From daily commutes on the tube, to putting together PowerPoint decks, and eventually lugging our tired selves to another evening of “oh what dreadful weather we are having” banter that goes with an evening of work drinks, it’s of no surprise that Londoners long for a chance to just get away from it all. The rise of immersive experiences is a response to the urbanites’ need for a break from the monotony of the 9 to 5, minus the commitment of devoting an entire weekend to a countryside escape. “I believe people are not only looking for something a little different these days, but also for an element of escapism. When immersive experiences are done well, it is a rare occasion where you totally lose yourself from the day-to-day and get transported to a new world,” says Sam Shearman, Founder of Inventive Productions, the company behind Alcotraz (the world’s first prison-themed bar) and Moonshine Saloon (London’s only immersive Western cocktail bar).
Moonshine Saloon: Dastardly Outlaws and Covert Cocktails
If your brain is still on overdrive after that crazy West World finale, then go deep into wild west London (aka King’s Road), where you’ll find a little saloon where mischief and undercover liquor operations await. Enter the world of Clyde Cassidy—the self-styled King of Moonshiners—and his cast of characters who will engage you in card games, stories of their tangled romances, and run-ins with the law.
“For me, the only reaction we want guests to feel from the moment they step off the streets of London and into our immersive environment is ‘wow’. Any thoughts, expectations or distractions are forgotten at this moment, as you are greeted by the Bootlegger Clyde Cassidy at Moonshine Saloon. During each experience, cocktails are used as a hugely powerful tool to heighten guests’ senses and play an integral part in the story,” shares Shearman.
The team behind Inventive Productions has carefully laid out the storylines of Alcotraz and Moonshine Saloon so that they intertwine and truly take guests on a journey throughout the series. A third bar in the trilogy will launch in Central London this November.
Gingerline: A Mind-boggling World of Flavours
In recent years, the idea of eating out has undeniably transformed from being an excuse not to cook, and into an actual full-blown experience. And at Gingerline, they are offering ‘Experience’ with a capital ‘E’. “It’s no longer just about grabbing a quick bite to eat…we long for authenticity, connection, no time limits, and most importantly, entertainment” explains Lucinda Barber, Head of Communications and New Business for the Gingerline Group, who describe themselves as clandestine dining adventurers. You book the experience not knowing what’s in store. On the night of the event, you must be in the vicinity of any station on the assigned stretch of rail track and will receive clues via text message leading you to the secret location.
Afterwards, an evening of immersive entertainment, sense-tingling dishes, and hypnotic drinks ensues. “In the past, our guests have travelled by boat into enchanted forests, have soared above the skies on Air Gingerline, dined with aliens, and have even been initiated into a secret cult sworn to protect the existence of flavourological research…that desire for adventure, risk, and spontaneity is what’s driving the demand for immersive experiences; whether that’s cinema, dining, or theatrics!” says Barber.
The Gingerline Group has been creating nights of mystery and delicious dining since 2010. Their most recent experience, Chamber of Flavours V3, a new multi-dimensional dining experience, is still accepting bookings for November and December.
Secret Cinema: Lights, Camera, Secrets
Perhaps one of the worst kept secrets within the world of immersive experiences is, ironically, Secret Cinema. From witnessing prison brawls straight out of cult classics like Shawshank Redemption to dancing through the streets of Paris for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, the masterminds behind Secret Cinema take viewers by the hand and walk them straight into their favourite films.
“The experience of going to the cinema as a child, is almost like entering the screen. You’re absolutely transfixed and immersed in it! Secret Cinema puts people in a world where they can do that again. Whereas a lot of entertainment revolves around more of a spectator relationship, in Secret Cinema, you become part of a story, a narrative that you’re in charge of,” explains Fabien Riggall, Founder and Creative Director of Secret Cinema.
As guests enter one of the Secret Worlds, they are absorbed into a 360-degree participatory adventure where the boundaries between performers, audience, set, reality, and story are constantly moving. “Audiences are looking for something beyond their screen. They are looking for an adventure. It’s a natural human instinct to be part of a mystery, to be part of a surprise. When you surprise people and you do it well, there’s nothing more powerful,” says Riggall.
Secret Cinema is now looking to launch into new territories internationally starting with the US, then multiple locations around Europe.
Words by Ina Yulo
We all understand the need for escape, and the rise of immersive experiences in London is proof that people are in search for something more than your average weekend away. Speaking to the minds behind genius productions like Gingerline, Secret Cinema and Inventive Productions, gives us some insight into the pioneers of experience — and maybe a peek into what’s next.