The dress code was “small-town surrealist chic" and I was required to bring an owl of my own choosing. The location was emailed to me on the day of my reservation and turned out to be in one of London’s many disused industrial husks just waiting to be tarted up by a tech startup. The invitation pictured a piece of cherry pie and a cup of coffee. No need to mention that it was damn fine — this was Twin Peaks, immersive style, a pop-up themed restaurant set in the world of the TV show so cultish it could have been made for this sort of thing. A little amuse-bouche, perhaps, for those who just can’t wait for David Lynch to bring it back next year after a 25 year hiatus, in Showtime’s much–anticipated update. (That said, Showtime is not affiliated with this pop-up culinary tribute.)
So what did my $100 get me? I descended down a stairwell draped in black-out curtains, where “The Owls are Not What They Seem,” a phrase uttered by a Peaks character known as The Giant, was spelled out in neon lights on the wall. At the bottom I was met by a shifty doorman in a plaid shirt who was a cipher for bad boy Leo Johnson. Leo kindly offered me something to pep up my evening, touching his nose, before assigning me a character in the form of a suspect from the ‘Double Pineview’ Sheriff’s Department. This was essentially a short script for my evening complete with the character I was meant to be playing — The Town Artist. That gave me something to do — find a hidden canvas, paint a picture — besides playing spot the Peaks-y references and show off to my dining partner just how little I got out in the ‘90s.
There was plenty to spot. After giving my fingerprints to a suspicious Officer Andy (covered in tape: tick) I went through, past the Killer Bob photofits, to a luridly lit Double R diner, my main destination for the evening. Appropriately for a show that’s been deconstructed more than Lego, they served up the whole Peaksian smorgasbord but with a twist. The damn fine coffee given to you as you headed to your table turned out to be some kind of cold caffeinated cocktail. The starter was also a cup of coffee, except that it was actually some gloopy mushroom gruel and the donuts were savory brioche. Meatloaf and mash was simpler and better; the final slice of cherry pie obvious but necessary. I don’t recall Prosecco being served at the Double R Diner but I had some anyway, to wash down all the coffee that wasn’t actually coffee.
Booze was a good plan — a little abstracted wooziness, it turned out, was the ideal mental state in which to enjoy the evening. Every time I looked up from my booth there was a memory from the series there to delight or disturb — Audrey Horne swaying by the jukebox; Dr. Jacoby, Laura Palmer’s psychiatrist with the Hawaii obsession, wandered around offering appointments; Agent Cooper himself asking me my whereabouts two nights ago when the homecoming queen met her end.
Each course was bookended by an artistic intermission — the lights went down, and the actors who’d otherwise been bumbling about in character would play out a short vignette from the show. You got everything from the world’s most unwelcoming welcome speech by the Log Lady to Special Agent Gordon Cole, the character played by Lynch himself in the original TV series, being smitten by the waitress.
Finally, Cooper took everyone upstairs for a Town Meeting, we trooped past that body on a slab in plastic and were led down to the Roadhouse and, beyond that, the infamous Red Room. I didn’t see the backwards-talking dwarf but after a couple more cocktails I was doing a passable impression of him myself, whether I liked it or not. Did it all add up to a damn fine immersive experience? Not quite. The food wasn’t great and at times the connection with Twin Peaks felt like an afterthought, just another item on the menu rather than the reason the menu existed.
To be fair, though, this was the first night, and a true Peaks fan neither wants nor expects coherence. So the fact that the whole experience felt a little disjointed might have been the intended effect. From the graffiti on the washroom mirrors — “Rumor has it the dead girl is actually a dead boy” — to the kissing flamingos on the checked linoleum floor, even to the duff food, The Owls Are Not What They Seem restaurant was unsettling and chaotic. I’m pretty sure David Lynch would consider that a compliment.
The Owls Are Not What They Seem is open now at a Central London location. It runs until October. Tickets £65 (c. $100) available online.