Inside the sleek, understated restaurant lobby, a man explains the rules. No devices that make light, like watches or phones, allowed inside. Put everything in the lockers by the front door. Hang up your coats; if you take anything in, you will lose it.
In the Blind Cow, a restaurant in a stucco villa in Zurich, your expectations are a liability. In your normal life, you might be able to look around you and scoop up a handbag that’s fallen to the floor. In here, behind the soot-black curtains that cloak the dining room, another reality holds a sway.
Into the lobby sweeps the red-haired waiter. He indicates to line up behind him, conga-line style. Then it’s off through a dim antechamber, the velvety drapes… and then, nothing.
There’s the sound of a room full of people talking and laughing, the chinking of cutlery. But to the eye, there are only the dark peacock feathers that swirl across your vision when your eyelids are closed. In fact, it doesn’t matter if your eyes are open. Close them, if you like. It makes no difference at all.
Dark restaurants like the Blind Cow offer a tantalizing novelty – a meal eaten in complete darkness, in this case served by wait staff who are blind or have limited vision. For them, darkness poses no obstacle. In the black of the dining rooms, they move easily and surely, while the sighted remain rooted to their chairs, unable to navigate.
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Though there are now a smattering of such places around the globe, the Blind Cow was the first permanent instantiation, founded in 1999 by a blind clergyman. I am here today with my sister, and as I fumble for the back of my chair, my senses are reeling, I wonder how eating in darkness feels different to someone with sight. In the absence of vision, do the other senses grow sharper? Do you eat less when you have no idea what you’re eating? And what does being in the dark do to other aspects of your mind?