I jumped from the couch spilling cereal all over my shirt reaching for my computer both excited and in disbelief when I saw my moms text message, “Must check out this restaurant-Van Gogh is Bipolar!” A small restaurant located in the Philippines named after Vincent van Gogh and designed to capture features of a bipolar mind.
These are the stories of people living with bipolar disorder that get left out of the mainstream media. These are the stories that could one day create a much larger platform for individuals living with mental illness to feel empowered by what makes them different. I have spent the last couple days gathering information about this restaurant, but to start for those of you who are curious about Van Gogh’s connection to bipolar disorder let me explain.
The Connection Between Bipolar and Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist painter who is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time. He is known to have over 2,100 works of art which include oil paintings, watercolor, self-portraits and various drawings and sketches. His artwork illustrates his eccentric personality, however also his emotional battle with mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. He endured many psychotic episodes which became more frequent towards the end of his life. One of his most famous paintings, The Starry Night, was designed during his time at Saint-Paul de Mausole, a psychiatric hospital in France, from May 1889 to May 1890. Tragically, Van Gogh’s mental stability only worsened and in July 1890, at the age of 37 years old, he committed suicide. It has been 128 years since Van Gogh’s death, yet he still lives on through his artwork.
The Van Gogh is Bipolar Restaurant
Van Gogh is Bipolar is a restaurant located in Quezon City, the Philippines. Jetro Rafael is the owner, head chef, and mastermind behind the restaurant. He also lives with bipolar disorder. Rafael was encouraged by those around him to expand on his mood-altering dishes made from all natural ingredients that he now creates to share with the lucky customers who come to his restaurant.
Although the restaurant is highly praised for its cuisine, its the experience and atmosphere of Van Gogh is Bipolar that leaves an everlasting impact on visitors. It seems to capture the taste buds, hearts and minds of patrons. I imagine that Van Gogh is Bipolar is Rafael’s visual look into his bipolar mind, and how he perceives the world around him. Like Rafael’s restaurant and Van Gogh’s artwork, it is not only meant to be seen; it is intended to be felt.
It’s a small restaurant, seating around 15 customers. Before entering, visitors are asked to take off their shoes. The menu dishes and drinks are uniquely named after famous bipolar personalities such as the Virginia Woolf’s Tear’s drink, the Axle Rose Egg Shot, Mel Gibson’s Darkest Sin, Courtney Loves Potion of the Day and Larry Flynt’s Cabbage Surprise, to name a few. Artwork, clocks, and trinkets that Rafael has collected over the years give the restaurant an unconventional look.
The Red Graffiti Wall is a sitting area where visitors have the option to mark the deep red walls with their thoughts and feelings. The Dark Room, located near the washroom, is where customers also have the opportunity to write their deep dark secrets. The Tea Bar offers a variety of teas from unique and antique teapots. Looking at the pictures and reading the reviews it reminds me of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in “Alice and Wonderland.”
The 8 Rules of Van Gogh is Bipolar is a black board listing out the rules of the restaurant: Indoors are reserved for 12 diners only, Stupid & idiots are welcome, NO SERVERS HERE. If you need anything “Please ring the bell by the kitchen window,” Write your name & orders on paper provided, For tea drinkers – Read instructions on How to make your own tea, After eating kindly place soiled dishes by the kitchen window, For billing, put payment in the red box. Get your own change and receipt, Carve your name on the tea bar & scribble your dark secret inside the dark room.
I should clarify why I am so enthusiastic about a restaurant that I have never been to. You see Van Gogh has impacted me as someone living with bipolar disorder as well. When I first learned that Van Gogh had bipolar disorder, I bought books reading about his life. When I saw my first Van Gogh in person, tears streamed down my face. It’s the way he used his art to express the depths of his mental illness that inspired me most. I felt his emotion just by looking at each piece of artwork, and it was a euphoric moment. It was the first time I took pride in my bipolar mind. You might be saying to yourself, “It’s selfish to feel good about something that killed the guy in the end.” However what you forget is that it also enabled him to create exceptional pieces of art. It gave him as much life as it took from him.
We do not celebrate our differences or what society deems as our “imperfections.” I feel as though I am not allowed to embrace my mental illness; rather I am suppose to wither in it. When I read or hear about people like Jetro Rafael, a person who lives with bipolar disorder, and utilizes his mind to empower himself and those around him; I feel a sense of pride. When I checked out the FaceBook Page for Van Gogh is Bipolar I found a quote that sums up the message of Rafael’s restaurant, “Celebrate thy greatness as we celebrate thy imperfections.”
Thank you Jetro Rafael for sharing this part of you with the world. I am already making plans to visit one day. See you soon. XOXO