By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST, April 2023
There aren’t too many restaurants where people address you from your tablecloth, crack jokes on your plate and others are winking in their portraits on a wall. That’s what happens at Journey, the new eatery on West 24th Street.
Journey is the first immersive restaurant and it is, in short, a trip. As are the twosome behind it, Asher Remy Toledo and Marc Routh. I first met Remy Toledo a few years back at Hyphen Hub, the outfit he created to integrate hi-tech and art. That, for instance, was where I first encountered Neil Harbisson, a CATALAN artist who had a long metal antenna embedded in his cranium. Marc Routh, his partner in every sense, is a longtime Broadway producer, with two shows opening soon, The Great Gatsby and Back To The Future. And who is also active in China where he produces material for the entire Asia market.
What would become Journey began as a mini-World’s Fair project, Next Cool Thing. Seven years ago Routh and Remy Toledo went to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, to research the ways that immersive techniques could be used to transform the eating experience for use in that conceptual World’s Fair.
“It took a year to put together the different elements and the technology,” Remy Toledo says. “We tweeted to present it to the Chinese and they loved it. But they wanted to do in the secondary cities. And we wanted to be in the primary cities like Shanghai, and we wanted to be in the center of the city, not two hours by train, which is what they were offering us."
Why wouldn’t the Chinese want it in a principal city?
“Because they were building all these cities outside of the main city. They wanted to make an attraction so that people would go there, Finally we found a place in Shanghai. Then Covid came. And everything got shut down.”
So much for that . Remy Toledo and Routh were walking down West 24th Street, which is where Hyphen Hub is situated, when they passed that increasingly familiar Manhattan sight, a shuttered commercial space. A restaurant. “It was closed by Covid.” Remy Toledo says. Why not launch the project there? “We can do a fraction of what we were going to do in China. In China they wanted us to do a space the size of a football field”.
They picked a team, what Remy Toledo describes as their “cornerstones of creativity” One is Claudia Hart, an artist who melds digital text and traditional craft. “She designed the plates for the cafe,” Remy Toledo says. “The theme of Journey is travel. Planet Earth, aliens, space travel, all these different things “. They are based on Fernand Leger. “He was fascinated by travel … planes, bicycles, cars … We have a group of artists from Bogota. Columbia, who are designing objects that are more user friendly … we’will be adding up to 30 images. There will be 3D printed sculptures - and Augmented Reality. People will be walking around and different elements will become alive.”
Another cornerstone is to be Anouk Wippreccht, creator of such famous dresses as the robotic Spider Dress, but who won’t be designing attire for staff. “The dresses have to be elegant and comfortable to wear,” Remy Toledo says. “Her famous dresses are not for that. They are to be photographed. Like a futuristic dress that represents C Punk Is it a real person? Or an avatar? Is she supposed too be human?Or non-human? Or a figment of my imagination?
Other add-ons will be holograms, Augmented Reality entities, which will come to quasi-life here and there, and then there will be the Techno-theater.
“Some people let themselves be taken on a journey,” Remy Toledo says. The guide will be a hostess, an actress and your tabletop is a zeppelin. “She’s like a Pied Piper leading you first to the rainforest … she brings you a salad … then we go down to the ocean … we go to the Arctic … then inside a volcano … then you go to space … “ He adds “There’s so much out there. People have collected so much. Now they want to collect experiences rather than objects.”
So, Journey, is the first Immersive restaurant, yes, but where Immersive tech has been used to morph Van Gogh and Monet and whomsoever next from paint on canvas into DisneyWorldly experiences, Journey is taking an IRL experience, eating a meal, and infusing it with elements of art. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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