'Sleep No More' Adds a Restaurant and Intrigue

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- A new restaurant opening this week in New York has more than just good food on the menu.

The British theater company Punchdrunk unveils a chic eatery as part of its immersive, genre-bending show "Sleep No More," promising patrons yummy roasts, savory pies and something else.

"If you're curious, if you're observant, maybe you'll notice that things aren't always as they seem," says Felix Barrett, the company founder. "We're trying to create a space that's full of surprises."

The 140-seat restaurant, called The Heath, will be run by chef R.L. King, a veteran of Il Buco and Hundred Acres. The food is high-end British and the space is dimly lit elegant.

Barrett, a self-confessed foodie, always planned on adding a restaurant to "Sleep No More" when Punchdrunk acquired three empty adjoining warehouses in the Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood and renamed it the McKittrick Hotel.

He filled five stories of the warehouses with hundreds of rooms, a cemetery and an indoor forest to create a theater-and-dance piece with elements of both Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and Alfred Hitchcock. But he and his team ran out of time and left the sixth floor empty.

The show, produced by the company Emursive, quickly became a huge word-of-mouth hit as excited audience members told friends about being handed Venetian-style masks to wear and encouraged to rummage about the space or follow some 25 performers who act out mostly wordless scenes inspired by Shakespeare's play while dressed in 1930s outfits.

"What we've tried to do with `Sleep No More' is break the conventions of theater to make it dangerous so the audience is active," says Barrett. "They don't know what to do. The rules aren't set. They're slightly out of control. And therefore, it's a more sensory experience. The impact is heightened."

The venue has seen its Manderlay Bar become a destination for musicians and it has also opened a bar on the roof called Gallow Green. But the empty sixth floor was ripe for a real restaurant. Now it has one, complete with a special section that resembles a train dining car from 1939.

"This feels like, for me, the competition of what we set out to do three years ago," Barrett says. "It's something I've always wanted to do: break the conventions of going out to dinner."

How exactly those conventions get twisted is a secret, although there will be live music and some of the show will seep into the restaurant. But Barrett and chef King insist they aren't creating any theme restaurant or dinner theater.

"This isn't some kind of haunted house eating experience. It's the opposite of that," Barrett says. "We're actually just looking at how can you tell a story as you eat."

Sampling the food is another indication this is no mere chain eatery. King, a farm-to-table chef who hails from Charleston, S.C., has created a menu of real substance with playful nods to English and Scottish fare.

There's a dish with grilled pork belly, sausage, marinated peppers, bean salad and three eggs that's a twist on a full English breakfast. And there are spins on traditional English potato-topped pies, including one with halibut, scallops, shrimp, cod, salmon and braised leeks in a veloute sauce.

The unusual job sent the classically trained King off to scour hundreds of cookbooks, research Scottish food, and check out 1930s food, train car menus and New York cuisine of the 1940s.

"The spectrum was huge. To bring it all together to what we have now was hard but also one of the most intriguing things I've done," says King. "To have the food match the theatrical experience was crucial and we've nailed it."


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