Ever wondered what it would be like to step into your favorite cartoon? You’re in luck. 2D cafés are popping up all around the globe to help you simulate the experience.
First conceived in South Korea with the 2017 opening of Café Yeonnam-dong 239-20, these tea and coffee houses use optical illusions to trick visitors into seeing flat scenes instead of their normal 3D world. Completely white furniture, walls, and floors are outlined in black comic book-style lines and shadows. Flat curtains and flowers add to the visual deception. Even cups, utensils, and take-out bags look like flat-line drawings.
The concept was apparently inspired by the hit South Korean TV show W, where the characters wrestle between the real world and an alternate universe located inside a webtoon.
The original 2D café became a viral phenomenon thanks to guests posting photos of the mind-bending decor, eliminating advertising costs for the owner and spawning copycats all over in places like Japan, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, and most recently, Chicago.
Escapism is the name of the game for these dramatic two-dimensional eateries and tea houses. Visitors can imagine themselves in their most beloved manga, or even on set for A-ha’s 1985 “Take on Me” music video. For the Paris-themed 2D Chicago café, which opened its doors in February 2022, the owners cite its raison d’être as a healing diversion from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The post-pandemic dining experience is very different from before,” said Kevin Yu, who co-founded the 2D Restaurant with his wife Vanessa Thanh Vu, adding that “people want a special and unique experience to help them forget the hardship of the past few years. We have one mission, and that’s to bring joy to our community.”
In Russia, the owner actually used the 2D decor scheme to save money. Looking for an eye-catching way to start a business without many resources, he found that the monochromatic design required some paint but minimized the need for more expensive ornamentation.
Each café is independently owned and provides its own unique fare. In Korea, patrons can sample iced oat lattes and tiramisu, while in Japan one might order strawberry shaved ice and a brown sugar assam black tea. The 2D Malaysian version sticks to boba tea and boxed bento lunches, while Singapore’s Café Monochrome provides a full menu of savory dishes including an asparagus and wagyu donburi rice bowl and chili crab fries. The Russian Café Bw keeps it simple with its tried and true coffee, and the Chicago eatery currently offers individually-made Vietnamese phin coffee and colorful mochi doughnuts, though they plan to add Asian-inspired crispy chicken sandwiches soon.
No matter the cuisine, the black-and-white theme of each restaurant provides a theatrical backdrop, allowing the colors of the food and drinks to really pop. The brilliant reds of cherry tomatoes, buttery yellows of breakfast muffins, and perky pinks of pastry glazes really come alive in front of the monochromatic field of view.
This immersive atmosphere of animated imagination is attracting more business owners as well, with companies in London, the Philippines, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all signing on for 2D-style cafés in the near future.