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Malt Shop

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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 '50s, 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 '70s and The '80s, 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. In Australia and New Zealand, and in Great Britain in The '50s, these places were traditionally known as 'milk bars'.


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    Comic Books 
  • Pop Tate's Choclit Shoppe in Archie. While small diners do of course still exist, what really makes the place The Artifact is Pop's fashion sense (at least in the digests using the traditional Archie house style), since he looks like he just stepped through a time portal from 1949. But Riverdale just wouldn't be Riverdale without it or without him.
  • The Retro Universe of Fawcett City in DC Comics' Power of Shazam included a malt shop (possibly the same one from Captain Marvel's initial Whiz Comics appearances). It even played a plot point in the Black Adam miniseries.
  • Kitty Pryde and Storm bond over milkshakes at The Malt Shoppe in Uncanny X-Men #130.
  • In the reboot Legion Of Superheroes Something Completely Different issue where the time-lost Legionnaires are relocated to a small town in the fifties, with memories to match, Cosmic Boy's dad runs the malt shop. A more "spacey" malt shop called "Brande's" also appears at the end of the Universo storyline, as Universo's mental prison. Both of these are probably nods to the reboot's Fan Nickname of "The Archie Legion".

    Films — Live-Action 

  • A milk bar appears briefly in David S. Garnet's "The Only One", which starts off as Steampunk and then, every time the protagonist travels back in time to change his past, the setting moves forward in time. So the tearoom where he first met his wife has become a milk bar. (It goes on to be a coffee shop, a pub, and eventually some kind of Cyberpunk drug den.)
  • Robert A. Heinlein used this several times:
    • In "Have Space Suit Will Travel", the main character works as a soda jerk in a pharmacy which also has a soda fountain. It is never explicitly stated to serve malts, but ice cream is mentioned.
    • In "Job: A Comedy of Justice", the main character purchases and then runs one in the epilogue.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Marty's Malt Shop in Our Miss Brooks. It's across the street from Madison High, and is virtually an institution among the students and faculty. Notable in that this is a series that was actually made in the 1950s.
  • 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 milkshakes for a dime, and comes to realize that he's somehow traveled back in time.
  • In season 3 of Punky Brewster, Henry sells his photography shop and opens a little restaurant he names "Punky's Place."
  • While not set in the past, The Max from Saved by the Bell has all the trappings of one.
  • Monica in Friends worked in a 50s-themed malt shop in early seasons.
  • The Spoon in Andi Mack has this aesthetic, huge retro exterior sign and all.

  • "Weird Al" Yankovic: "And I burned down the Malt Shop where we used to go just because it reminds me of you!"
  • The Everly Brothers: "That's Old Fashioned, That's the Way Love Should Be" mentions the protagonist and his girl's fondness for one such place as an example of why their friends think they're a couple of squares. Which means the malt shop was a slice of '50s nostalgia as early as 1963!



    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Summertime Shorts: The "Coinky-Dink World" music video shows that Pinkie Pie's part-time job is at such a place. It has a jukebox, records hanging from the walls, serves hamburgers and milkshakes, and the waitresses have rollerskates. It seems very popular among modern-day teens, but it is to be noted that there are also a few middle-aged couples around.

    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 series), when they weren't on a beach.
  • Futurama had this in its time travel episode to 1945.
  • An episode of Family Guy features a restaurant with a retro 1950s malt shop motif. Cleveland, being black, was not allowed to enter.
    Cleveland: This takes me back.
  • Schoolhouse Rock:
    • Seen in the 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 are McDonald's, Wendy's, Jack-in-the-Box....
  • Johnny Rockets is 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 U.S. 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 conducive 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, Oregon. 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 '50s. 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 breathes 1950s nostalgia, so there are plenty of old drive-ins and malt shops along the route to cater to tourists.
  • Even the United Kingdom 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, chili and burgers, signs on the walls such as 'No dancing in the aisles', and the shakes themselves are enormous.
  • Ditto the Eddie Rocket's chain in Ireland.
  • Ruby's Diner is a chain based on this motif, albeit more from The Forties.
  • The Chicago based Portillo's restaurant chain has several different themes to their restaurants including a malt shop theme.
  • The Atlanta version of this would be The Varsity. A classic place that's more modern, and even has a gift shop, since The Varsity is known in the south.