Once cleaved into mouth-manageable strips, raw meat is sent out from the kitchen for patrons to cook themselves on 500-degree black lava rocks.
Let’s say the apocalypse were to strike tomorrow, and let’s say you and your family managed to survive it. What would you eat?
Welcome to the fantasy-style musings of Pavel Rathousky, the master butcher from Prague who opened Mad Rex, the world’s first post-apocalyptic bar and restaurant, on Friday night in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. Underneath a real 17-foot plane that “crashed” through the roof and a chopper similarly suspended from the ceiling, Rathousky and his team envision a world where cooking is primitive and antioxidants and nutrients provide a barrier between life and death.
“Everything is locally sourced, and we have a forager who goes out into the woods to pick wild mushrooms, fruits and vegetables," says general manager Nick Stefanou. "It’s like going back into caveman times because after an apocalypse there’s not going to be electricity or gas, so that’s probably how you’re going to be cooking."
Amidst a menu of mineral-rich soups, house-made ice cream that patrons roll around in bowls of pink Himalayan sodium chloride, AKA salt and custom spice blends sourced from South Philly’s famed Italian Market, executive chef Peter Rule butchers primarily organically grown animals he procures from the shop across the street. Once cleaved into mouth-manageable strips, Rule sends plates of raw beef, fish and chicken out from his glass-walled kitchen for patrons to cook themselves on 500-degree black lava rocks.
Herein lies what may prove to be the secret to success for a 225+ seat concept that otherwise could well smack of gimmickery, giving it the legs to live as Rathousky rolls out his next two planned locations next year in Manhattan and Miami: Despite servers clad in military uniforms, tools as decor and the elevated outdoor tank that will soon shelter fire pits and humans seeking warmth below, much of the focus here is … genuinely … on the food.
“It is a scratch survivors’ kitchen,” says Stefanou. “Our food quality is very high and, through six soft opening services, I’m getting rave reviews about it.”
From the 40-foot rectangular bar placed in one of the restaurant’s six distinctly decorated rooms flow mostly craft beers and cocktails made with local spirits, fresh syrups and shrubs, plus garnishes prepped and pickled on-site. Perhaps surprisingly for a bar where combat gear casts shadows on the tables from the graffitied walls above, the wine list supports more than two dozen bottles of mostly New World whites, reds and sparklings, with many sold by the glass.
Another drink twist? The bar staff prices beers and cocktails below market, with draught beer ranging from $5-$6 and cocktails costing between $10 and $11.
Certainly, as a themed restaurant, Mad Rex—short for “Restaurant Entertainment Xperience"—does beam a spotlight on the high-tech sizzle off the plate. The original fully-integrated virtual reality restaurant lounge beckons patrons to pull VR gear over their eyes to explore other worlds, or maybe reminisce about the beauty of their own. The VIP section houses a private glass VR chamber where adventurous souls can succumb to a “lab technician” who straps them into a replica of an old-fashioned doctor’s chair and hooks them up to a fake IV that drips boozy drinks between their lips in prep for the virtual ride of their morning-after lives.
With all of this, the live music stage and DJs who’ll sometimes mount the outdoor tank to spin tunes sound positively pedestrian. However, they will perform a function. Students from Drexel University’s technology program will gain real-life experience by working much of this equipment, offering humanity hope that future generations may just keep Planet Earth turning after all.