It's the dancing cats that put the evening over the top.
We're a half-hour into our first visit to Organ Stop Pizza, Mesa's time-honored musical dining spot. Lew Williams is pawing away center stage at a four-keyboard, wraparound organ so ornate and intimidating it looks like it could launch missiles. The cavernous double-decker restaurant around us hums and moans with the sound. Its walls are so full of throbbing pipes and bouncing doodads, it would take several large pepperonis to spot them all. And just when you start pondering the utter seriousness of organ music, the dancing cats come out.
var config = new Array();
config["videoId"] = 1849005910;
config["videoRef"] = null;
config["lineupId"] = null;
config["playerTag"] = null;
config["autoStart"] = false;
config["preloadBackColor"] = "#FFFFFF";
config["wmode"] = "opaque";
config["width"] = 300;
config["height"] = 275;
/* do not edit these config items */
config["playerId"] = 1336690405;
"Yeah, the cats," Jack Barz says. Organ Stop's co-owner watches as a small stage is revealed above the organ and four solemn, rubber-legged cat puppets begin dancing to the "Pink Panther" theme. He chuckles in a way that suggests he's still figuring them out, too. "One of the former owners' mothers added them, sometime around 1983." That was the heyday of the Broadway musical "Cats." Perhaps that was why they were added? "... Okay." Barz says.
The cats aren't going anywhere. They're part of the tradition. And tradition is the watchword at Organ Stop - a family-style pizza place spun around a relic reclaimed from the silent film era. "The organ dates back to the 1920s, to a theater in Denver," Barz explains. "Bill Brown, the original owner, brought it here in the 1970s." For years, Organ Stop held court near Southern Avenue and Dobson Road. In 1995, they moved their organ, and its nearly 6,000 pipes, to the corner of Southern and Stapley Drive. Seniors and young families followed in force. "It's got a multigenerational appeal," Barz says, looking out on a field of silver hair and tiny heads, noshing their slices as Williams swings from the "X-Files" theme into the "Star Trek" portion of the science fiction medley.
The cats sit that one out. But the flouncing felines, the bobbing accordions and the panorama of quirky knickknacks are what make Organ Stop a must-see. Seniors submit written song requests, recalling days gone by. And juniors watched them played in a venue that is part music hall, part "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
"That was swell," a little boy says, leading his father out. And so it was.
Organ Stop Pizza is located at 1149 E. Southern Ave., Mesa. It's open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, give them a call at (480) 813-5700 or visit them at www.organstoppizza.com.