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Eat in the dark with strangers at The Blind Cafe in Seattle this weekend

(Courtesy of The Blind Cafe)

What if you couldn’t see what someone looked like when you met them? Couldn’t see if they were attractive or not, what color their skin was, how much they weighed, if they had a disability. That’s exactly what happens when you spend an evening at The Blind Cafe.

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The Blind Cafe is a popup restaurant, founded by a guy named Rosh (It’s just Rosh, like Prince or Madonna) nearly nine years ago.

Rosh and his small crew travel the United States, creating dark dining experiences with a little help from blind ambassadors.

“Basically, it’s 100 people in a pitch dark room all breaking bread together at community tables where the food is on the table like Thanksgiving dinner,” Rosh said. “You can’t see anything. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. So we have a real heart-to-heart conversation with our friends who are blind. They open up about themselves and their lives and you get to ask questions and learn about their lives. There’s something about being in the dark that really creates this environment where people can open up with a level of honesty and vulnerability they usually wouldn’t.”

The night also includes live music by Rosh, who is sometimes accompanied by a band and sometimes solo. And, of course, there is dinner.

“So it’s going to be vegan and gluten free,” said event production manager Casey Papp. “It’s a mystery menu so we don’t tell you what it’s going to be but it’s really good. [The chef] gets veggies from the farmer’s market.”

But food isn’t the primary focus of the experience.

“When you’re in the dark you’re very much with yourself, you have to be present with yourself,” Rosh said. “You don’t have your phone on, you don’t have your eye contact with other people, so you’re trying to engage and communicate. So you start to learn about yourself, self awareness. You have to be present with whatever that is. Then there’s trying to socialize and engage in a community setting without your sight.”

Which can be a little awkward.

“It can be confusing,” he said. “Sometimes somebody is telling a story and you’re so interested and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I can totally relate!’ and you start responding back to them and then you realize they’re not talking to you. They’re talking to someone else. Because you don’t have that eye contact.”

“Sometimes things can get rowdy really quickly,” Papp said. “People tend to talk louder when they can’t see each other. Then sometimes things are much more chill in the dark. It really just depends on the group dynamic. There’s a whole range of experiences and it’s really interesting to hear every individual, what they came out of it with. No matter what it is, you come out of it with something.”

She talks about the first time she experienced The Blind Cafe.

“I’m kind of an introvert and I found I could retreat into myself and not feel pressure to engage or talk because no one can see me and I can just disappear in the dark. When I wanted to engage and I wanted to talk it was on my own terms, you know. I could reach out and talk to someone because I wanted to and not because it was what I was supposed to be doing.”

Like Rosh mentioned, they invite a couple of blind “ambassadors” to come and tell their stories and diners are welcome to ask questions. He says the unique conditions of the night can fuel vulnerability and discussion.

“We had one woman who shared with us in the dark, this was in Portland a couple years back,” Rosh said. “She got up and started sharing with us. She said, ‘This was the first time I’ve ever truly socialized with others without them seeing me as overweight or a black woman first.’ She was crying, we were all crying with her, it was so beautiful. She was just spilling her guts. She was having a different experience. That happens a lot for the blind staff, as well. You meet one of them in the dark and you don’t see their cane, you don’t start getting all uncomfortable or weird around them. You see the cane and you have involuntary visual conditioning that comes up.”

So what about the practical stuff? If you need more napkins or you need to use the bathroom. The blind staff are there to help.

“Pretty much just yell and get their attention and if they’re not hearing you, you can have your whole table do the, ‘One two three!’ thing and then they’ll come get you and lead you out,” Papp explained.

The Blind Cafe is in Seattle October 4-6 and tickets are available here.

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