The idea was intriguing. Meeting someone for the first time in a dark restaurant. A literal blind date. It had been two years since she attempted dating another person, and the thought of looking in another man’s eyes felt exhausting. So, maybe this would do the trick.
As she rose her cleansed face from the sink, still dripping, she raised her head to the mirror. Looking at the skin around her eyes and her mouth, she thought, maybe he would like me better in the dark? Then another horrifying thought entered her mind, Oh god, what if I sound weird? Or eat too loudly? The idea of eating in front of someone on a first date was usually a faux pas. Hopefully, her chewing would sound like soothing ASMR and not a sloping toddler. She was getting stressed. This man must have been creative to have picked this restaurant or, alternatively, very unattractive.
This restaurant was new to her city, but not a new concept to most. All the staff in Café Noir were visually impaired and the restaurant was kept completely dark. The intention behind the concept, besides being inclusive to all people, was to let your body experience a different level of sensory pleasure. She had been lacking that lately.
Getting ready for a blind date was weird. Getting ready for a blind date where the other person couldn’t see her was even weirder. The stakes were higher.
What if the date goes well but when we leave the restaurant the light hits my skin and as I flip my hair for my grand reveal with a flirty “Hi, it’s me” look, he gasps, points and screams “Quasimodo!”? Okay, she was better looking than poor Quasimodo. Anticipation of what he would look like could only end in disappointment.
She dried her face and began painting it with her new makeup palette, curled a wand through her auburn hair and decided to go with an olive green mid-thigh length dress.
“High neckline means a little extra leg”, she said aloud as if trying to convince herself.
For the last touches, she added a dark red lip and perfume. An attractive scent is more important now than ever. She reached for her only bottle of perfume, a subtle floral fragrance, that hopefully suggested she made decent money, and didn’t reveal that she hadn’t had sex or bought a new perfume in 2 years. She gave herself one last inspection in her full-length mirror, let out a long, exasperated sigh, opened her apartment door and departed for the restaurant.
Pulling the door open to Café Noir, she felt the sweat from her palm slip on the cold handle. The entryway was narrow and lined with leather benched couches. It was softly lit with an elegant chandelier: the only light she would see for the next 2 hours.
“Welcome to Café Noir!” said a tall, dark haired man from behind the desk that sat at the back of the entryway area.
There was a doorway to his left, covered by a thick, black, velvet curtain. A gentle hum came from the restaurant behind it.
“Do you have a reservation?” He asked politely.
“Yes, I do. For two”, she said and repeated her date’s name to him.
“And have you been here before?”
She shook her head.
“Have you been here before?” he repeated. “If not I have some expectations for you to read through, or feel if you read braille” gesturing towards the counter in front of him.
“Oh, I am sorry. No, no I have not.” Blushing with embarrassment, she walked towards the guidelines on the counter and began to read them, praying her date wasn’t going to walk in behind her.
The instructions read: Welcome to Café Noir! Get ready for an experience! Once you enter the restaurant you will be in complete darkness. A host will escort you to your table and we ask that you place a hand on their shoulder, so they can guide you effectively. Once you are at your table, they will direct you to your chairs and go through your meal experience. The menu is pre-set so please let your server know if you have any allergies. There will be soft lights that guide you to the restroom. If you need assistance, please ask your server. We also ask you to not use your phone. The light omission is distracting to other guests. Thanks for coming! Enjoy!
“Ready?” The man asked. “I will escort your Plus One when they arrive.” He walked towards the curtain.
“Yes,” she replied and placed her hand on his shoulder.
Although she knew she was entering a dark room, it was still surprising how dark it actually was. There were very soft lights, a metre apart, that lined the aisles. It was slightly overwhelming. The hum of the restaurant was much louder now, and her sense of direction was completely turned around.
“Here we are,” said the man, “Let me just grab your chair for you, you will feel it against the back of your legs momentarily. Your server will be with you, once your guest arrives.”
“Thank you,” she said in awe, unable to wrap her mind around how he did that so fluidly.
As she sat down, she smoothed her dress out flat on her thighs with her sweaty palms, then interlaced her hands on her lap. She took a slow breath in, and exhaled just as slowly, calming her nerves. She couldn’t remember the last time she waited for something without the distraction of her phone, or people watching. She felt invasive eavesdropping in on other conversations, but it was not in her control. Only moments later, she could hear footsteps approach her.
“…and, here we are, you will feel a chair behind you in one moment,” the tall man’s voice from the front desk interrupted the conversation she was eavesdropping on.
“Thank you,” said a warm and deep voice. It sounded older than the waiter that had brought her in. She could hear his weight sink into his chair, and she waited, nervous to speak first. She could smell him, a gentle sandalwood scent. She had not smelt a man this closely in a long time and she liked it.
“Hello,” said the voice. “Have you been waiting long?”
“Hi there,” she sounded out of breath. “Oh no, I only sat down moments ago.”
“Sorry if I kept you waiting,” he said politely, then his tone shifted. “You have a very lovely voice,” he continued playfully.
“Oh, haha,” she smiled. “Thank you, as do you. Very deep.”
Oh god, she thought, Don’t say ‘deep’! There was a list of uncomfortable words she should avoid saying, especially in an intimate setting like this one, and “deep” was one of them.
“Hello, welcome to Café Noir,” interjected a friendly feminine voice. “Tonight we have 3 dishes for you. Each one will be a surprise and introduced as they are brought out. With each dish, we have paired it with its own 5oz glass of wine. To start off tonight we have our beet and feta salad, topped with candied walnuts and maple balsamic dressing.”
She smelled the sweet and earthy salad as it was placed on the table in front of her.
“Smells delicious,” her date said in response to her thoughts.
“It is one of my favourites,” replied our server. “We have paired the salad with a light and refreshing white wine, called Gladiolus.” The sound of two wine glasses clinked together as she placed them on the table. “This is a fruiter white, with a hint of floral aroma. I will be back with your main course in 20 minutes. Enjoy!”
“Have you been here before?” he asked.
She appreciated that he was initiating conversation. “No, but I have been meaning to come.” She could not stop thinking about her unintentional sexual innuendos and hoped he wasn’t thinking the same. “Have you?” She raised her wine to her lips and prayed this would relax her.
“I have. My brother is one of the cooks here, so I am familiar with their menu. They always have delicious dishes.”
They continued with light conversation as they finished their salads. It was refreshing to begin with, and he was correct, it was delicious. The beets had a soft, juicy texture that contrasted with the crunch of the walnuts, while the feta and maple dressing gave the salad a balanced sweet and salty after taste. It was remarkable how much she was paying attention to her food. The wine paired nicely with the light conversation and as she took her last sip, the server returned. She could feel her nerves melt away as the wine began to take affect.
“How was it? All finished?” the server asked. She had a cart with her this time and the smell of their next meal wafted toward them. As she cleared their plates she began introducing the main course, “Tonight’s main course is a 5 ounce steak prepared medium topped with grilled portobello mushrooms and onions. On the side we have roasted lemon baby potatoes and oven roasted asparagus.”
As she placed the dishes in front of them the smells fused together like a passionate love affair, each ingredient consuming the other until it was one euphoric whole.
The server continued, “…and the wine we have paired with this meal, a merlot, you will recognize luscious notes of black cherry and aromas of vanilla and violet. Enjoy!”
“I will never say no to a merlot,” and as he said this she could feel his leg slide towards hers. Barely touching, but making her heart race.
“I do prefer red,” she said, reciprocating movement towards him. She was nervous, but she was drawn to this man. She liked being able to make whatever facial expression matched her nerves without him seeing, it made her feel more comfortable and confident. She continued, “So, do you go on dates often?”
“Not often, no, but I felt like it was time to get out there again.” As he said this she heard him sip his wine.
She also took a sip before her next question. The hints of black cherry were prominent and she imagined the colour of the wine matched her dark red lipstick.
“Again?” she inquired. “Have you been single for a while?”
“For about 5 years. My wife, daughter and I were in an accident and I lost them both,” his voice changed to a melancholic tone. She appreciated how direct and honest he was.
“I am so sorry,” she said, feeling terrible for him and for asking the question.
They continued with their dinner and the conversation transitioned from light to dark, just like their wine. He continued to tell her how he lost his wife and daughter, how he tried to save them and how he couldn’t. He talked about the spiral he went down for 2 years, and the grief group that saved him. She wondered if it was easier to talk about his tragedy in the dark to a complete stranger. She listened intently, falling for this man who had been to hell and back and was able to effectively communicate his grief and his transformation.
The server came to take away their plates and announce their dessert, but before she was able he interjected.
“Should we get dessert to go?” he asked, and she could feel him looking in her direction.
“I’d like that, and maybe a bottle of that merlot?” she replied, squeezing her thighs in excitement.
“You read my mind,” he replied.
“I will bring your dessert, wine and bill to the front. Just follow the lights in the aisle to your right. Thank you for coming to Café Noir!” The server said politely wheeling the cart away.
As she got up from her chair she felt as if the merlot had evenly dispersed itself through her body. Every part of her felt warm and slightly numb. As she took her first step she fumbled in the dark, falling back and into her date’s chest. Catching her hips he whispered seductively in her ear, “You alright?” She could feel his warm breath on her neck.
Whether it was the merlot, her inability to see or her attraction to him she felt intoxicated with sensation. She desired to see him in the light. They approached the exit and she put her hand out in front of her to feel the velvet of the black curtain. As she pulled it open the light trickled down her arm and began to slowly reveal each part of her. He saw her olive green dress, red lips and auburn hair. She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the light.
“Very beautiful dress,” he complimented her.
“Thank you,” she said, and she knew it was time. Breathing in, she took one more step forward, and flipped her hair over her shoulder revealing her face to him. She slowly opened her eyes ready to meet his own.
Jessica Jones is a teacher living in the Manitoba prairies. For the past year she has been actively writing and sharing her experiences with co-dependency, alcoholism, and the impact it’s had on her and her relationships. Her interests include psychology, photography, and her brand-new podcast called Mulch. For more stories and articles by Jessica follow her on Instagram @from.mulch, listen to her podcast Mulch or visit her website frommulch.com.
Featured Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash