Bars are sensory places — the sound of the crowd, the taste of great cocktails, the smell of wood, leather, perhaps a smoking fire. But do you actually need all five senses to enjoy them? That’s the question that gripped me after four cocktails and three successive Jägermeisters. I asked myself, could you perhaps enjoy them more by ridding yourself of one, or even, all but one?
A solid hours work produced The Depravator, an advanced sensory isolation device made from an old welder’s helmet with a blacked out visor, two sets of plugs (nose and ears), and a pair of thick, woolen mittens (touch).
Yes, I have way too much time on my hands.
Location: Bar in fashionable Hoxton, London.
The bar I’ve selected is so cool it doesn’t even have a sign, which makes me wonder how anyone ever finds it. It’s a classy place, a long basement of exposed stone and stained wood, staffed by badger-bearded bartenders in bow ties.
Before I begin I need to set a control so I have a couple of drinks and enjoy the place using all five senses. Then, ready to further the boundless reach of science, I produce The Depravator to suitably impressed, if slightly sarcastic, applause from the staff. Setting it to exclude all but sound, I begin.
I immediately feel strangely vulnerable, but my hearing is dramatically augmented. I distinctly hear the guy next to me say “What the f**k has that k**b got on his head?” Then the background hubbub begins to take cohesion; a girl’s sharp laugh, the magical sound of shaking ice, vintage Bob Dylan on the stereo. I try and taste my drink, but suspect the hipster b*****s behind the bar have moved it. When I finally locate my glass and get it to my face in the wooly mittens I find the flavors sharpened, intensified.
Next up is just smell, which produces some interesting results: I can detect pine cleanser, citrus fruit, crushed mint, cigarette smoke drifting from an open doorway, the warm smell of huddled human bodies. It’s an intriguing and overlooked experience, though the cologne of the guy sat next to me could be used to stun bear.
Sight also proves productive. I immediately notice more about the room — the twinkling of candles, the light from a passing car, which laughter is real, and which is forced, where the staff stopped cleaning the night before. I can also see the looks I’m getting, which I take to be appreciative awe at being present for such ground-breaking science
Finally comes touch; the smooth, surprisingly warm surface of the bar, the vibration of music through the wood, the feel of condensation on my glass when I eventually do locate it, even a small pool of what I suspect to be Irish Cream Liqueur that one of the motherless bartenders places in my path.
Admittedly this scientific endeavor did go downhill shortly after that, especially when one of the staff dared me to try and find the toilet with the eye shield engaged. However I do feel our understanding of the universe was advanced slightly.
So next time you’re in a great bar, close your eyes, breathe deep, run your fingers along the wood and revel in what magical places they really are.
But do not under any circumstances try and negotiate two flights of uneven stone steps with a blindfold on.