You gotta get a gimmick. This sage advice once dispensed to the queen of striptease, Gypsy Rose Lee, now also seems to apply to an unlikely bunch — restaurateurs. Apparently fantastic food is no longer enough to sustain a restaurant and draw in the crowds, especially in the highly competitive markets of big cities. So, like the stripper covered in Christmas tree lights, entrepreneurs are adding a heaping ladle of shtick to their culinary ventures. Move over mom and pop — here comes the theme restaurant.
A brief overview of some of the more outrageous entries:
We put the restraints in restaurant!
Opened in the late ’90s in New York City, La Nouvelle Justine was the world’s first S&M-themed eatery. Here, the latex-clad staff is ready to take your order — and your orders. The waitresses are dommes and the busboys are slaves, and the menu is “nouvelle French cuisine” (optionally, you can have your meal served in a doggy bowl, you foul, lowly, disgusting little worm).
A second S&M restaurant, La Maison de Sade, also opened shortly after Justine, but apparently there’s not much call for masochistic dining; La Maison closed in 2001, and La Nouvelle just recently closed, and is now a Hawaiian tiki-themed restaurant called Waikiki Wally’s.
Is that an eggroll in your pocket …
Lucky Cheng’s is a simple concept: Chinese food, served by drag queens. There are all sorts of inappropriate jokes that could be made about pupu platters, but we’ll refrain. Alas, the Lucky Cheng’s in New Orleans has closed, and only the one in New York City (housed in the same building as the former La Nouvelle) remains. See it with your own eyes: luckychengs.net.
Stevie Wonder gave it four stars
It’s said that people who lose one sense develop a heightened awareness in their remaining senses. This is the concept behind Dans Le Noir, a restaurant in Paris that serves its food in pitch-black darkness. From the eatery’s Web site: “If this idea seems to be a little strange to you at first, it is maybe because by suppressing the dominant sense of the sight, each person naturally starts a deep questioning.”
Yeah, such as, “What the hell am I about to eat?” See it for yourself: www.danslenoir.fr.
We here at MT don’t know what prison food tastes like (we swear) but we can only imagine it rivals airline food. So we scratch our heads at the phenomenon of prison-themed restaurants in Asia. At Jail in Taipei, Taiwan, diners are handcuffed, read their rights and taken to their cells, where they eat behind bars. Japan has the Lockup, where your prison guards are svelte young things in miniskirts. The country is also home to not one, not two, but three different Alcatraz restaurants.
So, Detroit’s feeling a little left out here. We have the Hard Rock Café (gee, thanks) but that hardly counts as a truly themed eatery. So we’ve come up with a couple of ideas for Detroit-centric restaurants that capture the true spirit of the Motor City — both good and bad.
What better way to pay homage to Detroit’s most famous duo? Naturally, all food served is red and white. Obviously, peppermint candies are hot on the list, but liberal use of food coloring will be necessary to expand the menu. Ideally, it would open in the main lobby of the Hotel Yorba — but then nobody would go.
The Big Three
Here, you have the chance to assemble your own meal on an assembly line. Absolutely no Japanese or German cuisine is served.
Here’s an ingenious solution to Detroit’s rampant abandoned car problem — turn them into mobile grills. Like a veritable hot dog stand chain, Carbecue turns that pesky run-down Olds into a lean, mean grillin’ machine that would put George Foreman to shame. It’s not like they’re not going to catch on fire anyway, right? Would you like your steak grilled with diesel or unleaded?
Be sure to check out the sister restaurant, the Abandoned Café. MT’s own Abandoned Structure Squad considered opening a chain like this, but we weren’t sure if anyone would actually want to eat at the A.S.S. Café.
The Kwame Café
You get 10 percent smaller portions at twice the price. Show your Cass Tech Class of ’88 student ID and get everything free. Try the Navigator Platter — no one knows who actually came up with the recipe, but it sure is tasty.Sarah Klein is the culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]