Dining in the dark

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September 27, 2004 // UPDATED 4:09 pm - April 25, 2007
By: 45;- sue rich
45;- sue rich

'Dark Touch' party, Minnesota-style

"I just have to make sure you guys aren't procreating in here," said the tall, broad-shouldered bouncer to the handcuffed couple who'd spent a little too much time in the "Dark Touch" maze.

The security man's flashlight was the only source of light in the thin passageway of the labyrinth, set up on the stage of The Fine Line Music Caf/, 318 1st Ave. N. Other men and women had paired up, slipped into the handcuffs (plastic, loose and trimmed in pink down) and were awaiting their turn to grope.

The all-black walls were covered in various textures, from sharp-edged plastic rectangles to gel-filled, vibrating padding. Despite the lack of light, however, the "Dark Touch" maze was built so that even drunks could breeze through. And the accused couple (my husband and I) had gotten through so quickly we figured we'd cheated and sent ourselves back in.

Of course, the bouncer in front of us wasn't buying it. These temporary walls apparently had stories to tell . . .

The "Dark Touch" maze was part of a public party celebrating the newest bodyspray from AXE, "Touch." Rather than distributing free samples, the men's fragrance company decided to celebrate their product by throwing a "sexy," touch-oriented bash meant to capitalize on the newest thing in match-ups, "dining in the dark."

The Fine Line's second floor had been transformed into a pitch-black restaurant for the Wednesday evening. At the top of the stairs, an anonymous host escorted willing patrons to an anonymous table where they were served by anonymous wait-staff.

While diners couldn't see the hand in front of their face, staff were equipped with special night-vision goggles, allowing them to fill your wine and water glasses and see your plate --finger foods of various textures, from small slices of bread topped with whipped spreads to succulent fruits.

The people at our table quickly figured out whom they were sitting with (we'd been close to one another in the waiting line). There was the visiting vegan from California who'd come in with friends after a guy on the street told them they could get five drinks for five bucks inside. She sat next to a "tech-man," we'd met on the stairs who wouldn't divulge the social history of the maze but did clue us in on the gel-filled vibrating walls (therapeutic chair-covers had been flattened and stapled in place). Then there was my husband (who had no idea what he was being dragged into) and I.

None of us was on the prowl, (the vegan hadn't been informed of the party-for-singles aspect, and there were plenty of couples in the joint). However, we enjoyed the novelty of the sightless meal -- "OK, that was definitely a carrot. Can you figure out what the soft stuff is?" etc.

While we weren't a very "hot" table, neither did we stick out as the "quiet" one. The tented balcony was filled with similar chatter. Besides the occasional soft, comedic growl, this didn't appear to be a hot and heavy crowd.

According to the event spokesperson, Andy Bowman, the "Dark Touch" party had been a big, sexy hit in other cities from Milwaukee to New York City -- where the party went down in "Penthouse" founder Bob Guccione's place.

Here, where "AXE" is more likely to conjure images of Paul Bunyan than of a metrosexual, the tone was decidedly light.

However, a few in the crowd of 60 or so did seem to be hitting it off. While there was never a long line to get in, people (including a few who'd come in together, but mostly paired-up strangers) did venture into the intimate maze together. Upon emerging, many giggled and shot one another shy glances over their prize for making it through -- edible, gummy handcuffs.

Through the course of the evening one thing became quite clear: Minnesotans liked the dark more than the spotlight.

Sure, men and women in line for the maze or the dark-dining tent smiled and talked with a tinge of nervousness, but it was the kind of pleasant apprehension one experiences before, say, going on a ride at an amusement park.

Meanwhile, a single gentleman occupied the dance floor -- thumping with bass and swirling with bright red lights. Clad in an "NYPD" shirt and Playboy bunny visor, he boogied down, alone.

"Dining in the dark" parties aren't held on a regular basis. Should we hear about one, however, we'll be happy to include it in the Skyway News calendar (under "Etc.").