In my last column I let you in on the secret plans for Universal Studios Florida’s Islands of Adventure theme park that originally included DC Comics characters instead of the Marvel characters that ultimately took up residence on their own island. When we last left off we had taken a full tour of the proposed Gotham City Island but we had yet to venture inside any of the tantalizing attractions. There are so many things around that it’s hard to pick just one but since my stomach is rumbling let’s scope out some of the restaurants here in Batman’s hometown…
There’s the blandly named “Gotham Café,” which is a mid-priced outdoor café (from the notes it’s obvious a better name is needed!) Across the way is the “Mr. Freeze Ice Creamery” push cart that features sundaes, ice cream cones and more (the notes for this one indicate that Mr. Freeze is not well known enough to warrant his own outdoor vending cart and they may want to combine his cart with the more popular Penguin character — remember this is 1992: the world wouldn’t be introduced to Mr. Freeze on the big screen until 1997’s horrendous “Batman and Robin.” After that cinematic outing he may deserve to run his own ice cream cart). There’s also that “Penguin Pops” cart made in the shape of a large penguin lying on its stomach. There are two large floppy orange feet on the back that slap the ground as the cart moves along creating a whimsical penguin gait. The worker turns a crank that emits a penguin shriek that beckons guests to purchase drinks that dispense from the penguin’s beak! Other carts located around the city are in the shape of the Penguin’s Duck Car from “Batman Returns.”
There’s a larger food destination located on the outside edge of Gotham City called “The Metro,” a Hard Rock Café type restaurant/club that can stand alone as an outside restaurant for people not wanting to enter the park (this one has an alternate name, “The Krypton Club,” indicating that Superman and his gang are slowly creeping into Gotham City. Eventually this will morph into The Krypton Kafe’ and become an homage to Superman’s home planet staged within a Krypton-green series of chambers). Back inside the park you’ll find “Lois Lane’s Metropolis Diner” (they love that Metro name). This streamlined art deco eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features tabletops adorned with front pages from the Daily Planet that document Superman’s adventures both comic book and big screen. Similarly themed is the “Daily Planet Press Club” which offers a chance to dine in the large cafeteria of the great metropolitan newspaper. Diners are treated to surprise visits from reporters and photographers from the newspaper who make lunch at the club a daily event.
More interesting food- and theme-wise is the nearby “Smallville Soda Shop,” which is a high school-themed cafeteria right out of Clark Kent’s hometown (the notes say that this theme is out of character in the urban setting of Gotham City but I think it may have been a shot at lightening the mood of the surroundings). The Soda Shop is a brick building adorned with striped awning and posters that proclaim “Smallville — home of Superboy!” Inside you’ll find the jukebox playing ’50s tunes while you eat surrounded by letterman sweaters, megaphones and other pieces of high school memorabilia. There are tables to eat outside if you’re so inclined and everything is served in Superboy-themed dinnerware. If you’re in the mood for something sweet after lunch you can zip on over to the “Kent’s Candy Shop” where Ma and Pa Kent have a wide selection of candies and snacks for mid-park munching (sorry, veered into Mallrats territory for a moment there).
Across the esplanade is the large twenty-something-oriented “The Batcave.” which is described as a dance club like Disney’s short-lived “Videopolis” nightclub. Guests enter Bruce Wayne’s library conservatory where they are greeted by the Wayne Manor staff. Cocktails are served while guests explore the large, leather couches and high cathedral ceilings. Once a pre-determined number of guests have entered the conservatory the lights dim and the BatSignal shines through the ceiling skylight. Large framed pictures slide away to reveal televisions showing the latest music videos as the music of the club grows louder. The Wayne Manor staff ushers the guests to a back wall where one of the staff activates a wall sconce lever that opens one of the bookcases to reveal a hidden sci-fi elevator (not sure what “sci-fi elevator” means, but in my dreams it’s Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator).
The elevator uses special effects to simulate a descent far into the earth though it actually only travels one story down into the club. The doors part and guests step into “The Batcave” — a faux cave filled with state-of-the-art Batlab technology and a full dance sound system. Large video walls dominate the room and a waterfall cascades down from the darkness above into the grotto below. Fog rolls along the dance floor as guests find a rock carved table and order from the large laboratory themed bar that fills the center of the room. Lasers and plasma balls shine electric along the walls. Themed around the Batcave’s many computer screens and lights, this club offers dancing and snacks — do the Batusi and you just might fall in Batlove! (This one gets a bland “Maybe” in the notes I have. Perhaps they thought better after learning how long “Videopolis” lasted before it became just another theatre at the Happiest Place on Earth. They may have been concerned with capacity considering the entire pre-show before actually entering the club. But you have to admit it sounds pretty cool, if a little Schumacherish.)
Finally, if you’re looking for a real comic-book experience you can’t beat these last restaurant proposals. They’re the most exciting of the bunch; the kind of comic-book theme park experience that would have really made Gotham City Island stand out. When I look over the entire proposal of food offerings these are the ones that sound really exciting and it’s a shame they never made it off the drawing board.
First up is “The Joker’s Diner, a fast food service restaurant done up in a fun-filled circus atmosphere interlaced with the Joker’s perverse sense of humor. Menus pop out of menacing Jack-in-the-boxes and each food item is served in a Joker take home container. (If the place has waitresses dressed in green and purple chanting, “Love that Joker!” then I’ll eat 3 squares a day here and never leave!)
Jokerburgers, on the double!
Next is “Penguin Pizza,” a dive located near the waterfront with pool tables and a menu that offers hot and delicious pizza. The waiters are dressed in tuxedos and the Penguin himself makes appearances to dine with his most valued friends. He gives new meaning to the term “table hopping” as he moves about the parlor. (While the Penguin/Pizza connection is thin at best you gotta love having the Penguin moving about the restaurant as the owner.)
Everyone knows penguins…love…pizza?
The last restaurant on the list is the best in my opinion. Imagine as you walk around the park you come upon an upscale, sit down restaurant done in a 1930’s deco style. It’s down the street and pulling you in. It’s got that Brown Derby feeling of elegance and class. It’s “Lex Luthor’s Villains Club” and it’s simply the finest restaurant in town. Inside there are deep booths and mysterious corners.
I hear the cake at Luthor’s place is excellent.
The walls are adorned with caricatures of some of Gotham’s finest — not celebrities — but villains. Yes, you’re about to dine in Lex Luthor’s tribute to the criminal elite of Gotham City. Here in the shadows is where the most vile villains in the world meet to sup and plan their next caper. As your reservation is checked and you’re escorted to your table you might find yourself dining right next to some of the most famous comic book nemesises (is that the proper word? I’ll have to consult the Mystery Men) in the world. The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin, Brainiac, The Riddler and Two-Face are just some of the characters that eat here on a daily basis. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget where you’ll dine on 4-star dishes as right next to you the Clown Prince of Crime plots his next battle with the Caped Crusader! (This proposal just makes me want to cry. I can’t even begin to imagine how cool this would have been. The Marvel Mania Café was awesome but this would have been a completely immersive experience with great food and live character interaction. Who knows — Batman himself might have made an appearance and staged a battle inside the restaurant. Now that’s dinner and a show!)
Well, I hope you found something you like on the menu. With all those choices I don’t blame you if you need a few more minutes to decide. We could always do a little shopping while you make up your mind…
Come back next time when we’ll open our wallets and take a shopping spree with the Dark Knight. A stop at the ATM might be a good idea as the sheer number of stores is mind-bending!
Jeff Tucker works in the theme park industry. His magical book series, “The Sixth Key,” is available on Amazon.com. He also hosts his own Podcast, “91 Reasons,” available on iTunes.