Last night, I spent 90 minutes in a blacked out room, with no idea what I was drinking. I was in a kind of cabin, like a 12 seater sauna, with men I'd never met before. Times can be tough as a freelance writer, and sometimes I do things I'm not proud of. Luckily, this wasn't one of them - I was at a new pop-up called Pitch Black, for a blind tasting designed to "challenge the way we view our drinks."
Near Old Street tube, Pitch Black is one of a spate of pop-ups vying to catch the eye of consumers whose disposable income is greater than their attention spans. In the last few months, I've eaten dinner with a bare derriere (bare everything, actually) at naked pop-up The Bunyadi, ordered a meal from a menu written entirely in emojis, and got my onions out for Maman Le Mot, an 'Allo 'Allo! style immersive dining experience, set in 1943.
I took Napoleon (as he wants to be known), my early-days Bae. More usually found in J Sheekey or Daphne's, he says it sounds hilarious. What's next, he asks, cheese tasting in an underground bunker? Probably darling - if it wasn't already in some PR's pipeline, it will be now.
I recently watched Green Room, the Patrick Stewart slasher, in which members of a band are killed off, at a nightclub in the middle of nowhere. Locked inside the green room backstage, there's gore galore as they're hacked to death, one by one. I'm reminded of this as I sit, tightly packed in a small room, with strangers I can barely see. "So, who's going to die first?" I ask faux-cheerily. Freud says there's no such thing as joke, and in this case, he'd be right. I am not joking - I am voicing my fears. "It's going to be us," says a man on my right, who's there with a mate: "It's always the black guys who get killed off first."
There's truth in this - I remember someone saying it in a Scary Movie. This means I have time to finish my first drink, a sparkling wine. There are circular coasters that glow in the dark, which we're meant to keep our drinks on, to avoid accidents. Napoleon says he shan't, as he won't be told what to do. I tell him I'm wearing white jeans, so he'd bloody better. I don't want anything sticky in my lap. There are two spare coasters, and it crosses my mind that they'd make great bases for nipple tassles, if you were doing a bit of burlesque in a dimly lit room.
After the bubbles, there will be four more drinks. Some sadist suggests that each twosome splits up, moving round the room to sit with someone new, for each drink served. I suspect someone has been on a networking course. I protest, but I'm over-ruled. "What's wrong, don't you like people?" says one. "Of course she doesn't - we're writers, none of us like people!" says another. "We just don't like each other because we're all dicks," says someone else, who exclaims, "Bitch, please!" on a loop for the rest of the evening. It's like being stuck in a confined space with a reincarnated Rick off The Young Ones.
Our first cocktail tastes like Lemsip would if Alan Carr made it for you on Chatty Man. "Oh go on - give it a kick! Tip this in - I don't know what it is, but it's 90% proof!" As we debate what we're drinking, and wonder if we're being poisoned, there's a crash in the kitchen as something shatters. "That's the sound of my dreams," says Rick, a copywriter, who later hits up Napoleon for work.
Our next drink is a cinnamony cocktail. Someone says it tastes like burnt rubber. I don't pick up on this myself, but I'm happier when they bring out the wine, which is alright, actually. I'm talking to someone's plus-one who's signed to a record label. I know he is signed, because he tells me this several times. When he goes to the toilet, I'm reunited with Napoleon. I would not be more pleased if I were down a mineshaft and spotted Lassie.
We move on from white wine to red. I would swap all my other drinks for this, and have it with steak. In a cab heading West, I tell Napoleon I am traumatised. I did not sign up for forced interaction with other people - my emotional well-being has been butchered. Napoleon, who lied about having no business cards, argues that he's more traumatised than I am. In fact, I've probably caused the most devastation, by taking my man-flu (for it is that bad) into the cabin, turning it into an incubator for my germs.
Napoleon asks what my inbox is throwing at us next. There is a ball pit bar in Dalston, promising techno, bass and 200K balls, sticky with pink shrimp throwback cocktails. This is my idea of hipster hell - I would more willingly walk into a bear pit. I hand the reigns back to Napoleon and we happily to bore off back to Soho House.