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Munchies

Is East London's New Death Row Pop-Up Restaurant for Real?

I thought Death Row Dinners was an art prank. It seems I might be wrong.

by Joe Bish
Sep 16 2014, 9:05am

The homepage of the Death Row Dinners website

Like your parents' marriage, death row is losing its romance with every passing day. A few hundred years ago it was princes and queens being held in giant towers as they waited for death, like something from a bloody fairytale. And that was fine; all part of the social contract. Cutting the heads off the formerly powerful in front of baying crowds with a massive sword was the kind of justice that made sense in a time of disease, poverty and chucking your own shit and piss out the window. Even in the days of Bundy and other big American serial killers there'd be an electrifying pay-off; evil men being riddled with lightning till their eyes burst open like dawn slugs, but we can't even rely on the States for our execution kicks any more. What's that you're offering us? A painfully slow criminal holocaust carried out by a state that doesn't even know where to get proper death drugs? Where's the fun in that?

I'm joking, of course. Any progressive person would agree that the death penalty is always the wrong answer. In most parts of the world, it has more or less been decided now that executing people for crimes they did or did not commit is very much "not on." It's a disgusting, pugilistic, and frankly pretty deranged way of dealing with the problems that a society faces, which is presumably why the whole process is about to be paid homage to by a new pop-up restaurant in East London.

That's right: for a mere £50 (~$80) per-head (plus booking fee) you can now reserve a seat at Death Row Dinners, a dining experience claiming to draw inspiration from real-life death row inmates' last meal requests. On the website it claims that you can "enjoy the idea of a last meal, without the nasty execution bit." It appears to be some kind of Secret Cinema-style project, but instead of happy-go-lucky losers dressing up like film characters, it’s happy-go-lucky losers pretending they’re about to be killed by the state.

However, don't rush to get your bright orange death onesie and deranged stare out of the cupboard just yet. The website's run by something called Dirty Dishes—a company that, for all my googling, seems not to exist anywhere other than in a footnote on the Death Row Dinners website itself. Perhaps they're shrouding themselves in secrecy because they're wary of a backlash. Perhaps they just don't want to give anything away. Perhaps it's just fake. It's definitely fake... isn't it?

There's plenty of evidence that would seem to suggest so. There's no menu, no phone number and no venue (it's apparently going to take place at a place called "The Penetentiary" in Hoxton Square, but it being a pop-up, of course that doesn't exist yet). There are no foodie-type names attached to it, no production companies and when I went down yesterday no one in Hoxton Square seemed to have heard of it. You'd almost be 100 percent certain that it's an elaborate ruse set up by art students—a commentary on the unthinking modern fetish for the pointlessly wacky that leads to places like this existing—were there not a page that allows you to fork out £50 (~$80) of your hard-earned cash to be "charged, sentenced, searched, and frisked" before eating a burger.

The booking page of the Death Row Dinners website

Someone running a Twitter account for the pop-up has also been responding to people's booking enquiries on Twitter—so, if it is fake, and even if it is "art," whoever's behind it must be treading a fairly thin line with regards to the law. Which I guess is ironic?

The homepage of the site plasters doctored black and white images of "inmates" with placards slung round their necks listing other dishes that you can order; mussels and fries, Coca-Cola, hot fudge sundae, and racks of ribs. They’re the accused, and they’re made to look like their stint in Alcatraz is coming to a grim end. But Alcatraz closed 50 years ago, and people continue to be shot, shocked, and have poisons mainlined into their venous system in the name of justice.

I eventually got in touch with the human who appears to run Death Row Dinners, who assured me that's it's legit, and not just some weird joke. "It's definitely real!" they said over email. "You should start reading more about it in the press over the next few weeks."

Sounds like a laugh, guy. I’ll take two tickets.

Update: Since this article was published Death Row Dinners have released a statement apologising for any offense caused. They're now considering their next steps and are going to update everyone real soon.

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