February 19, 2010 / 5:28 AM / 8 years ago

Service at sword point at Taipei's "Ninja" restaurant

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Waitresses wield swords and flare flames at diners, who have to get past a moat before sitting at their table in the dimly lit dining hall.

Waitresses pose for a group photo outside the Ninja restaurant in Taipei February 8, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The same customers are also encouraged to take photos with the warrior-like waitresses, who dress in black or red to look like ninjas in keeping with the theme of a dark but lively restaurant that opened last month in Taiwan’s capital.

“The ninja is mysterious,” said Ou Chia-wei, owner of the restaurant simply named Ninja, explaining why he chose that theme for the Japanese-style restaurant. “On that premise, we can do magic tricks and light up the food.”

Waitresses working the barely lit dining room floor burn specialty menus, which vanish without a trace of ash, and send flames snaking across tables as customers watch.

A moat and screen of cascading water just past the front entrance make customers wait a few minutes until the drawbridge goes up, leading to a dark stairwell toward the dining hall.

There are professional magic shows, as well as cabarets, for those who walk in at the right times.

A waitress poses as she performs a trick at the Ninja restaurant in Taipei February 8, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

Ninjas were mercenaries who resorted to unusual warfare strategies such as espionage, sabotage and assassination from as far back as 700 years ago in feudal Japan. They remain a common, enduring theme in Japanese folklore.

Ou, who also owns a hospital-theme restaurant in Taipei, and his wife put the three-storey Ninja eatery together on their own without hiring a designer, said his landlady Ting Tsui-lan. The overall investment was T$15 million ($470,000).

“The owner had already liked ninjas and figured that would be a pretty obvious, visual theme for the restaurant,” said restaurant sales manager Hsiao Dai.

Ninja competes with restaurants that specialize in airliner, dinosaur and toilet decor in a city teeming with theme diners.

Owned and staffed by Taiwanese, it serves Japanese food priced for office workers who frequent it at its location in a congested part of town.

Japanese cuisine and culture are popular in Taiwan, where Ninja has seen steady full-house crowds of 150 since opening in late January.

Customers are intrigued by the theme, with a 26-year-old woman saying she might rather work than eat there.

A waitress performs a trick for customers at the Ninja restaurant in Taipei February 8, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

“We make friends with the customers,” said waitress Tu-tu Lin, laying her sword aside to explain to the woman the tricks of her trade.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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