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NEW: Hunt And Darton Art Café | Piccadilly

L'Oréal Blackett finds herself apart of the art

Written by . Published on March 9th 2015.

NEW: Hunt And Darton Art Café | Piccadilly

"YOU look like you'll fit right in," said a woman with a pineapple strapped to her head.  

"On the 25th we do Christmas. No matter which month. We always do Christmas on the 25th," 

I had walked into what I thought was a new coffee shop on Station Approach on Piccadilly when my spider senses began to tingle - Hunt and Darton was not a normal café. Unbeknown to myself, I had just walked into a live art installation with food and drink and was now part of the show. 

Performance artists Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton, have launched their award-winning pop-up art cafe in Manchester as part of this year's SICK! Festival until Wednesday 25 March (not open Mondays and Tuesdays). The duo, adepts at deadpan comedy and absurdity, have been taking over empty shops across the country and working with local authorities to put on their, frankly, weird art installation. The point, they say, is to introduce a café that's not just arty (ahem, Northern Quarter) but art. 

Dsc_1209Hunt and Dayton

"Sit anywhere you like," says Darton beaming, and circling me. "We're performance artists and we only wear fruit or veg. See, we also have broccoli hats."

"How do you feel being part of the show?" says Hunt, deadpan. 

"Great," I exclaimed. (But what exactly am I doing here? I thought).

One of the Hunt and Darton cafe hosts showed me a menu and I was delighted that there was real food - I feared that I would be playing pretend during the afternoon and I was hungry. The menu includes finger sandwiches, avocado on toast and what they call 'the famous roast dinner sandwich'.  

I chose, somewhat hesistantly, the 'roughage plate' for comical effect, baked beetroot, goats cheese, spinach, watercress and nuts. Simple, uncomplicated food, all very good. Tasty art so to speak.


'The Roughage Plate'

"There's some people think art installations are simply not for them and would never dream of going to a show in traditional theatres. Using a cafe venue, we thought, was a better way to reach more people. People genuinely turn up thinking it's a cafe and leave with an art experience," said Darton.

"And I'm a big fan of cafe and coffee culture and its constant support of the arts," added Hunt. 

So, how does one, um, become part of the art?

'DO smile at your waitor and/or engage in small talk. DO NOT offload your problems (unless actively solicited). DO NOT discuss other customers (or if you must, be quiet or discreet. DO NOT flirt (unless you've been making eye-contact for sometime, if so provide drinks compliments of the man/woman on table 4) etc' explains the alternative 'menu'.

OK, got it.

Dsc_1172They do deadpan

"There's to be weekly activities - there's a timeable but you can join in at anytime," explained Darton. "For instance, they'll be a social media days, where we'll get everyone a laptop and we'll ask everyone to tweet their orders. They'll be Austerity days too. If you want a full course of art with a side of poetry - we'll give you that."

"On the 25th we do Christmas. No matter which month. We always do Christmas on the 25th," said Hunt. Again, comically deadpan. 



Tim Burton would appreciate these two. Customers can also expect Hunt and Darton's performance artist friends (from dancers to playwrights) to make appearances throughout the pop-ups run here in Manchester.

Customer service and commercial openness reaches a new level here too. Hunt and Darton have a chalk wall where customers can write down complaints, and for the hostesses to openly share their takings and profits - even if they are non-existent.

"Oh yes, we're completely open about everything,"said Hunt with assurity. 


The eccentricity of the Hunt and Darton cafe is downright fun, but I can imagine for the unsuspecting passing customer, the ambush of the duo may have them backing slowly out of the door.

And it's clear not everyone grasps the art café concept. 

"Hi, we're from Costco and we'd like you to get to know our service," said a blonde and her sales associate cold-calling as I sat and beetrooted.

"Oh no, we're only a pop-up. This is an art cafe," said Darton with a toothy grin. 

"But wouldn't you want to learn about bulk buying? Have you heard of Costco? Or maybe you'd like to use at home," said the blonde, growing more confused.

"So sorry, I don't live here but please feel free to stay for a cup of tea. We wear pineapples on our heads everyday...where are you going...OK bye-bye"

You couldn't make it up. 

Find Hunt and Darton at 8A Gateway House | Station Approach | Piccadilly

Open Wed to Sun 12 - 7:30pm 


Follow @LOreal_B Twitter 







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Calum McGowanMarch 9th 2015.

It looks bloody ridiculous. I'm in!

JoanMarch 10th 2015.

See you there, Calum.

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