Mars 2112 is, by any standard, a tragic enterprise in theme restauranting. Guess who wants to eat in the dark, in a banquette made of moon rocks? No one. And no one wants to insert an additional layer of self-consciousness into their already compromised dignity each time they crave an onion blossom, by being required to order it by its proper menu name: "Galactic Martian Blooms From the Onion-12 Star System." And absolutely no one wants a fake rocket ship ride standing between them and their overpriced domestic beer and fried appetizers. And that was Mars 2112 in its heyday.
There is a song by Crooked Fingers called "A Little Bleeding" which contains the following excellent lyric: "Last night I drove to go nowhere at all / And came upon the saddest thing I ever saw / A pretty girl all strapped up in an ugly car." I find that contrast very effective, and feel similarly sad about seeing a theme restaurant in decline. Theme restaurants, like amusement parks, arrive with a perfect un-self-conscious jubilance and they remain perfect only prior to being touched, lived-in, and enjoyed. That is the great tragedy of theme restaurants. They are at their peak before they can even be appreciated. From there, based upon the commitment of investors – which is directly proportional to the number of chicken fingers making their way from the kitchen to your tabletop (which is, of course, shaped like a tall ship or a cow or a turntable or helen reddy) – the pacing and attention to the restaurant's upkeep will be determined.
Some restaurants keep it together for years without showing any sign of wear. Others give up relatively quickly, but eventually all theme restaurants lose their good times patina and start to naturally develop a "whore's face." An "excuse our appearance" sign at an ordinary restaurant hardly registers any emotion, but if you go to Chuck E. Cheese and see an "out of order" sign on the whack-a-mole, with a mole half-emerged from its mole-hole, your heart can't help but sink a few inches. It's like a scab on a baby's head. (Has anyone been inside a Chuck E. Cheese lately? Adult film veteran Nina Hartley's rectum has more lived-in charm. [please repeat that joke in dennis miller's voice, and then kill me.] The animatronic puppets are either gone, or have cloth sacks covering their dead eyes. The video games are still from the "Mr. Do" and "Pengo" era. And the plastic ball cages have gone so long without being cleaned out that when you dive into them you're bound to come up with a piece of discarded pepperoni or someone else's band-aid stuck to your eyelids. Chuck E. Cheese has become a lousy place to hold a birthday party, and a decent place to get raped.*)
Mars 2112 might be suffering more than any of its peers right now. The sidewalk in front of the restaurant is undergoing long-term construction, and very uninviting black fencing stretches all around the above-ground entrance, with just a small, understated white sign bearing the logo of Mars 2112 with a message begging people to ignore the catastrophe barricading the restaurant away from public viewing. The overall effect – dark, ominous fencing; broken asphalt; the stench of the earth's core – brings to mind an establishing shot on Hogan's Heroes.
And right out in front of it all is a lone out-of-work actor dressed as a space alien. Somehow, Mars 2112 thought the appearance of a member of their cast of kooky alien characters – I think it was Glorianna – would help to distract tourists from the network of plasticized razor wire long enough to slip inside a hole in the fencing for some Phobos Phries with Moon Gravy. And Glorianna felt just as embarrassed as the passers-by. She stood near the entrance, a faint beacon of fun juxtaposed with a dark industrial apocalypse, and didn't do much of anything but offer a weak smile from beneath her alien prosthetic face. She had nothing to hand out, no story to tell. She was just a women in glittery robes, wearing cheap Halloween makeup in broad daylight.
When a mother and child approached, curious, Glorianna spent several moments not noticing them, perhaps hoping they would leave and help make this day lurch forward without incident. Finally, she swiveled her head toward them, accidentally setting her rubber head extension off to a jaunty angle. "Hi," said Glorianna, grease paint running down her chin. The mother covered her child's face and quickly ushered him into Cosi.
*Please excuse me as I sit here and quietly await my lawsuit.