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We took a trip to Stranger Things' Starcourt Mall
When Stranger Things 3 launched on Netflix on July 4, the streaming network threw quite a celebration. All over Los Angeles, Netflix erected a number of pop-up events, including a carnival at the Santa Monica Pier, which was so popular that the pier was overwhelmed by fans and the event had to close early. But not all the Stranger Things 3 events were so chaotic. The more low-key pop-ups included a Baskin Robbins-turned-Scoops Ahoy and a mock-up of the real star of Stranger Things 3, the Starcourt Mall.
On July 5, my husband and I went out to Burbank, where one Baskin Robbins location was transformed into a Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop. It was a mostly cosmetic overhaul, with nautical decor, Scoops Ahoy costumes for the employees, sea shanties on the radio, and the bow of a boat for photographs. The offerings were all standard Baskin Robbins menu items, including the Stranger Things sundaes. The only new offering was a USS Butterscotch, which was just a typical banana split with waffle cone "sails."
I am sad to report that neither Steve Harrington nor Robin was there to serve us.
The main event, though, came in the form of a visit to Starcourt Mall. The central set piece of Season 3, the Starcourt Mall in the show embodied everything I remember about the malls of the 1980s: teenagers running amok, Sam Goody, Orange Julius, and a giant monster from another dimension.
Set up on Sunset Blvd in the old Tower Records building (another meta throwback), Starcourt Mall was not advertised or promoted by Netflix, and it was only open for the 4th of July weekend. A Netflix publicist explained the goal was to keep the mall from being overwhelmed like the Santa Monica Pier; they wanted this experience to be pleasant and comfortable for the fans who were able to get tickets.
The event, for what it's worth, was not hidden. Starcourt Mall signage was visible from the street, as were Hawkins-themed billboards located up and down the strip. A DJ played a wide range of '80s music, ranging from pop to hair bands, but mostly staying safely in the New Wave subgenre.
In the parking lot was the Scoops Ahoy ice cream ship: A fully decked-out truck with a boat front. Scoops Ahoy employees were serving complimentary scoops of USS Butterscotch ice cream (butterscotch ice cream loaded with butterscotch pieces and a toffee ribbon). They also had a Coke machine there to dole out free cans of New Coke. (I am not a soda connoisseur, but I liked New Coke if only because it tasted fresh and extra-fizzy.) If soda wasn't your thing, you could get Stranger Things-branded bottled water. While you waited, you could also make yourself a pressed penny, choosing from one of four different Stranger Things-themed patterns.
Despite all this, the event wasn't a full mock-up of the mall itself. It was a series of miniature "activations," with scenes from Stranger Things 3. There were lots of opportunities for photos, and it was filled with actors who never broke character. The "mall employees" took in just a few people at a time, so once you were inside, you got a personalized tour and never had to fight for the perfect photo.
The first room was decorated to look like the forecourt of the Starcourt Mall, complete with a large planter and neon storefronts. After that, we went to Flash Studios, where you could take a silly 1980s glamour-shot Polaroid just like Max and El did in the show. There were plenty of '80s fashions to dress up in, including scrunchies and fingerless gloves.
Next, we went for a swim in the Hawkins community pool, followed by a visit to El's bedroom, which included such vintage goodies as a peach stereo and a Sweet Valley High book. I played the "whose mind should I read?" spin-the-bottle game and tried to contact Mike on the walkie talkie.
After that, we ventured into The Void, where I played El and tried to get in touch with Nancy. Instead, I just found some big, hairy creature (my husband — I'm talking about my husband).
Things got a little darker after that. We visited the Russian scientists who were trying to open a new doorway. They didn't speak any English, so I don't know if me pressing buttons like a manicfive-year-old hopped up on Pixie Stix was helpful or just annoying.
After that, we had to (very carefully) cross a metal grate bridge, one that offered little protection from the exploding rats beneath. The bridge left us off at a hall of mirrors. Once we made it through the hall of mirrors, we only had one more terrifying encounter: the photo op. We hopped on bicycles and skateboards and looked out over Hawkins in wonder, feeling more connected with our favorite characters than ever before.