The annual Brisbane Festival opened Saturday along with something called Fear and Delight, which is a sort of burlesque theater piece combined with experimental gastronomy. The goal of Fear and Delight, according to their website, is "to take you on a wild journey far outside the realms of reality." Probably the most interesting part about this wild journey is that it includes a bar filled with atomized gin and tonics.
The bar is part of the dinner and stage show, and it's the second of its kind after a place in London also called Alcoholic Architecture opened in July. The bar's deal is that rather than serving drinks, they pump an alcoholic mist into a room at a 1:3 spirit to mixer ratio. The result is 150 percent humidity, porno lighting, and the faint scent of gin and tonic, or whatever cocktail they happen to be misting at the time.
As you absorb the drink through your lungs, eyeballs, and various mucus membranes, the ethanol bypasses your stomach and heads straight for your bloodstream. In theory this makes it a top place to get bombed, but in reality makes it a soft target for conservative news outlets, which means a lot of what makes this interesting has been curtailed for OH&S [Occupational Health and Safety].
The Courier Mail reported that the bar had been "branded 'incredibly dangerous' by medical experts." While Channel Ten's The Project described it as being "slammed" by medical experts. In both cases these experts warned readers against attending, and one voiced his concern about brain damage, saying "you might as well just run into a brick wall."
All of this is to say I really wanted to go to this place. So after some time watching the show, we were brought to the entrance of the bar and asked to put on what looked like biohazard suits. "Well, that's ridiculous," announced a woman beside me. "Do we have to?" The girl handing out the suits responded no, we didn't have to, but reminded us that the suits were "kind of funny!"
Next came one-size-fits-all, non-negotiable gumboots, followed by a long list of rules and regulations, which included a 40-minute time limit in the bar.
Up until that point the whole thing had been a slightly comical experience, until we were asked to leave our drinks at the door. It was clear the patrons weren't exactly happy about leaving their $55 bottles of wine to warm outside. "If I had known that, I would have waited to buy this," said one of the guys.
A group of eight (which was the maximum allowed at any time) passed through a clear plastic curtain and into what we thought was a hallway. It wasn't a hallway. It was just a shipping container. No seats. No décor. Just you and seven other people and a lot of mist/sweat.
I watched one of the guys walk to the end of the container, put his hand out and attempt to push it open. Because, that couldn't be it… could it? Then music started to ooze out of a single speaker in a corner, which sounded a bit like the soundtrack from a haunted house.
A women next to me mentioned how sweaty she was. I too was getting a bit fogged up when suddenly, after just 15 minutes, the organizer came in and told us our time was up. It definitely hadn't been 40 minutes, but no one even cared.
In terms of novelty value the "vapor bar" hit the mark. In terms of being actually cool, it was abysmal, and I wasn't the only one thinking this. It just so happened that one of the other seven people in the box was my doctor, and he was similarly underwhelmed. "I sure didn't smell any gin," he told me outside. "If you feel anything it is quite possibly a placebo effect."
The others agreed. One of the younger men, who had clearly had a few drinks earlier, voiced how we were all feeling, "I think I just sobered up."
We'd been told that our bodies would absorb a standard drink every 40 minutes. This meant you'd have to stay hours to get a buzz, which would be really boring as well as against the rules.
So for all the hoopla surrounding Fear and Delight in Australian media, it is a pretty worthless experience that doesn't even get you drunk. You're much better off absorbing G&Ts the old fashioned way, mouth to bloodstream, and avoiding the meteorological bullshit going on at the Brisbane Festival.