Which would you choose – being blind or deaf? I hope this is a question none of us ever have to answer in reality, however as a person who loves unusual experiences for their learning content I recently welcomed the opportunity to go to Dark Table in Vancouver. It is the ultimate in Blind Dates as the whole dining experience takes place in pitch black.
That night Erin and I left the hotel in decidedly burglaresque outfits – not to be confused with burlesque which would have been completely lost at the restaurant. I suggested we dress primarily in black as it seemed appropriate for many reasons. Firstly the theme of the evening was darkness and secondly I decided it would hide any food stains I anticipated would happen through eating without light. Vancouver is a delightful city and our autumn visit had so far been a visual delight blessed with falling leaves of warm yellows and deep reds as the metropolis transitioned to winter à la wabi-sabi. Whether at the Hawksworth Cocktail bar for decadent evening concoctions or afternoon degustations of wine, olives and cheese at the stylishly-sparse Salt Tasting Room in Gastown we were consistently surrounded by chic Canadians in stylish attire and beautiful environments. The evening’s event at Dark Table was to be in stark contrast to these earlier experiences.
Very wisely the restaurant is situated away from shops and restaurants due to the noise, light and glare they usually entail. As we entered the ambiently lit front patio area, we were guided to a bench to sit and select our food and drinks. From the short menu we selected one dish which sounded tasty and for the rest we accepted the ‘Mystery Special’ options. As we were having a three course meal this meant that 5 of our plates would be unknown. We also chose a bottle of wine to lubricate our experience.
As we waited we noticed couples and groups being called to the door where they disappeared inside and it wasn’t long till Erin and I were standing at the event horizon ourselves. Rose was our sunglass-wearing waitress and as she introduced herself at the precipice to the abyss, she officially welcomed us to Dark Table, a dining experience modelled on how it feels to be blind. She briefly explained how things would work and also shared that she herself was predominantly blind. Erin was guided to place her hand on Rose’s shoulder and mine on Erin’s as we were lead in to literal, complete, pure, perfect blackness.
“Sorry, oops, excuse me. What was that??” these phrases spilled forth as Rose seemed to sprint across the room with us in tow. She was probably walking at normal speed but with no sight, it felt like she would give Hussain Bolt a run for his money! Finally we were seated and I felt a sense of security as I noticed I was in a corner with a wall behind and to my left. Once settled, Rose disappeared (!) to get our drinks and also mentioned that should we need her, we should simply call her name loudly at any moment and she would come.
As soon as she left, our hands hastily danced across and around the table; we explored, the wall, the chairs, the air above, behind us, left and right. I leant over to touch the next table and noticed how confident I felt of not being caught doing something which would normally arouse suspicion and confusion, although it did cross my mind I may touch someone but as a fan of horror movies I found the idea quite amusing.
Ironically, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly dark it was. There wasn’t a single source of light anywhere in any form in any way and with eyes open or closed, I could see nothing. The only times I have experienced such blackness were in a cave in County Durham, England when I went exploring as a teenager on a family holiday and found a doorway into a hillside I carefully crept through; once I was quite far along the cave and deep into the hillside I had my first experience of pure black; it was very peaceful. In my twenties I did something similar near Glen Innes in Australia where I followed a mud-map to a disused molybdenite mine and after an evening enjoying a bbq on my own and meeting an echidna in a bush, I decided to explore the mine. I remember ascending a steep decline through decades of (scent-free) bat droppings to a beautiful cavern criss-crossed with quartz fault lines. It was there I extinguished my light sources again to enjoy the black. The only other time I remember that kind of dark was quite recently and rather an urgent matter. Last year I was in Scotland with Erin and my parents visiting Glasgow. We stayed in an über-modern high rise hotel called citizenM where each room is like a space capsule and I now know they have excellent blackout curtains. I awoke in the middle of the night needing the toilet and still a little tiddly from a wonderful night out at a jazz club. Due to my condition I had absolutely no memory of where I was and even that Erin was next to me in bed as there were no visual queues whatsoever to help me. It was an incredible experience and naked, I literally felt my way around the room for a number of minutes till I finally found a handle to a door. Upon opening it, I saw the corridor of the hotel and finally realised where I was! I don’t mind sharing that those minutes felt like hours due to the urgency of my situation! I digress …
Anyway, it was surprisingly noisy at Dark Table with people chatting and crockery clinking. I now realise that the volume was particularly loud due to the fact that everyone was talking … nobody was lost in their phones!
Erin and I enjoyed trying to cut meat, fish and vegetables and feed each other and unsurprisingly, our fingers explored our dishes more than would be acceptable in polite society. For me, after the initial few minutes of acclimatising, I really enjoyed the experience as conversations felt easier and less judgemental and again it was internally peaceful. As a person trained in body language, eye cues and with a reasonable taste in fashion, I felt that with those indicators dissolved, I felt less judged and judged others less. We ended up chatting to the two girls on the table next to us and I really enjoyed the freedom of blindness. The food was not outstanding and I was surprised I didn’t notice the flavours more but I think that our hearing actually becomes sharper as it can protect us more than our taste buds. I feel that a slower meal of exquisite small tasty morsels would change that though.
I could say more but I’ll leave it there and highly encourage you to try the experience. If you do, please talk to people at another table as that was something I really enjoyed and learned a lot from. Also, I’m open to organising a blind date for friends in LA if they’d like to try it out as there’s a restaurant like this in Santa Monica. I’ll do my best to match make them with someone they don’t know and you’ll get to enjoy the meal and learn about someone with absolutely no visual cues. At the end of the meal you can kiss if you want to whether you leave together or separately … all part of the fun and I think it would be a really eye-opening experience.