Halloween is a howl for Barbara Beltaire. Throughout the month of October, patrons of Barbarella, her popular restaurant and bar in La Jolla, Calif., are met by a choir of mummies on the sidewalk, a rubber corpse in the window, and a mechanical werewolf at the front door — and that’s before they venture inside.
“Every room has a theme,” says Beltaire, who has paid homage to Halloween each year since she opened the eatery in 2000. The main dining room is reserved for bats and anything with wings. Priates, skulls and bones decorate the back room. On the patio, diners can share a table with the bride of Frankenstein or cozy up in Freddy Krueger’s corner. “Everything is scary except the bathrooms,” she says. “I don’t want a little kid going in there and getting frightened.”
The ghoulish decor matches her holiday menu: There’s a vodka Ghostini on the Spooky Drinks List to complement a Creepy Croque Madame or Broomstick Burrata, and so on. “I don’t do it to draw people in. I do it to make the community happy,” Beltaire says. “My mom had a way of making her children feel special and doing fun things for others. If you do that and make people laugh, it’s going to bring in business. But it should come from the heart.”
When Barbarella isn’t decked out like the Night of the Living Dead, it is a charming, 1,400-square foot dining spot with crisp white tablecloths, soft music, and menus filled with dishes sourced from local farms. “We want to serve the best food made from quality organic ingredients at bistro-cafe prices,” she says. “We work hard to get all that right, then the decorations are just to have fun.”
The Halloween high jinks begin in September, when Beltaire hires a moving van that’s “big enough for the furnishings of a three-bedroom house” to deliver crates of props (15 mechanical figures, 30 mummies, 14 grim reapers, a flotilla of inflatable characters for the roof, and assorted ghosts, goblins, spiders, plus spools of cobwebs) from a storage warehouse to the restaurant. “My employees are not really into setting it all up, so I have to coax them to help me, but they do wear costumes on Halloween.”
Beltaire also dresses up her restaurant for Christmas and other major holidays, but it’s Halloween that attracts local press coverage. With her blend of business smarts and showmanship, she also produces other unique events. Last week, it was a costume contest for dogs, and every December she invites anyone named Barbara to a party she hosts at Barbarella to raise money for local charities.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from being in this business,” she says, “is that the more you give, the more you get back.”
On Halloween night, Beltaire plans to hold court as the Queen of Hearts, greeting her regulars and other patrons, who may or may not be in costume. “Last year, I had a man come as Sponge Bob and a woman in her 80s arrived dressed like a baby,” she says. “Halloween is ageless. How can you not enjoy that?”