Someone has had the bright idea of giving me unauthorized and unlimited access to our vast and decades-old video archive and boy, do I have some great things to show you.
For the first entry in what I hope will become a series before they cut off my access to the treasure trove, I’d like to show off one of my favorite failed eatery attempts, The ABC Soap Opera Bistro at (then) Disney’s California Adventure.
Before we get to the video, I understand that not everybody has their feet firmly planted in Disney Lore, so I’ll give a little background: The ABC Soap Opera Bistro was an opening day full-service restaurant at what was then known as Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA. The eatery, located in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot district of the park, placed guests into familiar set pieces from daytime Soaps of the era from ABC. Seemingly taking a page from the popular restaurant at the then Disney-MGM Studios, The 50s Prime Time Cafe, the wait staff got in on the act with the diners playing out different soap opera tropes in the middle of their meal. Your server might announce he was having an affair with another member of the wait staff (or maybe even someone in your family) using the set pieces as brilliant improv tools. Even designer Neil Engel told Laughing Place in an interview in 2001 that “We’re going to have a lot of celebrity visits. Port Charles and General Hospital are taped right here in Los Angeles so we expect to have them come visit and make a surprise – can you imagine sitting there and having your lunch and everything and hear, “I’m going on break now, your next waiter is going to be bringing you your dessert” and maybe Luke Spencer comes and brings you your dessert? Can you imagine what a fan would do? They’d go nuts.”
ABC Daytime and Walt Disney Imagineering collaborated to bring authenticity and accuracy when re-creating the sets that guests would dine in, including the Llanview Country Club from One Life to Live, The Nurse’s Station from General Hospital, and other sets from Port Charles and All My Children. The park itself opened in February of 2001, having been designed through the mid 90s when the Walt Disney Company acquired the ABC television network. The building that houses the restaurant was modeled after the original ABC Radio Studio on Vine Street in Hollywood, CA.
The unique eatery didn’t last even two years, closing in November of 2002 for a myriad of reasons. Some say it closed because the number of restaurants outweighed the number of attractions or that it closed because of poor attendance at the park. Nobody ever blamed the food though, often giving the cuisine high marks. Some even say that it closed because of the dwindling popularity of Daytime Soap Operas on television altogether, even today in 2020 only General Hospital still airs on ABC, with daytime talk shows being far easier and cheaper to produce.
In this video from deep in our archives, we see how much effort went into this eatery during its dedication ceremony on February 7th, 2001, hosted by soap star Linda Dano who at one point appeared on all four series featured in the ABC Soap Opera Bistro. She is joined by numerous other cast members from the different soaps represented in the restaurant who each bring props and mementos from the real sets of the soap operas that would be placed in the restaurant, including Luke and Laura’s wedding bands from General Hospital, and are treated to a musical number about “The world of ABC Soaps” by performers wearing costumes worn by restaurant staff.
The dedication video is a great timestamp for daytime television of the era and the opening of Disneyland Resort’s second park, but my favorite aspect is the irony of one of the more highly marketed offerings of the new park (even the original promotional special (which also aired on ABC) that starred Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood spent a large chunk of the program’s time at the new restaurant) was also one of the first to shut its doors.
What happened later? After the restaurant closed, Playhouse Disney: Live on Stage took its place. Eventually the building, though retaining its shape and look, was renamed Disney Theater. Playhouse Disney got retooled and became Disney Junior: Live, and is currently home to the Disney Junior Dance Party.