Monday, September 4, 2017

One Linguine Team-Up and a side of Fantastic Fries, please!

In 1998, Universal Studios in Hollywood opened a new theme restaurant/bar with no small amount of fanfare--but then, what other kind of opening would you expect of something involving Marvel Comics?

And gee, did Marvel Mania (not to be confused with Marvelmania) sound like a great place to stop in for a burger while you were spending the afternoon seeing the sights of Universal, judging by its press release:

A "Marvel-ous" Place to Eat: Southern California restaurant goers can now tell their waiter to "Make mine Marvel" when they go out and eat at Marvel Mania at Universal Studios in Universal City. Owned by Marvel Comics*, the theme restaurant is patterned after other successful eateries like The Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood, and offers fans a wide variety of comic-related activities and delicious food.

*A slight exaggeration; Marvel Mania was reportedly co-owned and operated with Universal Studios Hollywood and Planet Hollywood.

Highlights include a mini-museum, gift shop, game room and bar. Fans can purchase everything from videos and T-shirts to comic book art and mouse pads, all featuring classic Marvel comic heroes.

Favorites on the Marvel Mania menu include various "Stanwiches" (named after Marvel Founder and comic book legend Stan Lee), Captain America burgers and Fantastic Four Cheese Pizza. The servings are generous and will satisfy even the heartiest of super-hero appetites. Kids of all ages also will enjoy watching television series and films based on Marvel characters on big-screen TVs while they eat.

The younger set will enjoy seeing their favorite Marvel super heroes in person as costumed characters make the rounds posing for pictures. Thankfully, no super villains have yet been sighted!

And of course Stan Lee, in his dusted-off Stan's Soapbox column, couldn't help but give it a rave:

But, hold on a minute--did that release mention Planet Hollywood? The same Planet Hollywood that declared bankruptcy twice, and whose nearly 100 former locations (emphasis on the word "former," with many falling under the category of "planned" or "proposed" and never opening) have since been scaled back to around 9? It turns out the timing of Marvel Mania opening its doors was unfortunate, since Planet Hollywood was taking a beating in the late '90s financially. The company had gone public in mid-1996; but starting in '97, it entered into some failed start-ups based on its brand, and suffered more losses by expanding too quickly, both domestically and internationally. By 1999, its share price had sunk to less than $1.00. You can probably guess the fate of Marvel Mania, celebrating its opening in February of '98 only to be shuttered in September of '99 after less than two years in operation.

The facade that once showcased Marvel Mania went through several different makeovers over the years, as one attraction after another occupied the 25,000-square-foot facility where you used to be able to stop in for a "Cap's Battle Burger." Thanks to "The History of Universal's House of Horrors," we have an idea of what occurred following Marvel Mania's unceremonious end.

The building in which House of Horrors is located can be traced back to the beginning of the Entertainment Visitor’s Center (otherwise known today as the Upper Lot). With such famous restaurants as Victoria’s Station and Marvel Mania, this location was primarily built for one purpose--to be a restaurant. Marvel Mania (which was far before its time) was a heavily themed restaurant operated by the Planet Hollywood franchise company. With financial difficulties plaguing the company, the Marvel Mania Restaurant was closed without notice to its employees after the summer of 1999--operating less than a year. [sic]

With small traces of the Marvel Mania building being removed, the venue remained dormant for the off-season of 1999 and reopened as a behind-the-scenes attraction known as the Chicken Run Maze in June of 2000--utilizing only one level. Even the Marvel Mania carpet and restrooms remained themed to Marvel Mania, though the area was not accessible to the public.

Of all the facilities that rose in Marvel Mania's place, Universal's House of Horrors appeared to be the most successful, its entrance ringing slightly familiar to those who remember dining at Marvel Mania towards the end of the 20th century.

And speaking of dining, let's crack open one of those menus!

(They even had a special menu for kids.)

Artist Chris Bachalo also rendered a poster for the opening.

From what I understand, the "Marvel Mania" concept was later adapted by Universal to welcome visitors to a simple theme store (though the Universal park in Orlando would allocate a more generous amount of space to Marvel's characters).

(Chances are Disney puts them both to shame.)

No doubt there would be Marvelites in '98 with their cameras rolling at this place, eh?

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