Miracle at the Davenport Freight House Mixes New Holiday Cheer, in a Glass
If there’s something we all could use in 2020, it’s a miracle – and a stupendous cocktail.
You can find both at the festive holiday pop-up bar, Miracle at the Freight House, 421 W. River Drive, Suite 2, Davenport. Part of a worldwide franchise, the first Miracle location in Iowa is in the 2,400-square-foot space next to the Front Street Taproom, formerly occupied by Fresh
Deli, which closed in late October 2019.
Miracle at the Freight House is a new partnership between Lars Rehnberg of Rock Island, with his wife Karah, and Ethan Bailey of Davenport, national sales director for Cocktail Kingdom, which is the Miracle parent company.
Based in New York City, Cocktail Kingdom makes high-end barware – including shakers, spoons, strainers – for bartenders and mixologists. Miracle is their holiday pop-up project, and Bailey has been wanting to do it in Davenport.
“He knows it’s a proven model,” Lars Rehnberg said Monday. “It’s a lot of fun to do; the cocktails are delicious. You decorate the heck out of the space. You just go crazy with the decorations. It’s a really fun process.”
The concept was born in 2014 in New York, when upon the advice of his mother, 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.
There are now 118 Miracles in 35 states and seven countries – the closest to the Quad-Cities is in Madison, Wis.
Ethan Bailey is originally from Fairfield, Iowa, and married a woman from Davenport. They lived in Colorado and Oregon before moving here. Bailey is an experienced mixologist and is very well-versed in cocktails, Rehnberg said Monday.
“The cool thing that Cocktail Kingdom does is, they find historical cocktail manuals and reset the type in a modern edition,” he said. “They come up with these recipes for the Miracle franchise; it’s based on a ton of historical perspective on cocktails.”
The 10 Miracle-branded recipes take a lot of work to get the cocktails right, Rehnberg said. One is the Christmapolitan — Vodka, Elderflower, Dry Vermouth, Spiced Cranberry Sauce, Rosemary, Lime, and Absinthe Mist.
“There are 10 cocktails and we wanted all 10 to just be devastatingly good,” he said. “There can’t be any decent cocktails; they all have to be great cocktails. That was a really fun process.”
The Q-C partners considered working under an existing bar (common for most Miracle franchises), which makes the business model more
complex. “It’s simpler if you can just run it yourself,” Rehnberg said. “Our preference was to find a space where we could just run our own business.”
They considered the former Shenanigan’s building (5,000 square feet) downtown, but chose the vacant Freight House space, which formerly housed Fresh Deli.
They worked with the city and the Freight House Farmers Market, and were able to get a two-month lease. Other downtown spaces would have required a minimum two-year lease, Rehnberg said.
“It was quite a project,” he said. “It was a massive amount of paperwork and red tape. But the city was really great about it. We really appreciate them of course.”
Other Miracle locations are run by people who own their bar year-round and put Miracle on top of it for the holidays, Rehnberg said. “They integrate it into an existing establishment. Of course, we don’t own a bar, so we had to pop it up from scratch. Which is a lot more work. We had to get our own liquor license, and our own everything.”
The city replaced the air filter and the business also added more air filtration systems, and does regular sanitizing, among increased cleaning protocols. “We’re trying to do everything we can to safely add some cheer to this year,” he said.
Mask and guest capacity requirements
Customers are required to wear masks unless they’re seated at their table. All staff wear masks, have strict hand-washing requirements, and cannot work if they have any symptoms; temperature is taken at beginning of every shift, Rehnberg said. The bar is limited to 50 percent capacity, with tables spaced six feet apart.
“We started with limited capacity from the beginning,” he said, noting the main thing Iowa Gov. Reynolds’ recent Covid proclamation changed was closing time, to 10 p.m., from midnight. The maximum number of guests per table is eight, total capacity is limited to 40 and the state caps capacity at 15 for private parties.
“I’m not sure why the proclamation was written that way,” Rehnberg said. They use the OpenTable online reservation system, so it spaces out reservations.
“We have not hit a point yet where the restaurant has really been slammed and at full capacity for a whole shift, which is great. I like that we space out the reservations and we don’t saturate the place,” he said.
“We think we can saturate it safely. We’re hoping to do that in December, but so far, so good. Everybody has enjoyed the space,” he said.
When they planned the business over the summer, the trend for Covid cases was decreasing.
“It looked like we were going to have a Covid-free holiday season, and be ready to party,” Rehnberg said. It was challenging to open in mid-November, amid the surge of virus cases in the Q-C, and throughout the Midwest. But they had to stick with the plan.
“We were fully committed at that point,” he said. “You have to work months ahead. We talked about, what is the science telling us? We started looking into air exchange rates.” They researched HVAC systems and how many filters they needed.
The program to sell to-go orders also is complex. They have a cocktail mix, including ice, bitters and garnish. They include an instruction manual for each, for customers to mix the cocktails at home. They have liquor in a plastic bottle with a tamper-resistant lid, and each mix sells for $13 or $14.
“There’s also for each cocktail, a custom mug or glass that it goes with, so we’re selling that at retail,” Rehnberg said.
Each drink could not be fully made for the to-go orders, he said, noting there are certain ingredients that have to be added just before being consumed. By Iowa law, they can’t pre-mix the orders before they’re actually ordered, Rehnberg said.
They can’t do final assembly until the cocktail is ordered, to ensure the freshness and flavor of the cocktail. The to-go sales haven’t really picked up yet, he said. They have an online ordering system that makes the touch-less process easier.
“The Miracle experience, what we’re really hoping for with the Miracle experience is to have people come in and see the space and feel the nostalgia. To be surrounded by Christmas and see all the crazy decorations,” Rehnberg said. “But it’s 2020 – if what we have to do is send people home with these cocktails, that’s great, it’s fine.”
They operate more like a restaurant, with a 100% table service approach. To prevent contamination of the cocktail prep area, no customers
will be allowed to sit at the bar.
The headquarters supplies a small amount of holiday décor, with about 95 percent locally generated, he said. The New York franchise mainly supplies the recipes, glassware, branding, images, and the social media, etc.
They supply a lot of guidance and consulting time, he said. “The décor was put together by us,” Rehnberg said. “There’s a lot of images out there online, which look really good.”
“We’re not trying to compete with Front Street; we’re trying to complement,” he said. “And the beautiful new deck that the city built for the Freight House – the entire patio, the length of the building, has been rebuilt. It’s brand new.”
“Anytime there’s really nice weather, the deck fills up with people,” Rehnberg said. “It’s gorgeous there; the view of the river is really nice. It’s a very spacious deck, with all new furniture.”
The menu includes a couple of beers, a red wine, a white wine, popcorn and Original Recipe Chex Mix baked fresh. They plan to do a ticketed event for New Year’s Eve, with details to be worked out.
“In order to control the volume and safety of the event, we thought of doing a ticketed event with extremely limited capacity,” Rehnberg said. “That’s the kind of night that could easily get out of hand.”
The St. Louis Miracle bar was fully sold out before they even opened this year, he said.
“Typically, your traffic doesn’t normally go up until after Dec. 1,” he said, noting Miracle locations didn’t usually open until the day after Thanksgiving, but that’s been creeping earlier in November. The Freight House wanted to open early because it’s new and wanted to train their staff of about 12, Rehnberg said.
“Now we’re really ready to be open for the month of December,” he said. “It’s a complex menu; there’s a lot to know about the drinks.”
“They are 10 very different cocktails. There’s something for everybody,” Rehnberg said. “We need the bartenders to nail the recipes every
While there are no plans to offer a year-round bar there yet, the partners may do more in the
space, on a pop-up basis. Steve Ahrens, executive officer for Davenport’s Riverfront Improvement Commission, has suggested a farm-to-table restaurant there, with rotating menus, Rehnberg said.
“That’s very much in development at this stage,” he said. “If that comes to fruition, we’d love to be a part of that, and design a cocktail menu around that, that matches whatever the current menu is in the farm-to-table space.”
The Q-C Miracle is open seven days a week through Dec. 30, weeknights 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. It will be closed Dec. 25, Christmas Day.
They can open a few hours earlier for private parties or special events (like 3 p.m. on weeknights and noon on weekends.
“We’re doing everything we can to safely add some cheer to this debacle of a year,” Rehnberg said. Plus, out on the patio, they literally have a one-horse open sleigh.
For more information, reservations, and to see the cocktail menu, visit www.miracleqc.com.