The interior of the club car is dark. Yet somehow the scenery passing the windows of this make-believe train is splashed with daylight. It’s magic, of course, and precisely what my friends and I have come to Platform 18 hoping to find.
We’re also here, as it turns out, to consume cocktails so potent that after consuming a single drink called The Man Behind the Curtain, my friend Dan announces that he is bombed. From a fellow unfazed by a pitcher of martinis, this is an assertion more unusual than a room full of people pretending they’re passengers on a Prohibition-era train club car.
Bored with leftover chestnut stuffing, we’re visiting Platform 18, one of three turn-of-the-20th-century-inspired cocktail bars at Century Grand, an immersive-experience joint hosted by the Barter and Shake hospitality team. We’ve been escorted directly from a steamy train platform piled with vintage suitcases to a wee four-top just inside the rear door of this fantasy club car. It’s dark enough that, if I squint, I can imagine we’re the wisecracking cast of a pre-code Warner Bros. two-reeler set in a Pullman. Perhaps Sydney Greenstreet will stumble past in search of the clip-joint dame who played him for a sucker.
Rebecca orders a Linen Closet, a drink made with things she’s never heard of like hibiscus-infused Cointreau Noir and Angostura bitters. I want a scotch on the rocks, but Brian’s carefully arched eyebrow makes it plain I should be a sport and order one of the menu’s craft cocktails, many of which have locomotive-themed names (Three Burst of the Whistle; the Boxcar; Wake the Conductor), each of them comprised of a long list of showy, fermented ingredients. I order something called Dead Man’s Pocket Watch, made with rye and bitters and (for God’s sake!) soy sauce. Two sips of this stunner render me numb-lipped and speechless.
I’m quietly impressed with the club car’s period-correct décor and the caliber of Tin Pan Alley-era tunes blaring away in my left ear — Cab Calloway is singing “Minnie the Moocher” just now — though I miss a lot of what my friends are saying. From what I can hear, Rebecca is concerned that we keep passing the same snow-covered rock.
“Maybe,” I slur, “this train is on a round track.”
“Or maybe,” Carolyn says, “we’re cutting a tunnel through the time-space continuum so that time and space are taking place at regular intervals around us.” After which no one knows what to say and so we just sit there, smiling.
After a while, Dan admits he’s confused by the quick change of seasons outside our window. Shouldn’t the foamy stream we’re passing be frozen solid, given the great piles of snow we whizzed past a few minutes ago?
I want to offer a theory that perhaps this is a supersonic express train, but my mouth isn’t working so well and just then the car enters a pretend tunnel and we all get big-eyed and stop talking because this is what we’re here for: the chance to get loaded while playing choo-choo.
Talk turns to travel — the real kind, involving packing and passports and dread — and right after I hear Dan say “... and then we’ll fly from New Zealand to Disneyland and go on the teacups ride,” I signal for the check. Our allotted 90 minutes are nearly up, anyway. Carolyn leans in to whisper that I may have to help her exit the train.
Once we do, we discover we’re still in Phoenix.
“See?” I sneer as my friends and I stumble toward our designated driver. “I told you that thing was on a round track!”