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Malt Shop
Ah, the memories....

Brian (Manager of The Greasy Fork): Britta, you promised that this private party would be done by eight. You're doing this during the peak business hours for nostalgia-themed diners.
Annie: Oh, is that true? Has that been researched?
Brian: It has, Annie. After they get frightened by the evening news, many seek the comforting foods and soothing music of a pre-racial America.

Obligatory bit of 1950s Popular History. All the kids hang out here, play Pinball, and listen to the jukebox play Nothing But Hits. Carhops are optional. The Malt Shop may also be referred to as a diner, a soda fountain, a drug store or a café but the general look is always basically the same. In a Time Travel story ending up in The Fifties, often the first place gone into after the "Mister Sandman" Sequence (as in Back to the Future, for example).

There is some historical basis to these places; during most of the early-post-war era, from the mid-1940s to the 1950s, very few modern "chain" fast-food places were in business yet and the infrastructure to support them was still being built. As a result, there were a lot of privately-owned, short-order diner-style restaurants that served things like burgers and non-alcoholic malted beverages. Not all of them were hopping, hip places where the kids hung out, but pick a major suburb and you could probably find at least one. Many of the most successful ones would go on to become the major chains of The Seventies and The Eighties, driving their smaller competitors out of business.

The Greasy Spoon is the Malt Shop's less romanticized (but equally conventionalized) cousin. Watch out for the teenagers who are Sweetheart Sipping or the possible eruption of a Diner Brawl.

Examples

Comic Books
  • Pop Tate's Choclit Shoppe in Archie.
  • The Retro Universe of Fawcett City in DC Comics' Power Of Shazam includeed a malt shop (possibly the same one from Captain Marvel's initial Whiz Comics appearances). It even played a plot point in the recent Black Adam miniseries.
  • Kitty Pryde and Storm bond over milkshakes at The Malt Shoppe in Uncanny X-Men #130.

Film

Live-Action TV
  • Arnold's from Happy Days
  • The Pie Hole in Pushing Daisies resembles one of these, in keeping with the show's Retro Universe aesthetic.
  • The Groovy Smoothie in iCarly is a modernised version, used as the Local Hangout. It is frequently mentioned early on but doesn't actually appear until halfway through the second season.
  • Parodied on a MADtv sketch with a "nostalgic" diner which for the sake of period accuracy refused to serve black customers.
  • Bizarrely, the first round of time travel on Supernatural, where Dean sees his youthful parents-to-be on a date to one of these...in 1973. Possibly the influence of her protective father.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "Walking Distance" features a malt shop when a man returns to the town he grew up in to see that nothing has changed. He first realizes something strange is going on when the malt shop is still selling milk shakes for a dime, and comes to realize that he's somehow traveled back in time.

Music

Pinball

Theatre

Video Games
  • The various pizza joints in EarthBound are designed to resemble these, fitting with the Eagleland setting.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • The Scooby-Doo gang visited these quite a bit in parts of the plot that would normally have taken them to a bar. Also, the Scooby gang would often start an episode in a malt shop (in the 1969-80 show), when they weren't on a beach.
  • Futurama had this in their time travel episode to 1945.
  • An episode of Family Guy features a restaurant with a retro 50s malt shop motif. Cleveland, being black, was not allowed to enter.
  • Seen in the Schoolhouse Rock segment "A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing" as the narrator engages in some Sweetheart Sipping with her "best friend."
    • The "Conjunction Junction Diner" seen in the intro of every video is probably also this.
  • Prominently featured in the 1946 Disney short "All the Cats Join In", with its jazz soundtrack produced by Benny Goodman, features teens partying in a malt shop, doing swing dancing as a jukebox plays. Meaning this trope is a little bit Older Than They Think by at least a few years.

Real Life
  • Although many of them have completely abandoned the "traditional" trappings, honestly, pick a famous fast-food chain today; an overwhelming number of them began life in, essentially, this format with a single location. Prominent examples include McDonald's, Wendy's, Jack-in-the-Box...
  • Johnny Rockets, a national chain of sit-down hamburger restaurants with a 1950s motif, including waitpersons with paper hats and checkered aprons, chrome finish on everything, and 5-cent jukeboxes.
  • Sonic Drive-In is a chain of drive-in diners that began in the '50s and has survived and thrived into the present day, complete with carhops who wear roller skates. In Northern cities, they're known primarily for the fact that they advertise even though the nearest Sonic may be tens or even hundreds of miles away (Northern weather isn't that conductive to drive-in diners).
  • The Classic 50s is a one-of-a-kind drive-in in Norman, Oklahoma that is more or less identical to Sonic except even more nostalgic of the 1950s. Kids meals even come in cardboard replicas of classic cars!
  • There is one down in Hillsboro, OR. That area is the sort of place where specialty businesses crowd around.
  • The A&W chain of fast-food joints have become known for marketing based on nostalgia: They base many of their commercials, and even the interior on the "classic fast food joint" look of The Fifties. Of course, it's not a Malt Shop per se, but it has many elements of one, including ice cream/root beer floats and nostalgic black and white photos on the walls. The motif is broken a little at co-branded locations as the design elements have to share space with boating materials (Long John Silvers) or pictures of Colonel Sanders.
  • Route 66 lives and breaths 50's nostalgia, so there are plenty of old drive-ins and malt shops along the route to cater to tourists.
  • Even the UK gets in on the act with the Ed's Easy Diner chain, which seems to toe the line between being a nostalgia cafe based on a malt shop, and being an affectionate parody of one. It has the jukeboxes, art-deco motif and malt shakes, but they also have a menu of practically nothing but variations on hotdogs, chilli and burgers, signs on the walls such as 'No dancing in the aisles', and the shakes themselves are enormous.
  • Ruby's Diner is a chain based on this motif, albeit more from The Forties.


Landmark SaleTropes For SaleMerchandise-Driven
Local HangoutNightlife IndexMy Local
HipsterThe FortiesNothing But Hits
The Korean WarThe Fifties'Mister Sandman" Sequence
The MallSettingsMars

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