2/22/2013 03:02:00 PM

The Blind Cafe Is Out of Sight

On Thursday night about 150 people gathered in the idyllic backyard of Vuka, a coworking and community space off South First, as we waited to be led into the dark. Blind waiters and waitresses in formalwear led lines of diners, each with their right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of them, into a completely black room and to their tables for an evening of food, music and blind awareness.

The Blind Café comes to Austin about twice a year. Musician Rosh Rocheleau got the idea after visiting a similar café in the dark in Reykjavik, Iceland, and started his own in Boulder in 2010. Since then he’s brought the event to Aspen; Portland; Seattle; Denver; Burlington, Vermont; and, of course, Austin. But Rocheleau gets requests to hold the cafe all over the world.

Once we were in the pitch-black room, disembodied voices spoke from all around. At first it was all about the food.

“Where is the bread basket?”

“I think that’s goat cheese with some sort of spicy chutney.”

“Is that a banana, or…”

Eating in the dark is a different experience altogether. You can’t rely on taking Instagram photos with your iPhone, and you have to calm down and experience the food as much with your hands as with your mouth. The café anticipated our awkwardness and gave us mainly finger foods: a vegetarian wrap with crunchy carrots, cucumber, honey-dijon mustard and sprouts grown specifically for the event; crackers with chipotle-raspberry spread, olive tapenade, and mango, raisin and almond chutney; rosemary bread; slices of fresh fruit; and a dark chocolate plate with hard chocolate and cocoa-powdered truffles. It wasn’t high-end cuisine, but it fit the homegrown, honest atmosphere.

At the end of the meal, our blind waitstaff led a Q&A session. Questions ranged from the stereotypical “What do you see when you dream?” to “What’s your biggest pet peeve about how sighted people act toward you?” The questions were fitting, as the event raises money for the National Federation for the Blind.

The night ended with performances by Constellation Prize and Rocheleau's band, Rosh and One Eye Glass Broken. I’d heard tell of naked dancing at the Portland event, but the Austin crowd was pretty calm (or they managed to button up before the lights came on).

As Rocheleau turned on a small handheld light, we filed into the twinkling backyard to reflect on the night, which, for me at least, was an active meditation and an eye-opening experience.

Check out the Blind Café online, listen to music and stay posted for more information on the next event in Austin.

Slideshow photos 1 - 4 by Michael McCann Photography


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