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|Illustration by Bob Aul|
Deep in the heart of the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland’s semi-secret restaurant Club 33 beats like a pacemaker. Officially, the club is located at 33 Rue Royale in New Orleans Square, near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. A decorative "33" and an intercom next to a French Quarter-style door are the only markers of the club’s entrance. Disneyland’s info line says 33 is the product of Walt Disney’s "vision of a quiet, elegant place where he could entertain special guests." Sadly, Jesus had other plans, and Mickey Mouse’s pappy ascended to that Magic Kingdom in the sky five months before the club’s 1967 completion.
With Walt gone, it was decided to allow the public to dine there—or, rather, some of the public. Only card-carrying Club 33 members and their guests can enter the exclusive club. Individual gold memberships run $7,500, plus $2,500 in annual dues. Even if one does have this kind of excess income, there’s a multiyear waiting list.
Luckily, W.B. Shaffner and Ana Medina—former owners of Archaic Idiot, a groovy, since-shuttered East Hollywood oddities shop—number among their many ex-customers a Club 33 member. They obtained passes for themselves and psychedelic-sex-cult priestess Giddle Partridge, Death in June front man Douglas Pearce, and noise-music pioneer/Disneyland fanatic Boyd Rice. And me.
After buzzing us in, the hostess directed us to the second-floor dining facilities, decorated with 19th-century antiques and reproductions. There’s an oak telephone based on the one in the 1967 Disney film The Happiest Millionaire. Ornate, iron-railed balconies overlook the park’s "Mississippi River." In the women’s bathroom, ladies sit on an actual throne strategically placed over a waiting toilet. At one time, the club featured hidden microphones and speakers. Although it’s rumored that these were installed so Walt could eavesdrop on guests, officially they allowed a Disney performer to entertain dignitaries by talking to them through one of several animatronic birds.
The number 33 is omnipresent; even foil butter wrappers are ordained with the mystical number. Disney literature insists the number is derived from the address. Yet pseudo-addresses on faux streets are obviously whatever Disneyland wants them to be. So why 33? One theory is that Walt Disney was a 33rd Degree Freemason, the order’s highest level. And that number’s significance? It’s the age Jesus was said to have been when he was crucified. However, the Internet urban-legend debunkers at Snopes.com give their own elaborate explanation: after Walt passed away, 33 of the 47 amusement-park participants voted to create the semi-public club. This seems even less likely than the Freemason theory. Could Snopes.com be part of an elaborate Masonic conspiracy? Rice, an avid student of religious symbolism who has dined at the club a few times, says he looks for overt Masonic imagery whenever he’s there. The closest he has found to Masonic masonry is at the top of the windows, where there are designs that are almost shaped like an eye.
The staff is superfriendly in that Disneyland way. One extra-supernice waiter dressed in the blue Club 33 uniform told us ’70s pop idol Bobby Sherman is a long-standing member who visits often and brings presents to club employees. His autobiography, Bobby Sherman: Still Remembering You, suggests the guy is obsessed with Disneyland. The former star of such TV shows as Here Come the Brides and Getting Together has made three elaborate scale models of the amusement park, the first when he was only 13.
The cuisine is by far the best in all the land of Disney, which, in itself, isn’t saying much. We each ordered the all-you-can-eat buffet—tasty cold cuts, chicken, fruit, beef, a variety of salads, artichoke hearts and pasta dishes prepared by a chef any way you desire. The buffet costs $47, but club guests receive free admission to both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. Wine, however, is extra.
Delighted to be in the only place in Disneyland that serves alcohol, Pearce ordered bottle after bottle of chardonnay. Luckily, the Goth rocker from Down Under had plenty of cash in his kangaroo-testicle pouch. We paid the bill and left the heavenly serenity of Club 33 for the reenacted hell of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Club 33 is located at 33 Rue Royale, New Orleans Square, Disneyland. It’s members-only