The humidity index reads 89 percent in Lithia, Florida, where I have taken shelter in the partial shade of a screened lanai to watch long manes of Spanish moss sway beneath the trees.
The scene sprawled before me is downright Jurassic: behemoth palms and vine-knotted firs tower above a brambled thicket of undergrowth that I can’t identify, but which appears entirely poisonous. All around me, dissonant cicada symphonies rise and fall in restless crescendos.
It’s nearly October, but the air is heavy. Heavy like the belly of a bayou. Heavy like the breath of a storm. And it occurs to me as I write that although my clothes are sticking to me in the least comfortable ways, and though I will likely relocate to the more hospitable accommodations of the Great Air-Conditioned Indoors, I can actually taste the green growth around me. Nightshade, fern, firebush, palm: it’s all there, carried on the vapors of a humidity so dense that I can breathe in the flavor of the Indian Summer itself.
This same sort of synesthetic experience lies at the very foundation of the latest installation from Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, renowned design wizards and masters of the culinary avant-garde. Located on the site of an ancient monastery in London, Alcoholic Architecture invites guests to walk through a cloud of breathable spirits that will gently intoxicate them with a one-to-three ratio of alcohol to mixer.
The London-based duo founded their design studio, Bompas & Parr, in 2007. Ever since, they have specialized in curating taste bud-bending, flavor-based experiences that challenge participants to reconsider the parameters of consumption.
Previous experiments have included searing steaks with lightning and cooking with plasma, the fourth state of matter. They even hosted an anatomical whiskey tasting in which 25- to 39-year-old single malts were imbibed from the contours of people the same age as the drink.
Now, with Alcoholic Architecture, the studio continues to deliver on its promise of providing a sensory experience unlike any other.
Upon arriving, guests change into protective ponchos and enter into a sweet fog of frankincense-infused gin and tonic. The team experimented extensively on the composition of the cloud before settling on a mixture of alcohol, water, aromatic botanical molecules, and bitter quinine.
“Inside, the sound is modulated, so that it is like you are right inside the glass,” Parr said. “It’s a dense atmosphere that builds into a thunderstorm with lightning. It’s a new way of experiencing a drink.”
Outside of the misting chamber, a conventional bar provides creative cocktails comprised of spirits invented by monks; Chartreuse, Benedictine, and Buckfast tonic wine all make appearances.
Bar-goers should beware, however, that their drink may be served from an actual human skull.
Some medical professionals have expressed concerns about the safety of Alcoholic Architecture’s method of cocktail-cloud consumption. After all, inhaling alcohol allows it to bypass the liver and enter directly into the bloodstream, putting guests at much greater risk of over-intoxication and alcohol poisoning. As a safety measure, Bompas & Parr insists on a one-hour limit to guests’ visits.
Alcoholic Architecture will be open until early 2016. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit here.