One of the most unusual meals I have encountered thus far in our travels was dinner at the Organ Stop Pizza restaurant in Mesa, Arizona. While the actual food was simply pizza and salad, the entertainment made this stop quite memorable.
The Organ Stop Pizza experience features an enormous theatre pipe organ known as the “Mighty Wurlitzer.” This type of organ was created to take the place of the expensive pit orchestras and pianists that provided background music to movies and stage shows in the silent movie era.
Originally called a unit orchestra, this particular type of instrument was designed with orchestra sounds, rather than the typical liturgical tones common in church organs. According to the restaurant, this organ has been described as part symphony orchestra, part military band and part theatrical sound effects.
In the 1920s, theatre pipe organs were installed in most theaters throughout the country. This particular one was built for the Denver theater and installed in 1927. With the advent of talking pictures, the organ fell out of use and was eventually damaged by a fire in the auditorium.
Organ Stop bought the instrument in the early 1970’s and set about restoring it. Additions were made to it by scavenging parts from disabled Wurlitzers. The fully restored 23 rank organ was finally installed in 1975. Since then, the restaurant has added more components until today the organ has almost 6,000 pipes and includes the largest console ever designed by Wurlitzer. Four large turbine blowers provide the massive amounts of wind needed to operate the 78 ranks, 17 tuned percussions and numerous other effects contained in the largest Wurlitzer organ in the world.
The building was designed with the organ and restaurant patrons in mind. The organ pivots up and down on a 8,000 pound hydraulic elevator at one end of the dining hall. The lofty, 43-foot ceilings provide amazing acoustics for you to hear during the show, whether you are sitting downstairs or up on the second floor.
I was a bit surprised to be stopped just inside the front door by a long line of people waiting to order. I had assumed it was a sit down, wait on me type of place. But the line moved quickly and soon we were able to order pizzas and the salad bar. We were quite pleased that they offered gluten free pizzas.
What was a tad odd was you had to order and pay for your drinks in another line. You could also get ice cream from another counter, if you wished.
After ordering, we found a seat for our party of eight upstairs at a table overlooking the main floor.
Here is a panoramic view of the second floor.
Wurlizter Organ Entertainment
While we were waiting for our pizza, the musician of the night, Lew Williams began to play. The organ rotated slowly up through the floor, to a dazzling display of lights and sounds. After a bit, he played a song from the Frozen soundtrack, much to the delight of the young ones in the crowd.
We could see the percussion instruments as they were played. Some of the organ pipes were installed behind us on the second floor.
Gluten Free Pizzas
A number system on the wall told us when to come collect our pizzas. The pies were hot and yummy. We got two gluten free pizzas, one with onions and the other with sausage. They were really good as well.
Lew continued to play for us as we ate. He even took requests from the audience. One request made for the oddest song I have heard on an organ: Lucy And The Sky With Diamonds. But it was pretty cool.
At one time, these kind of creepy cat puppets danced on their strings above the organ. Cute or creepy – you decide.
Toward the end of the show, Lew played “Oh Canada” for our Canadian friends. There were quite a number of them in the audience, who cheered at the end. He then played the “Star Spangled Banner” for the rest of us, showing that we do indeed still have some national pride left in this country.
After playing for about 35-40 minutes, the performance ended with Lew and the “Mighty Wurlitzer” rotating back down through the floor.
Although I was a bit hesitant at first, as organ music is just not my thing, I did enjoy our evening out. The food was quite good, we brought some pizza home with us, and the show was simply so unusual I could not help but be entertained. However, my young adult children were simply bored once they were done eating.
One cautionary note: the music is quite loud and takes some getting used to. If you have anyone in your party that is sensitive to sound, you might consider leaving them at home or bringing along a pair of earplugs.