The Strangest Experience of my Life

On Wednesday I travelled to a restaurant for the work Christmas meal. A relaxed lunch with co-workers I rarely see. It was quite the experience.

After arriving a little early, a few of us wandered around in the street outside a closed wooden door with no sign – wondering if the establishment was open. Our only clue came when somebody left carrying a large television under their arm. Everybody fell into step behind me, and I led our brave band into a somewhat strange, dark entrance lobby with no sign of staff.

Turning a corner, the restaurant bar opened before us, with a tall, thin, gaunt gentleman in a formal suit, with a shock of black hair erupting from each side of his head – the only hair on his head – greeting us with an incredibly intimidating stare. Surrounded by velvet covered walls, black glass tables, silver and gold burnished furniture, and all manner of taxidermy adorning the walls, you might easily have wondered if his last name might be Frankenfurter.

Every step further into the establishment grew more strange. I wondered if this was what might happen if Tim Burton and Salvador Dali had designed a high-class brothel with a restaurant attached. Walls studded with leather, velvet, and paisley. Soft furnishings draped in leather. Heavy gold scroll-work everywhere.

Dracula’s Castle had nothing on this place.

The ceiling was decorated with tree branches covered in stuffed birds – among them parrots, pigeons, and who-knows-what else. The front-end of two zebras and two antelope lined the bar area – with both the front and back end of a giraffe towering over a marble spiral staircase towards the bathrooms.

Off the bar area, a labyrinth of dining rooms shone in the dark – with glassware, silverware, and chandeliers glinting in the oppressively low lighting.

It certainly gave us all something to talk about.

While congregating in the bar area, I couldn’t help noticing the other clientelle. Apparently wealthy business people, accompanied by fashion-model partners. I put two and two together in my head, and wondered how accurate my answer may have been. The restaurant is attached to a five-star hotel, with bedrooms that gothic-horror-porn might only dream of (if such a thing exists).

I can’t help giving them credit though. The meal was wonderful. The table service was wonderful. The food was wonderful. Apparently reasonably priced too. I imagine the “experience” must be the draw to pay a small fortune for a room with somebody special that neither will ever forget (unless of course you have a problem with a night of passion in Dracula’s castle, surrounded by intimidating taxidermy, and the occasionally genuinely frightening member of staff).

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the entire experience was the toilets. I had been pre-warned that they were dark, and caused no end of confusion and conversation among those that visited them. Eventually – after drinking half a bottle of wine – I could avoid visiting no further.

You know those mirror mazes in fun-fayres? Imagine one of those in the dark, with a polished black floor, and no apparent sign of… well… toilets. After my eyes adjusted to the dark, I made out urinals along one wall, and somebody else further into the room. I walked forwards and took a step to one-side – to let them past – before realising I had just gestured to myself in a mirror.

The fun didn’t end there. There’s no easy way of describing this. After unfastening my trousers, I looked down, and realised the gutter of the urinals was some distance away, with an apparent gap – where if you missed, you would be peeing all over your own shoes, and the floor. Only after a few moments peeing and hoping for the best did I realise that the entire thing was an entirely deliberate optical illusion using mirrors. Why? Why would somebody design something like that?

After washing my hands, finding no hand driers, and turning around, I realised there was no way of knowing which door I had entered from – there were three identical doors along the wall. I chose the two wrong doors first. Finally escaping back to the spiral marble staircase, I returned to our group rather relieved to have survived the adventure.

I still don’t really know what to make of the entire experience. I’ve looked up reviews of the establishment online. It garners either five stars, or one star. Nothing in-between. I wonder if the interior designers and architect were given just a little bit too much free reign after a heavy drinking session and a very, very dark movie marathon.

I really do wonder about that matradee though – people like that just don’t exist in the real world – or at least I didn’t think they did. I wonder how many hundred years old he really was?

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