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We Gotta Make This Pie Higher!

How weird was Shakey’s? This is not part 2 of “food roundup,” but I wanted to get something out of the way: how weird was Shakey’s in its prime? How weird can you stand it, brother?

Shakey’s in its 1970s tudor-beamed and beer-soaked splendor provoked a marvelous and completely unprompted set of psycho-responsive feedback loops:

1) It’s Dark! We already mentioned that, but it bears repeating. So dark your eyes had to adjust to the lack of light dark. So dark that after you fetched your pitcher from the bar and your pizza from the counter and sat down at the shiny bench in front of one of the long, smooth, wooden tables, you more or less detected the presence of fellow diners by sonar, or in this case, nearby telltale sounds of furtive stuffing of faceholes with Mojo potatoes and chicken wings.

2) Quiet. Too Quiet. When they weren’t cramming their faces with exotic delights from the all-you-can-eat “bunch-a-lunch” buffet tables, people tended to speak in hushed tones at Shakey’s, although the plink-a-dink player piano never stopped playing, and the vaudevillian sounds of comedic uproar continually ushered forth from this nickolodeon machine or that game with a crank that cost a nickel where you tried to rescue a cow from a burning building with a crane. Even with the frequent addition of live entertainment, the guileless sounds of banjos and sousaphones only served to remind wary eaters that there is no escape from the pyrrhic victory of a plate full of 20 uneaten chicken wings set next to a plate entirely full of gnawed bones.

Sounds would rattle and dislocate inside the huge old barn-like structures, with the calm of a quiet corner suddenly overwhelmed by the sea-chanty singing ministrations issuing froth from the group of off-duty bunco officers currently occupying themselves with drinking in the “private room,” a side space off All-You-Can-Eat Alley containing a pool table, a Hamm’s Beer sign perpetually on the fritz, and a half dozen knocked-over metal-and-vinyl dining chairs, topped off with a healthy dollop of alienation and bitter resentment.

To your left are bathrooms. Enjoy the trip!

3) The Signs Here Are Vaguely Threatening. On the walls were odd signs and posted evidence, vaguely threatening unspecified actions against uncertain crimes. Shakey’s proprietors seemed to have a rule about everything, even things you would never think of in a million years, like hairy-eyeballing the chef while he’s making your pie. Because who does that? That much of the signage falls under the rubric of “folksy wisdom” seems only to tighten the knot in one’s stomach upon realizing that we left the cash at home. Sneak out to the car, honey. Make a beeline for the door, kids. Let’s hope there’s a bank open.

Furthermore, presented as a series of “Ye Old Notices” (sometimes appropriating the rustic extraneous “e” as in “Olde”), Shakey’s walls issued forth a never-ceasing series of bizarre edicts and cobbled-together frontier justice, including demands that patrons swore allegiance to the company’s product, as well as exhortations to ignore the high cost of Shakey’s food offerings when compared to its competitors. Other signs harbored some deeper, more mysterious sorts of messages, such as arcane scribings on the wall about “what the Butler saw” and tales of “Jimmy go fishin’ and ain’t come back.”

One only has to flex his or her imagination so far to produce a real sense of eldritch terror while seated inside a Shakey’s restaurant in, say, the year 1975, and thank goodness for all of us that we can’t simply go back to that time at will, because the current incarnation of the Shakey’s franchise is now –architecturally and in every other way, really — an unthreatening pile of generic TGMcWillicudder’s post-expansion-boom prefab building plop, and maybe that’s just for the best. Why don’t we just this door close quietly behind us now?

4) A Gastronomical Wonderland. The food, however, was quite delicious, and ahead of its time. Look at this menu! “Imported sardine”! “Pimento & Green Pepper” (which makes you an Idiot, somehow)! The pepperoni is spiced! The beef is lean and the linguica is Portuguese! Oh frabjous day!

Just don’t forget to Always Eat Pizza With Your Fingers: the management is keeping an eye on you.

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