By Kimberly Hosey
“Pizza and pipes.” It’s a slogan and experience that has all but faded to a distant memory – except for the nightly dinner performances at Organ Stop Pizza, 1149 E. Southern Ave. in Mesa.
The venue has been a Valley fixture since 1972. The spacious two-story building houses a dining hall with long communal tables that host hundreds of diners each night. The real focus is the Mighty Wurlitzer, the world’s largest pipe organ and among the most unique and complex musical instruments.
The Wurlitzer was constructed for the Denver Theater in 1927, when massive theater organs accompanied silent movies. Half a century later, it landed in Arizona, has moved and been expanded over the years, and now the organ draws visitors – and organists – from around the globe.
During Christmas season, expect to hear favorites like “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The selections are available for purchase on albums by organists who play there in the Organ Stop gift shop.
The instrument at the center of it all is more like multiple organs in one, boasting pipes and components from around the world. The largest pipe is 37 feet long and weighs 2,200 pounds.
This massive organ’s capacity hits visitors with waves of music from the moment they step in the shop.
The fare at Organ Stop is enjoyable, starting with personalized pizzas, pasta, sandwiches or a trip to the salad bar, and wrapping up with a visit to the dessert counter if you still have room. The restaurant serves various sodas, wines and beers. Make sure to bring cash or checks because Organ Stop does not accept cards. There is an ATM in the lobby.
The food really isn’t why you’re coming here. The main course is the music.
Award-winning organist Lew Williams is among the frequent musicians at the keyboard. Williams is joined by Organ Stop’s other permanent musician, Charlie Balogh, along with several other elite organists. At the front of the stage is a small dish with cards where guests can make requests.
The main floor is wide open and usually full of diners as the Mighty Wurlitzer looms overhead. From the second floor, especially with a seat at the edge, guests can take it all in.
Before your number lights up on the order board, expect mesmerizing combinations of effects: dancing spots of light, different colors lighting up on cue, a giant flag lowering.
Williams doesn’t just sit and play a keyboard. He “plays” a console with more than 1,000 keys, buttons and switches that control about 6,000 pipes, 17 percussion instruments and two pianos.
When he plays the organ, it’s as if an orchestra joins in: drums, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and xylophones. The light show is part of it, as well as kaleidoscopic projections, puppets and even bubbles coming from blowers along the ceiling and a disco ball throwing out shards of light. The entire meal is a sensory experience.
Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” might light up the room, or “My Heart Will Go On,” a ton of Disney songs, classical music, “America the Beautiful,” the “Mission Impossible” theme or selections from “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The latter is among the most-common requests and it also seems to be a favorite of Williams, who is as into the performance as many of the guests are. The pipes glow aqua green, deep blue-violet and fiery red as he performs the piece.
Your kids don’t need to be obsessed with melody or acoustics: They’ll love the immense helpings of music along with the food and if they get antsy, there’s an arcade in the lobby.
The venue’s winter hours through March are 4-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday, 3-10 p.m. Saturday, and 3-9 p.m. Sunday.
The restaurant is closed on Christmas, but has special hours Christmas week: 3-9 p.m. Dec. 23, 3-8 p.m. Dec. 24, 3-9 p.m. Dec. 26-27, 3-10 p.m. Dec. 28-29, 3-9 p.m. Dec. 30, and 4-8 p.m. Dec. 31.
You might have visited Organ Stop Pizza as a kid. You deserve to go back, whether it’s to relive memories with your own kids or start new traditions.
Organ Stop Pizza, 1149 E. Southern Ave., Mesa