Requiem for A Pony
Some things in life you take for granted. They have always been there, they always will be. But that is almost never really the case. The Pink Pony, a Scottsdale restaurant where Time stood still ( at least during the early part of the evening, when “Time” was still sober enough to stand) has closed its doors after a 60 plus year run. For tens of thousands, it is a sad, sad event. For some of us though, it is almost unthinkable.
The Pony opened in 1949 and probably had its heyday in the 70s and early 80s. By the time my friend Broyles and I stumbled on it in 1988 it was still the best known and probably best loved restaurant among baseball fans in all of Arizona. You could not miss the Pony, its pink edifice and silhouette of a pink horse (both roughly the shade of aged Pepto-Bismol) beckoned to you as you cruised down Scottsdale Blvd, past the giant cut out cowboy who welcomed you to Old Town. It had been beckoning since Harry Truman ran the country and it is sad that I missed the first forty years of its reign.
While the outside looked like “Pink Barbie” had thrown up all over the sidewalk, the inside was a true institution, assuming that we are talking about an institution of 1955 or so. The booths were fully occupied by the ghosts of the post World War II families, stepping away from their ranch style homes, wearing their sport coats, boots and bolo ties, sipping Martinis and ordering steak medium rare. At least a million tons of iceberg lettuce had been served to those families over the years in the salads the Pony handed out. For the real sports in the group, you might throw in the extra 50 cents (later a dollar) for the homemade blue cheese dressing. I once directed a friend of mine to go to the Pony when I heard that he and his family were going to Scottsdale. He called when he got back and gave the perfect description of the experience (he had been twice). “Wade” he said, “it was just like a place my dad would take my mom for their anniversary, their FIFTH wedding anniversary.” That was the Pony, but only a portion of her.
The Pony was also a room full of drunk baseball men and spring training tourists, jostling for tables and trying to catch the eye of the owners wife who “worked the rope line”). There she would sit, chain smoking, and woe unto those who wandered in during the month of March without a reservation. She would give you her shriveling look of disdain at the nerve of one who believed that the Pony took walk in trade. The she would turn in her spiral bound notebook to look for a date that week when she might just squeeze you in. Even when you had a reservation, of course, you had to wait, often for quite awhile, but that was OK, you could stand at the bar and look at the Pony’s grand collection of baseball memorabilia. If you were over about forty, every name on picture, bat or ball evoked a memory, and a pleasant one at that. But that was March, that was the Pony’s season. March. Come back in November and you would be sitting alone in the same dining room you had fought so hard to get into. One of the sadder things in life was the Pony in winter. It was dark and quiet, only the overwhelming smell of tobacco ,which was layered into the wall paper over the decades, reminded you of where you were, that, and the homemade blue cheese dressing. The bats and balls hung glumly against the darkened walls, unsung, awaiting the coming of spring.
But I prefer to think of the gayer times. The night Harry Carey came bursting into the bar hollering “Hello everybody” and the crowd returning the salute in unison “Harry !” . It was the first time I had seen Harry in the flesh and was, of course, the sad harbinger of the events, set in motion by myself, which lead to that great man’s death years later. I like to think of the night I turned to the short dumpy man in the urinal next to me, when I sang out “How ya doin’ Zip ?” believing myself to be standing at relief with the manager of the Chicago Cubs. I like to think of the great night when Gaston and I lead our brides into the Pony and had the table picture made for us by a willing waitress. If the girls had had corsages, it would have been a perfect picture. It was not a perfect evening. My wife had to struggle to overcome the putrid smell of the evil weed which surrounded you on all sides, the noise of the drunken baseball fan and, in her words, “a completely tasteless Pork Chop”. Well excuse me your royal highness ! Not even a nice word about the thin blue polyester ties with the pink pony emblazoned on them that Gaston and I sported for the occasion. Some restaurants are an acquired taste, some, like the Pony, are given as a birth right. Rayda never ate a good meal at the Pink Pony. I never ate a bad one.
All the weeping in the world won’t bring the Pony back, and, after all, sixty years is a pretty good run. Still, there is an emptiness in the soul now which can never be filled, for the Pony was not really a restaurant, it was a Temple. A Temple that smelled like cigarettes , looked like chewed and discarded bubble gum and (often) tasted like cardboard, but a Temple none the less. The old world is dying.