Stories of the Magic Kingdom Restaurantsby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
When most guests think of the Magic Kingdom, they immediately think of the attractions or maybe things like the fireworks show or parade. Rarely do they think about the wide variety of food offerings available everywhere and even more rarely about the themed stories behind each location.
Today I thought I would share some of the stories behind some of those eateries, especially as new options continue to appear.
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café
The Mile Long Bar was originally in Frontierland from October 1971 to January 1998 at the exit of the Country Bear Jamboree. Next door, the Pecos Bill Cafe had been part of the Magic Kingdom landscape since 1971 and in 1998 incorporated the adjacent Mile Long Bar with added indoor seating.
The location was re-dubbed the Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe with a framed picture of Disney's animated cartoon version of Pecos Bill from the 1948 featurette just above the fireplace. The name of the establishment was probably also influenced by the 1995 Disney live action movie entitled Tall Tale with Patrick Swayze as Pecos Bill.
The newly designed quick serve area was meant to evoke restaurants like Planet Hollywood (which opened at Disney in 1994) and Hard Rock Café (Hard Rock Live opened in 1999 in Orlando) where authentic celebrity memorabilia decorated the walls.
To help explain the concept, the Imagineers posted the back story on a piece of faux stretched rawhide near the entrance:
Considered by many as the meanest, toughest, roughest cowboy of them all, Pecos Bill has been credited for inventing all things western, from rodeos to cowboy dancing, to spurs, hats and lassos. He can draw faster, shoot straighter and ride a horse harder than any man alive. Unfortunately, we don't know when and where he was born, just that he was raised by coyotes and that his name comes from the river in Texas.
Over the years, Pecos Bill along with his trusty horse, Widowmaker, have made quite a name for themselves forging new trails and taming others. Legend tells us several tall tales, like the time Pecos Bill jumped on a powerful twister and rode it like a bucking bronco. Then there was the time when Pecos Bill dug out a path to create the Rio Grande river during a severe drought that hit his beloved Texas. And then there was the day Pecos Bill was so bored he took his handy six-shooter and shot out all of the stars in the sky except for one. That's why they call Texas the "Lone Star State."
In 1878, with the encouragement of his friends, Pecos Bill decided to open his own watering hole, a restaurant whose motto very much reflects its one-of-a-kind owner. "The tastiest eats and treats this side of the Rio Grande."
Pecos Bill called it the Tall Tale Inn and Café and it quickly became a popular hangout for some of his legendary friends. As time went by, it became a tradition when each friend paid a visit they would leave something behind for Pecos Bill to remember them by. As you can see from the articles and artifacts that don the walls, many of which carry inscriptions, Pecos Bill had some mighty impressive friends. Seems that every trail eventually led to the Tall Tale Inn and Café.
Scattered throughout the location are Buffalo Bill's boots, a giant axe belonging to Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed's tin pot-hat, Kit Carson's scouting tools, Davy Crockett's satchel and powder horn, John Henry's hammer, Jim Bowie's famous knife and Slue Foot Sue's spurs and gloves.
One item that sometimes puzzles guest is a display of a black mask and a silver bullet but no identification plaque, leading people to ask the famous question, "Who was that Masked Man?" Obviously, the answer is the Lone Ranger and at the time of its installation, Disney did not have the rights to the character.
There was a Disney connection with the character. Jack Wrather, who owned the Disneyland Hotel, also owned the rights to the Lone Ranger. In the early years of Disneyland, he allowed actor Clayton Moore – garbed in his full television costume – to visit Disneyland for publicity purposes including riding the Mark Twain steamboat with children.
When Disneyland opened in July 1955, at the end of Main Street just at the beginning of the Hub was a quick service food and beverage restaurant called the Refreshment Corner sponsored by Coca-Cola. It was so popular and beloved that when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, a similar shop was put in the same location on the end of Main Street also sponsored by Coke.
Originally, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were served at both Disney theme parks but in 1982, Coke made arrangements to become the sole provider and has remained so for over the last thirty-five years. Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton back in 1886 making it an appropriate offering on Main Street.
When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, the traditional shop was instead dubbed Casey's Corner, referencing the 1888 poem "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer about the fictional over-confident ballplayer for the Mudville team who famously struck out. Disney even made an animated cartoon based on the poem as part of the compilation feature Make Mine Music (1946).
The new concept for the venue that sold soda and hot dogs was brought to Florida with the renovation of the northwest block of Main Street and the opening of the revised shop on May 27, 1995. The outdoor sign even incorporated the 1888 date of the Thayer poem in the baseball since it also aligned with the turn-of-the-century theme to Main Street.
Every detail in the newly rehabbed restaurant was to help reinforce the connection, from the Cast Member vintage baseball player costumes (with umpire style aprons) to the "Enter" and "Exit" signs made to look like baseballs and the vintage baseball and Coca-Cola memorabilia displayed throughout the space. Classic Coke light fixture chandeliers decorate the interior.
Many of the props on display, including jugs of Coca-Cola syrup and baseball team mugs, trading cards and pennants, are authentic antiques from around the turn of the 20th century.
One of the framed photos on the wall depicts a team wearing jerseys representing more than one team and even women players poorly disguised as men. These people are the Imagineering team who worked on the Casey's Corner (and Main Street Athletic Club) project in 1995.
In addition to Coca-Cola products, the location also serves traditional hot dogs (a popular treat at baseball games) and gourmet designer dogs like chili dogs, Chicago-style dogs, and BBQ pork slaw dogs at a premium price. Also available are corn dog nuggets, French fries, cotton candy, ballpark nachos and Cracker Jacks just as someone might find at a ball game concession stand.
Originally, there was a big screen running a loop of excerpts from Disney animated cartoons that were sports oriented and there was bleacher seating for people to try to watch and eat.
In 2014, that screen and bleachers were eliminated in order to expand the indoor eating area with more traditional seating and also expanded the outdoor eating area to double its size with new walkways and red and white umbrellas representing the colors of Coke.
Outside, two fiberglass life-size statues of old-time baseball players provide a photo opportunity. Also outside, just like at Disneyland, is a piano where a performer occasionally tickles the ivory keys and entertains the guests with ragtime music and familiar Disney tunes. The mirror on the piano allows him to see the guests behind him and their reactions.
Pinocchio Village Haus
If the 1883 children's story about Pinocchio, the little wooden puppet who came miraculously to life, is Italian, then why does the restaurant in Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland resemble a medieval Bavarian building and uses the German word "haus"?
Walt Disney specifically wanted his animated feature Pinocchio (1940) to have the same artistic approach that echoed the old world storybook illustrations done by German artists that had made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) such a success.
For the film, concept artist Gustaf Tenggren was responsible for the design of the Alpine town in the shadow of the mountains. The Germanic influences include not only the architectural detail in the streets but also the carved interior of Gepetto's workshop. The character of Gepetto is German as are the toys, clocks and music boxes he carves. Even actor Christian Rub who voices Gepetto was German.
Tenggren's inspiration for the buildings, signs, streets, steps and more in the final film were from the many drawings he had done of a Bavarian town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Gepetto's house bares a close resemblance to the Hotel Altfrankische Weinstube in that town.
In fact, Pinocchio's Village Haus was meant to so precisely recall the classic animated feature, that the view from above, which when the Magic Kingdom opened in October 1971 could be enjoyed on a leisurely Skyway ride that closed in November 1999, resembles the overhead opening scene in the film.
That view, as well as the one in the film, included a distinctive bell tower. Imagineer John Hench had located an old rusting, dented bell that was able to duplicate the exact ringing tone necessary.
Unfortunately, after the bell was shipped from California to Florida, overeager workmen in Central Shops cleaned off the rust and hammered out the dents and the bell no longer had its pleasing tone. An electronic audio track was substituted.
The word "village" was chosen specifically for this food and beverage location because both the exterior and the interior are designed with a village courtyard and separate "houses" clustered together since a building this large would not have served as a restaurant in medieval times. There are even different weather vanes on the roof to suggest different businesses or families living below.
The main entrance, although indoors, is designed to invoke the outdoors with a lighted ceiling suggesting the sky and the various food counters having shingled roofs on building facades with stained glass windows and flowerboxes.
The largest dining area is the Stromboli Room. Outside the building is puppeteer Stromboli's cart that he uses to travel from town to town to perform his puppet shows and sell merchandise. Entering from that cart into the building takes a guest into the puppet theater.
The long, thin stained glass windows feature marionettes on strings while the narrow small balcony up above the seating area is meant to suggest the catwalk of a theater. A large fresco on the wall reads, "Stromboli presents Pinocchio the string-less puppet" just like a poster for the show.
Each of the other dining rooms are homages to different characters from Pinocchio: The Blue Fairy, Geppetto (with wooden cuckoo clocks), Cleo (all glassed in like a fish bowl with images of the fish swimming), Figaro, Jiminy Cricket, and Monstro (near the window overlooking the Small World oceans where he roamed).
The location even includes two porcelain tile covered authentic German bakery ovens that still work. An architectural mistake in the installation of an Exit sign on one of the doors has been corrected by painting the mischievous cat Figaro seemingly playfully moving it.
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café and Sonny Eclipse
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café, a popular chain of intergalactic food and beverage franchises with a "galaxy of food choices" has been open for business in Tomorrowland since 1994.
Originally the restaurant was called the Tomorrowland Terrace until 1994. The original performer for the first decade was Michael Iseberg (aka Michael Iceberg) who amazed audiences with his frenetic performances using his early keyboard and synthesizer technology on his Amazing Iceberg Machine.
"This is the FIRST Earth Restaurant Franchise from Outer Space" proclaimed the original poster for what was the largest quick serve location at the Magic Kingdom with its three food bays and extensive topping bar.
Guests dining in the Starlight Lounge Room on the lower level near the Alice in Wonderland tea cup attraction enjoy the song stylings and snappy banter of audio-animatronics lounge performer Sonny Eclipse (voiced by blues singer and songwriter Kal David) during his approximately twenty plus minute performance.
"Hey, speaking of planets, Donald Duck and Goofy were in here a few minutes ago looking for Pluto. Man, are they a few million miles off, or what?" remarks Sonny, followed by the sound of canned laughter.
This Audio-Animatronics figure was actually modified from a similar figure, Officer Zzzzyxxx who was at the baggage screening desk outside of the Star Tours attraction at Tokyo Disneyland. Today, Disney refers to them as "cousins."
Direct from Yew Nork on the planet Zork, Sonny Eclipse is the "Biggest Little Star in the Galaxy" according to his billing. The Bossa Supernova and Eclipso musical stylings of Sonny and his Astro Organ, along with his ethereal and invisible backup singers The Space Angels have entertained guests for over two decades. His unseen technician is named Mike Feedback.
During his act, Sonny mentions his six-eyed (all purple), twelve-nostrilled girlfriend who blows him away and he sings a little love song he wrote for her entitled Oh Bright Little Star.
The Metrophone booth from the Galactic Communications Network (GCN) that used to be located near the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover connected guests to nine possible hilarious one-sided conversations including one with Johnny Jupiter who is Sonny's agent.
Kal David had been working in Los Angeles with George Wilkins, who wrote a great deal of music for Disney. Wilkins brought David in to sing the song Unhealthy Living Blues for the Goofy About Health section in the Epcot Wonders of Life pavilion in 1989 and it went so well that he brought David back to perform as the voice of Sonny Eclipse.
It was all done out of Wilkins' Southern California home where he had set up a studio. Wilkins did all of the music on his synthesizer except for the guitar parts that were done by David. David was even able to incorporate a little of his famous blues guitar style in the song Gravity.
David worked for about three days. His female backup singers were The Brunettes, a group that featured David's wife Lauri Bono who still tours with him today. The women worked for one day and were crammed into a small vocal booth that included Wilkins' washer and dryer and one of the singers, Amy, was pregnant at the time.
"Everything was all written for me. There was no ad-libbing," remembered David. "It was just another short studio gig and then you went back to your real life. They showed me a drawing of the character and encouraged me to just be myself. I loved him immediately and I had played in many bars over my career so I understood the 'feel' of how he would be.
"I could have done a cartoony voice but they just wanted my real voice pumped up a little. I like the songs but they are not the blues. I am proud to be the voice of Sonny. It has turned out to be the steadiest performing gig I ever had."
Tony's Town Square Restaurant
When Main Street U.S.A. opened at the Magic Kingdom in Florida in October 1971, right there in Town Square was the Town Square Café with an open air porch where patrons could watch the stream of guests rushing in and out of the park.
The food and beverage location offered breakfast, lunch and dinner and was themed to the elegant Victorian era. Originally, the venue was going to be sponsored by a coffee company but the proposed participant backed out.
It ended up being sponsored by Oscar Mayer from 1971-1981. Diminutive spokesman for the company, Little Oscar (actually affable George Molchan) in his white chef#39;s hat, was there greeting guests and handing out the iconic wiener whistles to eager children.
However, it was not a variety of Oscar Mayer hot dogs that were served at the location but upscale fare like a Monte Cristo sandwich and Crepes Jambalaya. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola were available as well on the menu.
When Oscar Mayer declined to renew its sponsorship, the location was taken over by Hormel who handled the operation from 1981 to 1989. The menu was a large four page newspaper entitled "Town Square Times" with the first page devoted to the history of the Hormel company. The new sponsor still sold a Monte Cristo sandwich along with a Main Street Deli Plate and Fresh Catfish.
When Hormel decided not to continue sponsorship in 1989, the Disney Company did an extensive renovation of the restaurant converting it into Tony's Town Square Restaurant.
The restaurant references the Italian restaurant in the Disney animated feature classic Lady and the Tramp (1955) where two canines shared a romantic moment over a plate of spaghetti and meat balls.
The proprietor of the film's eatery is a larger-than-life, black-mustached, friendly character named Tony voiced by actor George Givot, known for his dialect comedy and fine singing voice, who passed away in 1984.
The waiting area has a television playing a clip from the film and the interior of the restaurant is decorated with Lady and the Tramp inspired artwork as well as a sculpted fountain featuring the two characters.
For over thirty years, Don "Ducky" Williams has been a Senior Character Artist at Walt Disney World. During that time, he supplied artwork for memorable pieces of merchandise and special projects.
"I did the artwork for all the china, signage, menus, etc. In fact, when it first opened, it had plates, saucers, creamers and more with my Lady and the Tramp artwork on it," commented Williams when I interviewed him. "They found the guests loved it so much that they kept stealing it so they replaced them with regular china. The remainder they had they sold at Disneyana conventions.
"Do you see all those framed paintings on the wall? There are twelve of them and I did them all. Those are the original paintings framed under glass, not prints or reproductions. If they ever change out that place, I would love to have those back to put up in my house."
On the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, just like in the movie, someone outlined a heart when the cement was wet and there are two sets of dog paws. To the left of the restaurant is a sign for The Chapeau hat shop that features a hat box exactly like the one that little Lady was in at the beginning of the feature film. Little details like these enhance the overall experience for sharp-eyed guests.
Believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stories of Magic Kingdom eating locations. For instance, the Liberty Tree Tavern has rooms dedicated to some of the notable personalities of the American Revolution including Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin and others and some authentic antiques, not to mention the use of "seed" glass and boot scrapers.
Maybe I'll tell those stories another time.