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Disneyland Article
Dining Debut In 1955 These Were The Parks Iconic Eateries
From the Red Wagon Inn to the Space Bar, when the world's first Disneyland park opened its doors in Anaheim, California, unique food was as much part of the experience as the rides and other entertainment.

ON 17 July 1955, the first-ever Disneyland — located in Anaheim, California — opened its doors to the world. As the eager crowds thronged “the happiest place on earth”, reports state that food and drink soon ran short. It’s not a situation that’s ever recurred in a Disney park since. Eateries of all kinds abound in every Disney park — from self-service cafeterias to fast food stops to fine dining settings that would do Sleeping Beauty’s castle proud. Over the decades, the food at the parks has also evolved, beginning with hot dogs as the universal favourite to the green and blue milk served in the Galaxy’s Edge section.

In its debut avatar, the OG Disneyland too had numerous establishments within the park premises. Among the most iconic was the Red Wagon Inn, situated within Yesterland. An advertisement that ran in the local papers before the Disneyland opening extols the restaurant’s virtues:

The Red Wagon Inn is one of several charming eating places in Disneyland. It is resplendent in the elegance of a by-gone era reminiscent of the famed eating houses of yesterday. All appointments are authentic mementos of the gay and glamorous (18)90s — including the stained glass ceiling, entrance hall and foyer taken from the St. James home in Los Angeles, one of the West’s most noted old mansions. Atmosphere, however, is not confined to the building alone. The menu itself brings back visions of historic good eating — featuring steaks and chops.

Situated on the Main Street’s Plaza, its elegant and sprawling facade invited diners to enter its cool air-conditioned environs where “gay memories (would) become glamorous realities”. A complete dinner was $1.65, luncheon was priced at $1.50 while the children’s meal cost $1. The Red Wagon continued as one of Disneyland’s most popular restaurants for a decade, until it was renovated and rechristened as the Plaza Inn in 1965.

Then there was the charming Carnation Ice Cream Parlour, which offered a cosier alternative to the Red Wagon. While ice cream desserts were indeed the specialty, as the restaurant’s name indicates, there was plenty else on the menu, including soups, salads and sandwiches. The table service was meant to be the big draw, in addition to the vintage ice cream counter. As for the ice cream, it came in variations as delicious as “Victorian Banana Split, Matterhorn Sundae, Star Tours Sundae, Snow White Sundae, Splash Mountain Sundae, Hot Fudge Sundae, and Big Thunder Sundae (large scoops of rocky road, chocolate chip and coffee ice cream, with hot fudge, hot caramel, whipped cream, toasted almonds and a cherry).

Less wholesome was the Aunt Jemima Pancake House, not so much for what it was but what we’ve come to recognise it as a symbol of. Aunt Jemima, a fictional Black woman who served as the mascot for Quaker Oats, is now seen to be a derogatory stereotype rooted in racism. Back in the early days of Disneyland, the pancake house named for her was famous for its enormous waffles, (obviously) pancakes, and sundry other breakfast goodies. “Aunt Jemima” (actress Aylene Lewis) herself would stop by several times a day and mingle with the diners as they tucked into Frontierland-themed specials like Davy Crockett’s Delight or the Golden Horseshoe.

If Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House spoke to a troubled past, then the “StratoSnak” Space Bar was an attempt at leaping into the future. An automat-style eatery, the one-storey cafe in Tomorrowland specialised in soft drinks (root beer and colas), salads, sandwiches (including hamburgers, hot dogs), desserts (pastry and pie), coffee and candy. It was where celebrities — including the likes of Frank Sinatra — hung out when Disneyland had its press opening in ‘55. Guests would step up to one of the fully-automated vending machines, collect their order on a tray, and make their way to one of the outdoor seating areas from where they had a view of the Tomorrowland attractions.

The eateries at Disneyland continue to be a big draw, even though many of these original establishments were either closed or completely rebranded. But whether you’re having a churro on the go or sitting down to a whimsical full-course meal (with hidden Mickey Mouse symbolism) you’ll never be disappointed.

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