Strange white powders, mysterious messages and damn fine cups of joe were all on hand at the Lynchian pop-up
What with all the box sets, new series talk and fancy dress screening parties, it’s tempting to wonder: have we reached peak Twin Peaks? Not according to the brains behind The Owls Are Not What They Seem, a new pop-up diner in the capital inspired by – but not in any way affiliated with – the classic series.
The interactive dining experience transports you to the fictional one-horse town of Double Pineview (ahem), as is revealed in the character cards we’re handed when we get through the door. It turns out my job for the evening is to play the part of the ‘teenage delinquent’, looking to get up to no good with his bad-lad idol, a fellow called Zach. “Just stick to the story and you’ll be OK,” warns a man in a vintage fleece jacket with a shaky American accent as he hands me my card. “Can I trust you?” he asks, eyeing me suspiciously as I gingerly affix a name-tag to my chest. “I’m trustworthy,” I stammer back timidly.
Our waitress, Shelley (who may or may not know something about a message that’s been left for me), pours us a damn fine cup of joe laced with liqueur, and another lady, Norma, escorts us to a booth. “Do I know you?” I ask, warming to the interactive theme a little. “Sure, your dad comes in here all the time!” she trills brightly, and I nod, confused.
Dinner is a three-course affair beginning with savoury donuts in a mushroom dunking sauce (served in coffee cups, naturally). Then it’s pork meatloaf followed by cherry pie – all fine, in a generic roadside joint kinda way – but the real draw is that, in between courses, you’re free to roam around the premises and run whatever errands you’ve been instructed to run according to your cue card. On our first such errand, I end up in a dream therapy session with an eccentric doctor who lives in a caravan out back. I tell him my partner talks in her sleep. He seems interested.
Returning to my main mission, I ask Shelley if she knows of a message that’s been left for me, and she leads me to Zach who she thinks will know more. Zach, it transpires, is not happy with me hanging out with his ‘girl’. “Do you think she’s pretty?” he demands hotly, before I manage to wiggle off the hook and ask him where this mysterious message might be. “Upstairs in the bedroom at Jacques’ Nightclub,” he says.
This is all very exciting. But first I’ve got some pressing business to attend to in the gents, whose mirrors are covered in graffiti. One scrawled message comes from someone who has been watching the Town Criminal with interest, and would like to do unspeakable things to his or her “bumhole” – pretty sure I don’t remember that from the series. I make a note of the mobile number written underneath, and hurry back to the booth to share my findings with my partner.
“One scrawled message comes from someone who has been watching the Town Criminal with interest, and would like to do unspeakable things to his or her ‘bumhole’ – pretty sure I don’t remember that from the series”
“I’m not ringing that!” she protests feebly. “What if it’s some random?”
“Oh come on,” I reply. “You’re obviously supposed to give them a call!”
She’s not having it, so I resolve to further my enquiries, but I’m interrupted by the sudden arrival of a dancing man with a horse for a head. At length, I manage to get across to Jacques’, where I find a small bag containing a mysterious white powder and a message reading, “Meet me at the Roadside Bar.” I ask the girl who can tie cherry stalks into knots with her mouth – for real – and she points me in the right direction, but it’s too late: a town meeting has been called by a certain visiting FBI agent, and my presence is required.
What comes next is a speech about the dead girl’s murder and the darkness lurking under the idyllic slice of Americana that is Double Pineview (ahem), a disquieting trip to the mortuary, and a surreal song-and-dance routine by members of the cast. All very kitsch, but it’s brilliantly done and undeniably a kick to be involved in.
Finally making it to the Roadside Bar, my contact is nowhere to be found – we’ve come to the end of our experience, and the actors have all gone home for the evening. Exhilarated, but slightly dejected at having failed in my mission, I toss the bag of ‘drugs’ on the bar and go home. The next morning, I spot the number from the toilets on my phone, and decide to give it a go. “Hey, Town Criminal here, wanna hang sometime?” I write in a text message, posing as my partner’s character. Almost immediately, my phone starts ringing. It’s a number from Southend-on-Sea. “Hello, who’s this..?”
Twin Peaks pop-up diner The Owls Are Not What They Seem is on until October 17