Dining In The Dark — On Purpose

At a time when all that many trendy restaurants seem to care about is the look of their food and décor, there's one that doesn't give a hoot about looks. It's a hip spot on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles called Opaque, where patrons dine in total darkness.

Ben Uphues opened this pitch-dark restaurant with not so much as a candle.

"Glowing watches, take 'em off and put em in your pocket, and turn off the cell phones," he tells customers. "When your eyes are really adjusted, a cell phone can light up the whole room."

Where did he get such a bizarre idea? Dark dining restaurants are in Paris, London and all over Europe. The first one was opened in Zurich by a blind minister. Menus are useless so diners order before going in. Three courses for about $100, plus dry cleaning.

"Sometimes people come out in stained shirts that's obvious but not too bad," Uphues told Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist.

Geist joined the long-line of trusting souls who waited to get into Opaque, where darkness is no problem for the servers who are legally blind.

"Because we know that they can adjust and adapt to a space that is completely black and as this has been considered a disability now it's their ability," Uphues said.

"It helped me to say that even though I am visually impaired there are things I can do and be productive and actually make a living," one of the servers named Michelle said.

"I was pretty excited and amazed at the idea," Geist's waitress, Beatrice, said. "I would have never thought I would become a waitress."

Beatrice finds the job interesting and, at times, amusing.

"For me it's normal," she said. "They're clueless. They assume the butter is olives. It's round balls of butter and they just pop it in their mouths."

In the dark wine is a real problem — for Linda, who poured, and for Jim, finding the glass.

"I'm feeling around for your wine, what I'm coming up with is a handful of your salad on the table," Jim told her.

Chef Phil says there are definite dark dining don'ts.

"Obviously you wouldn't want to serve anything that has bones in it," he said. "Soup, obviously it would end up being on the floor somewhere. I think probably spaghetti would not end up on the fork either, it would end up on the floor."

Nothing much does end up on the fork. It seems to be all or nothing at all. Strategies and tactics develop. Linda favors a herding technique in which she brings all her food to the center of her plate.

"You have to herd, round it up," she said. "Herd it into the center."

"I'm not sure where my plate is," Geist said.

Soon all food becomes finger food.

"I'm going with my hands I gave up on utensils," Geist said. "I'm ditching my fork and knife."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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