This Taipei spot replicates the in-flight experience with an interior designed to look like an airplane cabin with servers dressed like flight attendants who wheel around food and beverage carts.
Courtesy of Victor Wong.
Fortezza Medicea Restaurant; Volterra, Italy
In Italy, one of the toughest restaurants to get into is this oddly situated one, set inside a prison and staffed almost entirely by inmates (don't worry, the cutlery is plastic). One reason for the waits of up to two months is that it's hugely popular; the other is that every diner needs to be screened by Rome's Ministry of Justice.
The original toilet-themed restaurant in Taipei has been so wildly successful that a dozen branches have opened across Taiwan. At all of them, diners are seated on standard-sized toilets and eat out of miniature ones. Drinks, though, are served in tiny urinals.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Knoizki.
Medieval Times; Kissimmee, Fla.
This restaurant chain with nine locations across the United States and Canada takes theme dining to epically grand proportions. All restaurants resemble castles, host jousting tournaments, and follow dining etiquette from the 11th century (no silverware). The Kissimmee, Fla. outpost is even surrounded by a moat.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Medieval Times.
At this Singaporean hospital-themed restaurant and club, the rooms are pill-shaped, and the seating is on golden wheelchairs and metal hospital beds that have been converted into banquettes.
CREDIT: Courtesy of the Clinic.
Christon Café; Tokyo
Stained glass windows, Virgin Mary statues and paintings of Jesus Christ fill this irreverent Tokyo spot inspired by the Catholic Church. Diners listen to organ music while eating izakaya (Japanese small plates) and ordering off a coffin-shaped beverage list.
CREDIT: Damon Anderson via flickr.
Neko JaLaLa; Tokyo
The tiny apartments and abundance of pet-restricted buildings in Tokyo have given rise to numerous cat cafés across the city. At Neko JaLaLa, visitors can choose from a simple coffee and tea menu and pet the eight freely roaming cats.
“I feel like medieval tonight” is not a common response to that classic question of where to eat, but it could be soon. Once relegated to theme parks and kid-friendly chains, oddball dining experiences are gaining in popularity.
The appeal of outlandish restaurants lies in our penchant for escapism. “Some of it is trying to go back to our roots,” says Rupert Spies, a senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. “Eating with our hands is a very sensuous and primal experience,” he explains of restaurants like Medieval Times, where diners are addressed as “Lord” and “Lady,” and no utensils are provided.
Customers look beyond decor and atmospherics; food is an important part of the fantasy. “There are only two things that are equally intimate,” Spies says. “One is sex, and the other one is eating.” A meal has to fit in with the surroundings and with diners' tastes. “You are transporting yourself for an hour or two into a different world,” Spies says. “Food helps, because it is so immediate; it helps you become completely immersed.”
Much like travelers on vacation, diners who go to theme restaurants usually embrace the full experience. “You have the music, you have the decor, the ambiance, the behavior of the people who serve you. Even if it’s just around the corner, you want to completely escape," says Spies.
Still, some weird restaurants seem to find success by just being plain bizarre. At a restaurant called Modern Toilet in Taipei, Taiwan, the seats are toilets, bowls are shaped like bathtubs and the glasses resemble urinals. At least the food, including beef sirloin hot pot and pork with black pepper sauce, is reportedly delicious.