Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

Brooklyn, New York

House of Wax

Tucked in a nondescript downtown Brooklyn mall is a bar containing a remarkable turn of the century anatomical wax collection last seen in 1920s Berlin. 

Up the elevators through the nondescript mall, past the Target and the Trader Joe’s, in downtown Brooklyn’s City Point center, you will notice an intriguing sign reading “House of Wax.” The sign is illuminated in light bulbs like something from the 1920’s Coney Island boardwalk. 

It’s not far off. The bar is home to a collection of over a 100 anatomical models, 25 wax death masks, wax depictions of birth, syphilis, and lungs afflicted with tuberculosis all installed inside the bar of newest edition of the Alamo Drafthouse, an Austin based chain of restaurant and movie theaters. This collection that was last on display in Castan’s Panopticum a turn of the century museum Berlin that closed in 1922, and put in deep storage.

The collection was saved in 2016 by oddities collector and dealer Ryan Matthew Cohn, who found a buyer willing to buy the entire collection. The buyer, Tim League, also happened to be the CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse. League saw a connection between the sensational collection and exploitation films, both popular entertainments meant to titillate. League also saw that it might make a unique draw to his new theaters bar. 

Castan’s Panopticum existed from 1866 to 1922, and even then, it was a sort of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” of its time. This mean that anatomical waxes, were mixed in with a full body wax of a serial killer, and ethnographic busts meant to exoticize the other. The Butcher of Hanover for example, serial killer Fritz Haarmann, is still on display in the House of Wax and lending his name to a cocktail.

The entire bar, with its drinks divided into “Anatomicals, Pathologicals or Geographicals”, has been built around the collection. Two wax anatomical “Venus’s” can be found near the back, reclining mid-birth, torsos splayed open. The case built around them has a bar rail, so you can set your drinks down and gaze down in appreciation at the artistry in wax, the horror at its graphic nature, or in amazement that such things have managed to survive two world wars and modernity to find their way into a Brooklyn bar tucked on fourth floor of a nondescript downtown mall. 

The bar is tucked past the ticket booth of the Alamo Drafthouse before you head up to the theaters, and you do not need a movie ticket to visit the bar and view the models.