World’s weirdest themed restaurants
Eating out should always be an experience. Yet while the food is generally the star attraction at most decent restaurants, other venues are more memorable for factors other than their bill of fare.
Some might deem them gimmicky. We prefer to use the term "theatrical."
1. Hobbit House: Manila, Philippines
Is it really OK to refer to a dwarf as a Hobbit? Well, it was certainly more acceptable to do so in the early 1970s when Jim Turner, a former college professor and Peace Corps volunteer, not to mention a complete Tolkein geek, opened this long-standing Manila favorite.
Staffed entirely by Filipino dwarfs, the restaurant proudly proclaims it employs "the smallest waiters in the world."
Diners of a sensitive bent might balk at the political incorrectness of it all, but the waiters are of an indisputably sunny disposition. Meanwhile, Turner’s masterful brainwave has had global implications with a similar restaurant -- Dwarves of the East (without the Middle Earth overtones) having opened in Cairo, Egypt.
1212 Arquiza Trade Center; M.h. del Pilar Street, Ermita, Manila; +63 2 525 3415; www.hobbithousemanila.com
2. Pyongyang: Laos, Cambodia, Nepal and United Arab Emirates
With branches worldwide, this chain stakes a claim to being North Korea’s best-loved export (we’re assuming that no one has any great affection for plastics, weapons, minerals and dual-purpose chemicals).
The unparalleled beauty of the hermit republic is showcased as giant flatscreen televisions flash images of towering mountains and shimmering lakes to diners. Later on in the evening the action steps up a notch or two as the synthesisers strike up and the slightly stern waitresses shed their inhibitions to belt out odes to the mother country.
The chain fulfils its patriotic duty financially too, sending an estimated US$30,000 annually back to North Korea.
Vientiane branch: Th Nong Bon; +856 21 263 118
3. Heart Attack Grill: Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
The lines between conceptual art, satire and cold, hard artery-clogged reality are very much blurred at this merciless take on the traditional U.S. diner.
Taking as its start point the American predilection for massive over-consumption, the restaurant serves up what its founder, Jon Basso, once called "nutritional pornography, or food so bad for you it is shocking."
Two customers have recently suffered heart attacks while eating at this to-hell-with-health diner.
Orders are taken by busty stethoscope-wielding nurses who then dole out prescriptions for "single," "double," "triple" and "quadruple" bypass burgers ranging from eight to a whopping 32 ounces of meat.
The "quadruple" consists of four half-pound patties, eight slices of cheese and 16 slices of bacon while the bun is coated with lard.
450 Fremont St., Las Vegas; www.heartattackgrill.com
4. NG Meat Bar: Tel Aviv, Israel
NG Meat Bar's website describes it as a "small, romantic and almost magical" place; but it’s probably best to avoid arranging an intimate tête-à-tête when NG Meat Bar hosts one of its regular "Barbarian" meals.
Diners are posited around a large communal table then plied with wine and boutique beers -- the restaurant is known for championing the Israeli microbrew community -- before the meat feast commences.
Fleshy delicacies include oxtail in red wine and chestnuts, roasted duck, piglet in maple sauce, lamb shank and raw beef fillet on the bone. There’s no cutlery or plates -- customers just unleash their inner Cro-Magnon man and tear the meat apart with their bare hands.
6th Ehad Ha’am St., Neve Tsedek, +972 3 516 7888; www.ngrestaurant.co.il
5. Eternity: Truskavets, Ukraine
With the Ukrainian sense of humor being famously morbid, it is a natural home for the world’s first coffin restaurant. Run by a group of undertakers -- yep, it’s a pretty weird joint -- the eatery abounds with deathly connotations.
First there’s the venue itself, a giant 20 meter-long and six meter-high casket that lays claim to being the largest coffin in the world. The solemn decor features black walls and wreaths while single candles on the table add to the funereal atmosphere.
Reviews of the food are sparse are there are few signs the place is still operating, but just for how it turns a social taboo into a great day out, we're including it here. If you find yourself, and this place, in Lviv in Ukraine, let us know if the dishes sporting such jaunty names as "Let’s Meet in Paradise" are worth dying for.
Somewhere in Lviv, Ukraine
6. Modern Toilet: Taipei, Taiwan
Modern Toilet is so famous these days that calling it weird seems unoriginal. The descriptions may be tired, but they are true.
Harnessing the hitherto untapped potential of using the bathroom as a venue for dining, the restaurant is a scatological fantasyland. Owner Wang Zi-Wei has stated that his inspiration came from a robot character in a Japanese cartoon who loved to "play with poop and swirl it on a stick."
It’s not all about the excrement however. Gratins are served in miniature bathtubs while drinks come in pint-sized plastic urinals. The pièce de résistance is the chocolate ice cream, which is swirled to give it the appearance of, yep, you already got it.
2F, No 7, Lane 50, Xi Ning South Road, Taipei; +886 2 2311 8822; www.moderntoilet.com
7. Fortezza Medicea Jail Restaurant: Pisa, Italy
There’s a scene in Martin Scorcese’s classic "Goodfellas" where the incarcerated anti-heroes cook up an amazing-looking pasta sauce. For the inmates of this top-security prison, such culinary endeavors are just a part of doing bird.
Under the watchful eye of armed prison warders, a 20-strong team of chefs, kitchen hands and waiters -- drawn from a wide cross section of nefarious demographics such as Mafiosi, robbers and murderers -- serve diners.
The food is said to be so good that tables are generally booked up weeks in advance. Part of that might be down to the Ministry of Justice in Rome, however, which needs to vet every diner for evidence of a dubious background.
Fortezza Medicea Restaurant, via del Castello, Volterra; +39 058 886 099
8. Guolizhuang: Beijing, China
There’s a members-only policy here but it refers to the food, not the patrons. Penises of every shape, size and variety are served up at this genitalia-obsessive emporium.
While the restaurant may be single minded in its focus, its chefs seem to know how to keep things interesting. The hot pot is an especially virile concoction, containing 10 appendages from different animals. Other dishes include "Jasmine Flowers with 1,000 Layers" and "Look for the Treasure in the Desert Sand."
While the exotic names are undoubtedly alluring, you get the sneaking suspicion that they were dreamed up as a ruse to make sliced donkey penis and sheep testicals curry seem more appealing.
34-3 Dongsi Shitiao, Dongcheng District, +86 (010) 8411 6666
9. Ninja: New York, United States
What’s the first thing you look for in a Japanese restaurant? Is it the freshness of the fish? The texture of the rice? The skill of the sushi chef?
Chances are it doesn’t involve being bothered by troublesome ninjas every couple of minutes.
The waiters don’t have throwing stars, nunchuks or swords. Instead they inflict pain by leaping out at you at inopportune moments or by feinting as if to throw a plate of food at you.
25 Hudson St., New York; +1 212 274 8500; www.ninjanewyork.com
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