writing software and occasionally going in the field when they need.”
Rehnberg called Firefly a beautiful woodland experience, with tons of lights.
“It was absolutely magical,” he said. “I try to think of that when in the process of decorating Miracle. It needs to feel like that – you cover this beautiful, magical space.”
At Miracle, reservations are encouraged. For more information, visit miracleqc.com.