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Trick and Treat: Kyiv and the World Concept Restaurants

Concept, or themed, restaurants, where You can enjoy not only eating but also some unique atmosphere, are usually associated with Lviv, not Kyiv. In truth, the capital has a number of places for eating out of such character, but, as the city itself, they convey a different mood from Lviv. If Kyiv’s concept restaurants were on the menu, they would not be piquant, but certainly the menu would have its peculiar zest.

What Is a Concept Restaurant

Entertaining (and not necessarily food) is the main aim of every concept restaurant. For this, local coloring, sense of humor, stereotypes, and epatage are used. “Make sure you have… an appetite to take on what’s never been done before. Make certain that you’re willing to be more creative and passionate than they are”, advices Stephen Schussler, the founder of the Rainforest Café network in America, one of the concept restaurant brands known all over the world. However, it is not easy to be unique: a seemingly unique atmosphere in one country may be considered boring in another. Some concepts are widespread due to their simplicity and effectiveness: for example, the restaurants where You can eat in the dark or those with hospital setting may be found in almost every touristic city more or less interested in ‘wow-effects’. Being commonplaces does not prevent them from popularity. Kyiv also has such places, namely, the newly opened “Dark Side” and “Palata №6” (Ward 6th).

Bright, stereotypic décor, in other words, kitsch, is a typical feature of concept cafes. “Masoch” restaurant in Lviv constantly attracts the attention of the press for its erotic interior, while “The House of Legends” (also the property of “!FEST” holding) recreates the spirit of old legendary Lviv, starting from sewerage and ending with gifts. Kitsch has been characteristical for concept restaurants from the very beginning: it was a core concept of Disneyland cafes, tiki (jungle, island) interiors and the restaurants with American “wild West” saloon themes. There is also a restaurant in Tokyo where the waitresses wear manga and anime clothing or are dressed up as computer games characters. Catchy kitsch interior is inspirational in Kyiv café “Pobieda” (Victory) that recreates the mood of the USSR. There, waiters’ uniform resembles good old canteens of the Soviet Union, the menu is full of handmade dumplings and original kissel (dessert of farina, fruit, and sugar), and tables covered with cute Soviet prints like calendars stand near bookshelves of real Soviet editions.

Concept restaurants are sometimes brave enough to give their visitors a bit of confusion. Dick’s Last Resort in the US likes to poke at its clients: the visitors of the place are given huge paper caps with funny names they used to be called in childhood, and the waiters are told to make fun of the customers. One of the restaurant’s slogans is “The Joint Yer Mama Warned You about”. Vampire restaurants (in London, Bucharest, and Tokyo) scare their visitors with specific dishes and bloody decorative elements; additionally, in Romania, an actor performs as Dracula from time to time, and in Japan, waiters are told to appear unexpectedly near the table to terrify like “real” vampires. An English-speaking reporter LaCarmina who has recently come up with the book about 30 freak restaurants in Tokyo says that vampire cafes are surprisingly popular among the elderly. As for Ukraine, Lviv’s entertainment industry keeps up with world conceptual provocations: You will not do without haggling in the Jewish restaurant “Pid Zolotoyu Rozoyu” (Under Golden Rose), while the passage to Ukrainian rebel café “Kryivka” is impossible without a nationalistic password. This shock effect is something that Kyiv catering industry really lacks: here, the etiquette is oriented towards peaceful satisfaction of all customers, and this is impossible when some scandal intervenes.

Epic Fail Restaurants

Sometimes extraordinary ideas just do not work. It may seem strange that “Kryivka” in Lviv, toilet café in Taiwan (all décor of which is connected with toilet theme), and the military restaurant “Buns and Guns” in Beirut, Lebanon, are flourishing, while the notorious café “Eternity” in Truskavets (Ukraine) was closed with a scandal and sold out to some interested investors abroad. Outside, “Eternity” looked pretty much like a giant coffin; its insides clearly showed that the founders were more concerned with funerals than they were with catering: dark windowless walls with black plastic bags all over them and ugly-looking plastic funeral bouquets of toxic colors were provocative enough but deprived of the slightest care for customers’ feelings. However, the café made sensation and quickly found its way to the charts like “10 Strangest Restaurants of the World”.

Such charts are not always trustworthy. For instance, almost all of them have a mysterious Japanese Cannibalistic Restaurant that is said to serve an edible model of woman’s dead body covered with dough and containing red sauce that looks like blood. The fake article is probably the result of nyotamori practice of serving rolls on a naked body of a real living woman (male “plates” may also be ordered) that goes on, though very rarely, in some of the restaurants in Japan, provoking feminist protests and orientalistic articles in Western yellow press. Still, there is no cannibalistic restaurant in Tokyo, locals say.

Conceptual Fun in Kyiv

Kyiv won’t offer You such shock or laugh as Lviv or Tokyo would, but there are other attractive opportunities here:

  • eat in the dark, where Your meal becomes a surprise – this is the offer from “Dark Side” restaurant on Podil (14A Ihorivs’ka Str., http://www.darkside.kiev.ua/);
  •  come “back in the USSR” – there are already 9 “Pobieda” canteens in Kyiv (varpobeda.com.ua);
  • drink vodka from beakers and wash Your hands in urologist’s cabinet – welcome to a quiet absinthe-bar “Palata №6» on 31A Vorovs’koho Str. (http://kabak.com.ua/palata6);
  • pay for time of stay only and enjoy free drinks, Wi-Fi, interesting conversations, and occasional theme parties in “Tsyferblat” on 49A Volodymyrs’ka Str. (http://www.clockfacer.ru/pages/kiev.php);
  • have a cup of tea in the company of newest colorful books and listen to some jazz, come to the library café “Babuin” (10 Kominternu/ Petliury Str.) (http://babuin.ua/). The previous location of “Babuin” was more atmospheric and cosy, but now the café is located in two steps from the central railway station;
  • enjoy a view of old Kyiv roofs on a white cosmic attic in the «SkyArtCafe» in PinchukArtCentre (http://pinchukartcentre.org/en/sky_art_cafe);
  • taste organic traditional cooking of Kyiv Rus’ (reportedly) in the room with ethnic Slavic décor (in addition, they make traditional parties and handmade sessions) in “Kult Ra”, the “Rus’” club on 4 Volodymyrska Str. (http://kultra.org/about/);
  • drink Lviv coffee and taste Lviv handmade chocolate in the local branches of Lviv cafes on Andriivsky Uzviz (vk.com/chocolate.lviv , www.chocolate.lviv.ua/) and on 16 Instytuts’ka Str. (freshcoffee.com.ua/kiev.html).

Kyiv has its own secret places and urban legends, so there is a chance that new concept restaurants, maybe more challenging, will continue to appear.