On Saturday night, a bunch of us went to Times Scare New York City, a restaurant slash haunted house that I’ve been spying on for years. This group also included my friends from Freddy in Space and The Sexy Armpit, so before I get too deep into the more boring parts of this review, let me apologize to them for getting everyone thrown out. Oops! More on that later!
Going in, we all knew what to expect: Tourist trap trappings with the bill to match. That was no big deal, and I don’t want to let WHAT HAPPENED LATER (!!!) spoil the good parts of our experience. If nothing else, Times Scare looked the part!
The lobby area – if I can call it that – was terrific. It had sort of a gothic church/torture chamber vibe, feeling much like a dark ride that nobody was rushing you through.
* Twin staircases in blood red.
* The skeletal remains of a mermaid.
* A guillotine that was either a legit antique or a prop made so well that it had to cost almost as much.
* Additional skeletons tied to the walls, each basking under the glow of differently-colored neon lights.
* Lots and lots of chains!
You get your tickets squared away in this area. I can’t remember the exact specifics, but it was something like fifty bucks for a meal, an absinthe tasting and a trip through the haunted attraction.
Our adventure began in The Crypt Cafe, a bar-and-restaurant that exists as a pretty normal bar-and-restaurant, save for the decorative touches that make it seem like something more. Meathooks and macabre candleholders aside, the vibe was more “industrial” than “spooky,” but I still liked it.
The highlight of the meal was the absinthe tasting. (Absinthe served in three different ways, most notably the “traditional” way, where they set sugar cubes ablaze on slotted spoons over your cocktails.)
I’m calling it the “highlight” for a few reasons. First, absinthe definitely fits the mood for a horror-themed restaurant. And while I’m sure it’s mostly psychosomatic, I also consider absinthe a “different kind of drunk.” More caffeinated, or something.
Secondly… the food itself wasn’t so hot. It wasn’t so much “bad” as “flavorless,” tasting like something a person might order if a doctor had instructed them to never ever eat anything. But I’m not registering this as a legit gripe, because nobody goes to Times Scare on the hint that it has great food. It’s like the people who give the Bronx Zoo one star ratings on Yelp because the fries were bland.
Upside: The waitress was great. Our proverbial Marilyn Munster.
Okay. Now we’re up to the BAD stuff.
The night was supposed to end at Times Scare’s haunted attraction – a walk-through stuffed with actors, props and strobe lights. Like something you’d find at Six Flags, but on a smaller scale. Maybe it’s great, maybe it’s mediocre — I really couldn’t tell you!
The guy in the crazy makeup handling everyone’s entry was kind of a dick, but even that’s okay, because dark ride actors are supposed to be dicks.
So, we head inside. We’re a group of five, but we’re immediately splintered. I’m being led into the attraction by a girl in zombie makeup, or whatever she was supposed to be. I don’t know. It was dark, and from this point on, it’s only coming to me in bits and pieces.
I’m pretty sure that she led us up a flight of stairs. At this point, it’s just me and Ms. X. The rest of our group was so far behind that it wouldn’t have even been accurate to call them a part of our group. This will become important in a minute.
I had my sights set on getting a photo or two, because this wouldn’t be much of a review without them. Even if we were never told this, I’ve been on enough dark rides to know that there’s at least a 50% chance of photos being against the rules. So, I quietly try to get the one damn photo I’d need to do this review properly, which ended up being this one:
A couple of bloody, headless mannequins, which were stationed at the true entrance of the attraction. I can’t speak to what the rest of the attraction was like, because that photo was apparently grounds to not just throw me out, but our whole party of five.
Here’s how it went down…
Our lady zombie host, who was already being too much of a jerk for it to be “all show,” saw me snap a pic, and that was it. She leads me and Ms. X out. I’m not even arguing with her on the point. I’ve been doing stuff like this for over a dozen years, and it wouldn’t have been the first time my camera got me into trouble. These photo-posts are games of roulette, and I get it. Spending five minutes under strobe lights with people yelling at me was not a life or death situation.
It wasn’t until we noticed that she was doubling back to throw out everyone else – people who weren’t even NEAR US – that shit got a little heavy.
The girl literally had to run back to the entrance before the entrance to fish out the rest of our group. They were nowhere near us. Not that it would have made a difference if they were standing right next to me, but at least then you could’ve argued that there was some TREMENDOUS FIVE-WAY CONSPIRACY involving bloody mannequin photos.
When we were all back together, now at the entrance before the entrance before the entrance, they had no clue what had happened. John, bless his sarcastic heart, could only openly wonder if the ride was “really that short?”
The comedy continued, because if you’re gonna throw five people out of attraction they’ve all paid way too much money to see, you’re gonna need a better reason than “one of them took a picture of mannequins.” So, we start arguing. With everyone, basically. God help you if you were in face paint, because that was the best clue that you worked there.
On that note: I do feel a little bad for throwing “my shit” in all directions. Hey, I was pissed. But in particular, I remember acting pretty belligerent to one of the costumed guys who clearly had nothing to do with any of this, all on a rumor that he’d rolled his eyes after our first explanation. (Which led me to do the real life version of so many “OH NO YOU DIDN’T” Tumblr GIFs.) So yeah, Undead Guy, if you’re out there, sorry about that!
So, after a scene that felt endless but was in reality three minutes long, we’re back in the lobby area, arguing with the poor manager. By now, the staff was openly admitting that we shouldn’t have been thrown out, though we’re kind of still arguing on the particulars. (“We saw the surveillance tape!” “AND?!”)
I’m told that the “no photos” rule is a fire safety issue. (Boy, if that’s true, maybe it’s something to more definitively establish before someone walks into the attraction… especially when that someone has spent the preceding hour flagrantly photographing every last thing in the place.) I’m also pointed to a “no photos” sign, which is hung inside the ticket seller’s “cage,” on the side, in a spot that would be impossible to see unless you leaned over the staircase with a goddamned periscope.
But, at least it was clearly established that our group should NOT have been tossed out, and that the person responsible for it had gone rogue.
Even so, I would’ve been a-okay with being the sole ejection. I might have even found it funny. The issue was that four other people who’d all pitched in for a bill that was several hundred dollars were also being punished for my grave crime of TAKING PICTURES OF MANNEQUINS.
Here they are, one more time!
Remember: The bill for the attraction didn’t exist as some separate entity. Everything from the food to the drinks to the “ride” was all rolled into one. Obviously, nobody would pay all that money for three shots of absinthe and a bad piece of chicken. So, we had a problem.
Minutes into the pandemonium, the ladies in our group had taken control of the situation. I was being actively shooed away, perhaps because my strategy of going outside for a minute and then returning to issue the same forty complaints was getting us nowhere. I’m not sure what John or Jay were doing at this point, but I’d guess they were both daydreaming about what life might’ve been like had they only decided to stay home. I have plans with both for the weeks ahead, and I’m fully expecting lots of texts about “sudden illnesses” and “unexpected car trouble.” There are only two people on the planet that can stand me for any length of time, and one of them is actually a cat.
In the end, we got a partial refund. Since we’d paid for all-inclusive packages, they averaged out the “ride portion” and removed that from our bill. The deal was done, but I couldn’t help complaining even about that, citing the fact that none of us would’ve spent all night buying drinks that could’ve been had for half the price just across the street if not for the “haunted house.” By then, I was fully committed to my role as a “dissatisfied customer.” I dunno, it felt like we winning a trial or something.
Course, a bit later in the night, we realized that our partial discount did not extend to the auto-gratuity. I’d need to really investigate the bill to say for sure, but in all likelihood, we tipped the same jerk who threw us out to begin with! All FIVE of us tipped her! Enjoy it, lady!
When I sat down to write this, I was determined to stay objective. I mean, we’ve all read reviews where a vacationer lets one negative aspect paint their entire experience in a negative light. So I’ll be honest and say that had the “haunted house” part of the show not gone to shit, this review would be mostly positive. (“Overpriced, but expectedly so, and there aren’t too many things in Manhattan with such a great Halloween vibe.”)
But man, these guys really need to keep an eye on that haunted house, because after reading so many other reviews, I know I’m not the only one who’s had a problem in there. The issues are as varied as the customers, but they all boil down to “people using Halloween makeup as an excuse to be assholes.” While understanding that that’s a time-honored tradition in dark rides, you’re a freakin’ horribly expensive midtown restaurant. You’re not at a carnival or in a cornfield. Step that shit up.
To end on something positive, or at least interesting, have a look at this shot. I’m pretty sure Johnny bought everyone a round of ‘em, but details are sketchy. I forget what it was called — it may have had “abortion” in the title — but it had the texture of curdled milk and the taste of sopping wet gummy bears.
Gonna be as fair and honest as I possibly can. I wouldn’t be writing about Times Scare if I didn’t love the concept. If I went to a regular restaurant and was unhappy with the service, I might complain, but I wouldn’t turn it into a Dinosaur Dracula post. So, yup, I’m still recommending the place. Ever so slightly, and with the definite hope that they’ll look at the attraction and tweak whatever is “iffy” about it. Up until the bullshit, we had a great time, and even the bullshit was kinda great in a Murphy’s Law sort of way.
Now, would I ever go back to Times Scare myself?
UPDATE: Someone from Times Scare reached out this week to present his side. (He was there that night; he’s the “undead guy” mentioned above.) While defining the establishment’s policies and giving their perspective on the rules, he said outright that we shouldn’t have been tossed, and even extended an invite for all of us to go back. I’d already tried my best to remain objective in this review, but since the part you’re going to remember is the complaint, I want to make it clear that it boiled down to one overzealous employee, on one night.
Though nothing I said is untrue, it would be irresponsible – and unfair – to not mention that this person reached out and wanted to make things (more) right. For me, this has just become a funny story to tell, but I have to be respectful of the other people who work there, who don’t deserved to be lumped into the “actions of one.” The reason I recommended Times Scare despite our experience is because I did like the place and I do recognize that our bizarre incident was an unlikely scenario.
I won’t be going back to Times Scare, but that’s not out of spite or anger – it’s just not something I’d prefer to do. But if others use this review to decide if they’d like to go, I feel I should stress that our experience was a likely exception. Focus on the portions that aren’t too heavy on the “incident” parts, and decide for yourselves!