Tokyo has established itself as a hotbed for themed restaurants ranging from the charming homage to the downright strange. If your taste leans to the extreme dining experience, check out the Alcatraz ER where you dine in a prison cell that your nurse waitress locks you in. There are also less macabre restaurants to be found such as the series of Alice in Wonderland Restaurants designed by Fantastic Design Works and operated by Diamond Dining. The world Alice discovers in the stories by Lewis Carroll is so rich in fantastic imagery that it lends itself perfectly to creating a dining atmosphere where one can escape from the outside world for the duration of a meal.
The first of these Alice themed restaurants opened up in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo. Titled “Alice in Picture Book,” this early incarnation of the restaurant doesn’t recreate wonderland as much as it displays artwork from the story: primarily the original illustrations by John Tenniel. There are some elements of the story that are integrated into the dining experience. The waitresses are attired in the classic pale blue dress worn by Alice, but stylistically influenced by the Lolita fashion subculture of Japan. You’ll also notice the Cheshire cat smiling down upon your table from the chandelier. But while this restaurant represents the imaginative world created by Lewis Carroll on its walls, the most recent Alice restaurant takes things a step further and transforms the space into a wonderland experience.
“Alice of Magic World” in the Ginza shopping district invites guests to engage their imaginations while they dine on a menu that gets “curious and curiouser” as they make their way through the extensive cocktail list. As soon as guests enter the building they are greeted by stacks of oversize books that set the tone for the rest of their dinner; they let you know that the stories inside of these books take on life-size dimensions in this restaurant and that, like Alice, your own height may no longer be so stable. Across the 2,000 square foot restaurant, different sections correspond to various chapters in Alice’s adventure. Some booths are hidden behind the Queen’s hedges, while across the way, a long table resembling the Mad Hatter’s tea party resides. Yet another corner is dedicated to the deck of cards ruled by the Queen of Hearts: the tables made of huge playing cards are lit by chandeliers of dangling cards. Every available space in the restaurant either recreates wonderland or portrays it in picture form.
What the designers of this restaurants set out to do, and seem to have accomplished, is create a totally immersive dining experience. Considering it on the spectrum of projects that we cover here, this one definitely falls into the escapism category. This is not to say anything against escapist entertainment, but if one were to pass the day going from one themed restaurant to another, reality could easily become as allusive as the Cheshire cat’s smile.