The first thing I notice about the apocalypse is it's much more luxurious than I had anticipated.
Gasoline may be in short supply, yet a hockey game's on view above a bar lined with plush, upholstered armchairs. Scavenging for insect protein proves unnecessary, as pan-seared scallops with thyme butter and caponata are readily available. And there is no need to pay obeisance to Immortan Joe to obtain fresh water. It — along with a cocktail made with elderflower liqueur, pomegranate juice, and a sprig of fresh rosemary — can be easily obtained by simply asking the friendly, efficient bartender in camo pants and a black pleather bustier (because, I guess, this is a sexy apocalypse).
Then again, Mad Rex, Philadelphia's first and only bar devoted to the day after tomorrow, is less an immersive descent into the dystopian future than the end-times equivalent of a Hard Rock Cafe.
"We think of it more like a museum," said Michael Johnigean, a Florida real estate developer who moved here to launch what he anticipates could be the first of a chain. He and his partners are already looking for a second location in New York, maybe near Wall Street. It's not that anyone actually wants to experience the apocalypse, he said. But "from the Walking Dead and different types of movies, it seems people are curious about the apocalypse and what it would be like."
I'm not sure his bar — an 8,500-square-foot expanse fronted by black velvet ropes and a sign made from a large blackened truck — answers those questions.
In fact, it raises other ones: Chiefly, out of all the hip new bars now open in Fishtown, what exactly is drawing the crowds to Mad Rex on this busy Saturday night?
Maybe it's the VR chamber, where customers can pay $2 per minute to play virtual-reality games without ever slowing down on their drinking; $18 camel bags of tequila punch are available to sip while you play. Maybe it's the food, including the cook-it-yourself "Survivor's Menu" of sliced beef, fish. and chicken delivered with a sizzling-hot black rock to grill it on. Or maybe it's the decor: Mad Maxian outfits arrayed around the bar and dining room, a graffitied aircraft carcass crashing through the ceiling, hatchets and knives embedded in resin in the bar top, a wine cellar that doubles as a decorative weapons locker, and servers in outfits that are a mix of War Boy-chic and standard-issue restaurant worker. (The most convincing special effect, by the way, is the spattering of mysterious, wet-looking globules on the floor — simulated fresh blood? — that had at least one guest treading carefully to avoid stepping in the mess.) One future draw may be the line of new "entertainment drinks," including a flaming drink, a shot poured over wood smoke, and the Gryphon, a skull-shaped fishbowl drink for two that will include glowing ice cubes and a sugar cap that, when cracked, will release steam.
I give up trying to make sense of the post-civilization future and sip my Vigilante cocktail, a slightly sweet concoction served in a glass with a bullet lodged in it. If this is the apocalypse, at least there's booze.
1000 Frankford Ave., 267-773-7566, themadrex.com
When to go: Any time before the meteor hits. It opens at 11 a.m. daily; it closes at midnight Sunday through Thursday, and at 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Bring: Your teenage kids. Your bachelor party. Your doomsday cult.
What to order: The Road Warrior ($11), a spicy-sweet cocktail with tequila, orange juice, pineapple juice, jalapeño simple syrup, and fresh jalapeño.
Bathroom situation: Fortunately, the theme was mostly not continued inside the women's room (though squeezing into one of these extremely narrow stalls does require a level of agility that might come in handy during, say, a zombie apocalypse). The loud, inter-stall conversation was loaded with f-bombs and gossip regarding individuals from Cherry Hill.
Sounds like: On Saturday, a manageable 93 decibels of DJ spinning a dancey, reggae-inflected set.