Resembling an artist’s working canvas, the themed artwork section at the Cauldron Spirits and Brews restaurant in Buena Park features striking representations of female protagonists, ranging from Hester Prynne of the “The Scarlet Letter” to the biblical Eve, holding a red apple.
“The scripts or the books of the pages are incorporated into [the artwork],” said Lara Hanneman, who opened her new restaurant and bar on Jan. 31.
Much like the walls holding her artwork – which she soon plans to open up to local artists wishing to sell their works — the restaurant is a labor of love with detail and creativity, representing Hanneman’s greatest passions.
“It makes me happy,” she said.
Hanneman is no stranger to creating a darkly-themed environment.
As former creative director for 23 years at Knott’s Berry Farm, she not only worked on designing rides and restaurants at the Buena Park theme park, she also was in charge of its popular Halloween attraction, Knott’s Scary Farm. Her new restaurant is across the street from the park.
Despite the proximity and her background in horror design, Hanneman wasn’t looking to turn her restaurant into a haunted attraction.
“It comes back to my theatrical side,” she said. “It’s just the immersive environment, trying to make some place a special experience that you don’t normally see around here, but nothing too cheesy. I’m not gonna go overboard. I’m not gonna design a maze for a restaurant.”
Her goal is a place where anyone — horror fan or not — can socialize and eat food in a “dark, romantic atmosphere.”
“I’m very much like a fan of themed bars,” said Alex Nguyen, 22, from San Jose, who visited with a group of friends before going to the nearby Medieval Times. “I like that they literally went all out.”
The menu — what Hanneman describes as French-inspired bar food — includes items like French dip sliders, French meatballs and prosciutto-wrapped shrimp.
“Nothing too pretentious,” she said, adding that while she’s the executive chef, she has two chefs doing most of the cooking.
The full bar offers a range of classics as well as “Specialty Potions” like the “Grey Witch,” “Wizard’s Cup” and a nod to Knott’s with the “Knotty Kid,” a drink made of boysenberry cotton candy, vodka and lemon juice.
Hanneman has been happy to see a wide demographic — “from kids to 85” — walking through the large wooden doors into what she’s come to call her home.
It took Hanneman about a year to build the Cauldron. She shopped for furniture at swap meets, thrift stores and other shops, as well as built — with the help of friends — the bar, bookshelves lining the adjacent wall and the foam-brick fireplace.
The bookshelves area — with book backs naming GoFundMe and other investors and friends — also features a secret passageway that opens with the push of a button into a dining room for private parties and meetings.
Various decor items include a “Magic Potion” bottle and a framed photograph of character Endora from the 1964-72 TV fantasy sitcom “Bewitched.”
Hanneman also painted a “pendulum table” with words “yes,” “no” and “maybe” on it to reference the use of a pendulum to answer questions in the world of magic and witchcraft.
“There’s little details like that,” she said. “If you know you know, if you don’t you don’t.”
The Cauldron also has some special effects such as a projection of a black cat moving across the top of the bar. The idea was designed by Jeff Schiefelbein of Sinister Pointe Productions, who is locally known for his work in haunted attractions and events.
Hanneman’s business partner and co-owner, Andrew Strain, who owns Blue Haze Entertainment lighting company in Huntington Beach, said he joined the venture because he thought a community restaurant was needed in the area.
“[It’s an] extension of Lara’s home here,” Strain said.