Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old Seattle: Pizza and Pipes

A long time ago, in a place called "Greenwood" there existed a mecca for family dining. The place was known simply as Pizza & Pipes. And although the site of this North Seattle institution is now home to a Blockbuster Video (ugh!) the memories of pizza, pop, 1980's video games and organ music is still alive.

Now, before I get into reminiscing about this Seattle legend I should be completely honest about The Pipes: the Pizza was average, at best. The best thing about the pizza was that they had a window that you could go up to and watch the kitchen staff prepare it. This served two purposes. First, parents could put kids like me up at that window and it would keep them occupied until our food was ready. I wouldn't be asking about quarters for the Pac-Man or Galaga machines because I was too busy watching some guy make my pie. (I believe they also had Pole Position...and that refers to a video game of the 80's and not a strip club.) Second, the viewing window served as a "Big Brother" to the guys in the kitchen. Kitchen cooks were less like to pull something with your pizza if people are watching their every move. Seriously, don't think that wasn't a deterrent.

The pizza sucked, big deal. People didn't go to Pizza and Pipes for gourmet pizza, they went to Pizza and Pipes for the cheap pizza and the 3/17 Wurlitzer organ that was prominently displayed at the front of the restaurant. When the organist got that organ kicked up all hell broke loose inside of that place. Little kids started dancing around. Bubbles fell from the ceiling (courtesy of the Pizza & Pipes "Bubble-Machine")...pretty much anarchy. Complete and utter anarchy.

A few words on the Bubble Machine: while the Bubble Machine was not a primary reason why people came to Pizza & Pipes it served the important function of keeping people from leaving. The Bubble Machine was "the hook", if you will. The anticipation of bubbles reigning down from the rafters was enough to keep anyone from leaving during the organist's performance. While the pipe organ was the main course, the Bubble Machine was the dessert. Plus, what kid didn't like bubbles? Especially bubbles that fall from the sky during a rousing pipe organ rendition of "Roll Out the Barrel" while hopped up on crappy pizza and the World's Flattest Pop. In short, the Bubble Machine could captivate any audience.

Pizza & Pipes was the primary location for any end-of-the-season pizza party for a St. John's athletic team, primarily because you could bring 20 kids and their parents and eat all the pizza you wanted for like $30. The place was very large, at least when you think about the size of typical pizza restaurants. The Pipes didn't look like a Godfather's or a Round Table, instead it looked like a big banquet hall with a pizza kitchen in the back and a huge pipe organ in the front (along with a selection of video games jammed into one corner). And from what I can recall, there wasn't a whole lotta light that entered that place. It always seemed kind of dark...perhaps that condition was favorable for the organ and the pipes, I haven't a clue.

According to the Puget Sound Theater Organ Society (or as you might more commonly refer to it, the PSTOS) the original Pizza & Pipes organ was initially installed at Seattle's Paramount Theater in 1930, only to find it's way to Pizza & Pipes in 1973. After The Pipes was closed in the late 80's, the organ was sold and is now housed in Maple Valley. And although it has been over twenty years since it was heard at a St. John's 5th grade soccer team pizza party, no one can silence the memories of Pizza & Pipes.

For further information on the 3/17 Wurlitzer Organ, check out this article at


  1. Flat pop? You sir, were ordering the wrong drink at Pizza & Pipes. The correct soda order would have been Root Beer, which was always tasty with just enough foam.

  2. I enjoyed your walk with me down memeory lane but there is one glaring omission - why no mention of the silent movies with the screen that came down, as if from heaven? Oh how I loved that Charlie Chaplin!

    I have to second the above comment regarding root beer. It is the only way to go!

  3. Okay, two points:

    1) I'm not a Root Beer guy...I only remember the pitchers of Pespi. Perhaps I should have tried the Root Beer but I'm guessing I drank whatever my dad ordered.

    2) Katie, excellent point about the silent movies...I had completely forgotten about those. Did they show anything but Charlie Chaplin? Was there some Laurel and Hardy? Organ music, bubble machine and silent movies: the perfect storm.

  4. Either way, it is sure a sad thing to see old Greenwood change. Just like how Ballard is now ruined!

  5. Agreed. I would take the old Pizza and Pipes over the new condos anyday. There was just something about the way the Seattle neighborhoods used to be.

  6. thank's for helping my husband share a piece of his childhood with his son and me. It remineded me of my own childhood in vancouver washington where we had our own pipes restaurant uncle milts, with the same crappy cardboard pizza and kick ass root beer!

  7. I loved that place for two reasons that were not mentioned, they had:
    1. That crazy balloon vending machine that would blow the balloon up before it would let you open the door and get it
    2. The people who dressed up as Minnie and Mickey Mouse and danced in the bubbles with you...

    Good old days!

  8. I forgot about that balloon machine....I loved that thing!! Two other things that weren't mentioned were the dancing puppets that were in glass showcass up toward the ceiling, or the piano thhat played all by itself. I loved those too!! That place was truly magical when I was a kid. I miss it. I would love to be able to take my kids there now!!

  9. Ah the piano, forgot completely about that...and the puppets. Although, I'm not surprised that I've forgotten considering that at the time I was probably more focused on getting my parents to give me more quarters for the Pole Position machine.

    There was so much going on in that place that it's really hard to remember everything. I wish there were some really good photos of the inside just so I could remember all of it.

  10. Found this post after doing a search for P&P. I grew up at that joint and was sad to see it go. Thanks for the quality reminiscing time.

  11. I was just trying to explain this memory to my husband. Googling pizza and bubble machine paid off. I was young when we went, born in 1983, but I remember a machine where a little chef would pull a pizza out of an oven? And drop down a prize. Anyone else remember? I loved that balloon machine! I think I remember a chicken prize machine too. When chicken sat in a nest of colored platic eggs. Then he'd flap around and cluck. Eventually your egg would drop down.

  12. Ahh! Yes. Today I drove by the Blockbuster in Greenwood where I still live and I told my 7yr old girl, that's were a place called Pizza & Pipes used to be. Yes... I remember the pizza (which I did not think it was that bad...than again, I was a kid!). The silent movies such as Harold Lloyd et al. If it wasn't for P&P I wouldn't know about Harold. And yes, the dark, cavernous place. It was exiting fun! My old greenwood memories... together with the Fred Meyers next door and the-then Lucky's supermarket west of FM. I miss my old Greenwood.

  13. Ha! I loved how you worked a reference to St. John's into that great memory! I loved both Pizza & Pipes and my old school! Thanks for those brilliant memories!

  14. i remember all of these things as my brother n i use to go there as kids! it was a very special place! loved the puppets and the games,balloon machine...all of it. o how i miss this simple pure pleasure! and the organ was amazing!pizza n rootbeer! thank u ma n pa for taking us!
    Lila E.