Sundae Drive

When I was but a wee lad, the coolest place in town was Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour, a deserteria that featured a number of obscenely gargantuan sundaes that they literally dared you to eat. I attended countless parties at Farrell’s, and my folks would take my sister and I there on occasion. I remember the place as perpetually packed full of kids and families, with bells ringing and sirens wailing and gongs forever being stuck, all in recognition of some momentous event (a girl’s sixth birthday) or another (someone ordering one of their famous “Zoo Sundaes”).

All of the local Farrell’s abruptly vanished in the late 90’s. Apparently the founder left, the chain was sold, and the new owner’s plan to turn the franchise into nondescript family restaurants (rightfully) ended in disaster. But I didn’t care. By that time I was in High School, and Farrell’s no longer held the appeal it once had. Still, I had fond memories of the place, and vividly recalled how exciting it had been to go there when I was younger.

Shortly after graduation my friend got a job at the local mall, in a store adjacent to where the local Farrell’s had resided. Both his store and the new business that occupied Farrell’s old building had entrances and windows facing the parking lot, so, as he worked, he could see people arrive in their cars, park, and walk toward the mall.

This was two, maybe two and a half years after Farrell’s had gone under. But about once every other month, he told me, he would see a car park nearby, the doors fly open, and a gaggle of insanely happy children tumble out. They would race to where the Farrell’s used to be, their smiling parents ambling behind. The kids would eventually leave my friend’s field of vision, though he could still see the laggard parents chatting amicably as they moseyed toward the entrance. Then, inevitably, one of them would glance up — perhaps in response to a shout from of the children — and the smile on his or her face would falter and fade. Then they too would disappear from view.

A minute or two would pass. Then the family would reappear, the children slouching and crestfallen, the mother anxious and apologetic, the father perhaps carrying a sobbing youngest on his shoulder, as they solemnly trudged back to the car.

* * *

39 comments.

  1. Oh, what memories this brings back! When I was around 14, I went there with my older sister and her group of friends, including a very new bf of hers. Later, when we were served our sundaes, she innocently removed the maraschino cherry from hers, as she doesn’t care for them, and in an impossible pocket of silence asked the new boy, “Would you like my cherry?”

    It was fabulous, really fabulous, lol

  2. *weeps*

  3. Ah, Farrell’s. This is the place that taught me not to like ice cream.

    Seven year old kids should not be given the zoo for their birthday. They have no Overindulgence Meter at that age.

    But it was a wonderful place. Kind of the Disneyland of Ice Cream

  4. Perhaps they carried that little gem in on a stretcher for a reason!

  5. The Trough. Several times. ‘Nuff said.

  6. There’s still a Farrell’s down here in San Diego.

  7. That gong always scared me.

  8. Man, when someone ordered a zoo it was an event. It was like a fire had broken out at your table and this turn-of-the-century fire brigade would run to, and past, your table. They’d do at least one lap around the room before finally coming back.

    Held above there heads was this huge tub of ice cream set in a bannered stretcher-like thing with two poles.

    Imagine Indy and Sallah lifting out the Ark of the Covenant and then doing a few laps around the ol’ Well of Souls.

    And all to the sound of a siren and a rapidly beat bass drum.

    In high school, most of the drama club worked at the Farrell’s over by Lloyd Center. If you happened to walk in, it was like High School: The Home Game. Or some strange kids-from-school/Westworld scenario.

    I recall Farrell’s had a drink like 7-Up with green syrup mixed in. They called it a Green River, even after the whole Green River killer thing which I thought was weird.

    Also, the wallpaper in their bathrooms was patterned with old catalog items and ads.

    Definitely, THE birthday place as a kid.

  9. Farrells and the Zoo features prominently in what is one of my earliest and fondest memories.

    I couldn’t have been much more than 4 years old, but still remember how heartily my father laughed as a Farrells’ employees guiding a “Zoo” sundae through too tight a turn flipped the entirety of the Zoo onto a pair of old ladies enjoying their lunch. 27 years later, a mere mention of Farrells at a family gathering will certainly involve my father laughing till he cries as he mimes how the waiters attempted to use napkins to dab the butterscotch and hot fudge off of one woman’s fur collared jacket as ice cream dripped down her face.

  10. You can still have the Farrell’s experience — and hecka better ice cream — at Fenton’s in Oakland, Calif. They’re family owned and have been around for more than 100 years, and they pile their ice cream so high, I actually witnessed a teen-aged friend of mine have to admit defeat before his dish. This is a kid who buys McDonald’s burgers by the dozens.

    They were closed for almost two years following a fire, and I had almost the exact experience of your friend in the mall during that time. But they’re back, they’re open, and they’re better than ever. Just remember: NO ONE goes to Fenton’s to eat the sandwiches. And three scoops? That’s about one scoop too many for you. Trust me.

  11. There’s a Farrell’s in San Diego …

    http://partyinsandiego.com/PARTY_PLACES/Farrells/

  12. I was just reminiscing about this place the other day and regaling my wife with a tale of its chili cheeseburgers but I couldn’t for the life of me remember its name. Thank you, internut, and thank you Defective Yeti.

  13. I was looking at the menu and noticed the ice cream soda had a size called “super swig” … I seem to remember it being called “big swig” back in the day. But then the menus back then didn’t have a URL on them either. This was _the_ after-game hangout, I always wonder how things like that get started. “My” Farrell’s turned into an A&W and it wasn’t even a drive-in A&W.

  14. We had one of these Toledo, but I too, couldn’t remember it’s name until now. It scared the living shit out of me, that I remember. All that noise, for the love of mike.

  15. I think “desserteria” would be a more appropriate spelling than “deserteria”.

  16. Ah…Farrells…My dad tells a story about my cousin taking him out to Farrells to celebrate his 40th birthday, he claims it most embarrasing that not only did they sing to him the imfamous birthday song, but then had the gall to ask him, “…And how OLD are YOU Little Boy? ”

    Thanks for the Laugh!!

  17. Oh, this is the saddest post I’ve read in a long time. I used to love their foot-long hot dog. Sigh.

  18. In Springfield, IL, the Farrell’s was replaced by a Big & Tall men’s clothing store. How appropriate is that?

  19. There was an ice cream place in Phoenix, AZ that we’d walk to for lunch at least twice when we’d go to visit my aunt and uncle when I was a kid. I remember always ordering the banana split and never being able to finish it. When I was in college, I went to visit another aunt who lived there and she took me back to the old neighborhood to see if it was still there. It was, and I ordered something called a Jolly Green Giant. Turned out it was four scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream smothered in chocolate sauce and marshmallow sauce. Couldn’t finish that either.

  20. I’m with wenders. That gong and the big drum they’d always pound for birthdays scared the living hell out of me as a kid. I absolutely hated Farrell’s because of it. I’d have been incredibly happy to drive up to my local Farrell’s with my family only to find it had been shuttered. Would have made my day!

  21. the trough! this post brought nostalgic tears to my eyes. pizza haven also had those victorian-era advertisements — epoxyed (or something) in their tables. i spent a good deal of time at both places reading in wonderment.

  22. Bob Farrell, in addition to creating Farrell’s, is a great motivational speaker. His website is http://www.giveemthepickle.com/ I have seen his video on customer service, and it is funny and to the point. He worked hard to give all those little kids a wonderful experience, and the fond memories that people are sharing is proof that he knew what he was doing!

  23. I was always a little more partial to the “Mt. Hood” than the “Zoo”, myself, although after 35+ years since the last time I set foot inside a Farrell’s I can’t for the life of me recall what the essential difference was (I know the “Zoo” had lots of plastic animals on it, but the “Mt. Hood” – ?).

    There used to be a Farrell’s in Seattle, up on Aurora next to the movie theatre on 130th, but I never went in, and it eventually was abandoned, probably around the same time as you mention the Portland operations going under.

  24. Aw, mannnn… I remember Farrell’s, too. But it was the idea of all those sad kid faces that really made me go misty…

  25. Oh, dear God. Farrell’s!!! The memories come flooding back. THE birthday place in my childhood for the kids in the family and in the neighborhood. 122nd & Halsey was the closest to us. LOVED everything about that place; the Green River was my fave. Loved the stick candy, had to harrass the parents everytime to get some (always grape for me, thank you). The siren, the bass drum, the running around like their pants were on fire carrying the sundaes…. It hurts to think about it now being gone….but good memories. Thanks for remembering the classic atmosphere and good food. Open one in Portland again and I would eat there everyday now that I am old enough to have a job…

  26. Farrells!!! The best ever.
    We went twice a week in highschool and our waiter was Bob.
    He seemed old at the time – maybe 35 – but must have been a saint to put up with us all the time. Memories of what we were like are what make me a good tipper these days.

  27. Good heavens, I’d forgotten all about the place. When I was in high school, a bunch of us went to Farrells, maybe at Lloyd Center, maybe in our town of Vancouver, I don’t remember. One of my buddies ordered a Gibson Girl, whereupon our server lowered his voice and said, “The only girl you can eat with a spoon.” Lovely, even though pea’s cherry story is funnier.

    I live in San Diego but didn’t know there was a Farrells here till I read the comments. I think I can resist the temptation to revisit one of my favorite teenage spots. I’d probably think it was way too Chuck E. Cheese now.

  28. There are just two left: here’s a nice review from last year of the one in San Diego, and the official site of the Santa Clarita one is at http://www.farrellsusa.com. The mmm-yoso site also has a link to this history of Farrell’s.

    I may have to link to you, and these from my San Diego Blog.

  29. Wow – I was thinking about this the other day and couldn’t remember the name of it. I remember going to my brother’s birthday party at the one at Cinderella City mall in Denver. The best place ever. Then I found Chuck E Cheese and it was all over.

  30. Me too, me too! Born and raised in Portland, I attended I-don’t-know-how-many birthday parties at Farrell’s. We always went to the one on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, by Fred Meyer. (Last I checked, it was… a hair salon.) Of course I remember the food, ice cream, the gay 90’s decor, the Zoo, and the trough (my brother ate one and got the pig statuette that says, “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s”), but I liked the ye olde-timey gifte shoppe best. I would wander around at look at all the cool stuff, and always end up with the same thing: a swizzle stick made of rock candy (sugar crystals).

    Thank you for sharing the story, and for bringing back a lot of memories.

    Hint to anyone who wants to make money: OPEN A FARRELL’S FRANCHISE!

  31. We have photos of Farrell’s birthday parties, where some lucky duck gets to wear the fabulous Farrell’s straw boater hat.

    Man, I can’t believe our parents did that for us. We totally owe them.

  32. I feel like I missed out on this wonder, I haven’t ever heard of Farrell’s before. – I was doing ok reading the comments thinking ‘well its mostly just a west coast thing’ but the Springfield, IL comment just kills me – my home town had a Farrell’s in it and I didn’t even know? my parents are going to be getting some complaints about this. P.S. My friends and I have been wanting to take on a massive pile of icecream but haven’t been able to find anyplace cool enought to sell it that way.

  33. I’m a Brit and I’d never heard of Farrell’s either, but it seems so sad to think of all those happily expectant people being disappointed. Like people who turn up at Stonehenge and find you can’t walk right up to the stones any more. Not that you get too many small kids being led away crying “But Daddy, I wanted to touch a sarsen trilithon…”. But you get the idea.

  34. And here I spent 30 years thinking that there could be no greater Farrell’s-related pathos than ordering a zoo on one’s birthday only to have the manic herd of zoo-sherpas accidentally hurl it to the floor. You’ve made me realize just how lucky I was to have lived in Reseda, California as a child in the early 1970s.

  35. As a younger kid it always had the feel of a party waiting to happen. It was a special event going to Farrell’s. Then as an unruly teenager my friends and I tried to skip out on the check and got caught. Even though I wouldn’t admit it then, I felt guilty for trying that in a place with such fond memories.

  36. I was just talking to someone about Farrell’s the other day. That was *the* birthday place to go (in my case, in Silver Spring, MD) until my friends and I got to be teenagers and preferred the pizza place with the videogames.

    My two memories of Farrell’s: at the end of the meal, we would mix the leftovers of everyone’s drinks together, sometimes throw in some leftover ice cream and/or ketchup for good measure, and dare someone to drink it. I was never brave enough.

    Another time, I was just having lunch there with my mom and grandmother, because it was in the mall and we’d been shopping. When the drums and sirens, etc. started up for someone’s birthday, my grandmother thought it was a fire alarm and jumped up and started looking for the exit. My mom and I just sat there and laughed.

  37. On my friend’s 11th birthday, we went to the Farrell’s at Briarwood mall in Ann Arbor, MI. We ordered the Zoo, and all four of us lads proceeded to devour the whole thing while his mom looked on, both amused and disgusted.
    Afterward, we went to see a movie, and of course, the birthday boy argued that a movie was not a movie without popcorn and pop.
    About halfway through the film, we all heard the awful sounds of his overindulgence coming back up the pipe.
    Despite his retching, he insisted for years that it was his “best birthday ever.”
    I still miss Farrell’s.

  38. Mr. Farrell went on as one of the founding partners of Pacific Coast Restaurants, who operate the Newport Bay and Stanfords restaurants (and others). I worked for several of them in Portland in the 90’s and at the time all new hires had to go listen to him give the Pickle” speech at least once. I was told with the Lloyd Center store at least – after he sold it at some point the service got so bad under the new owners he successfully sued to have them remove his name from the restaurant in shame.

  39. Those memories seem almost surreal now. What a place. My parents once sprung for two of the big mugs with the Farrell’s Gibson girl logo on it so we could make our own Farrell’s floats at home. Never really worked though as they refused to run around the kitchen blowing whistles while scooping out the ice-cream. It must have been all the craziness that made the ice-cream there taste so much better.

    Having been invited to a birthday party where we ordered “The Zoo” was the ultimate kid fantasy come true. We talked about “The Zoo” for a month before the party, all the while wondering if the parents would really let us order it. Would you even dare to ask for something so extravagant?! It was the urban legend that kids spoke of. And no matter how much it was talked up by those among us who were lucky enough to have it before, it still surpassed expectation! I was no longer going to be one of those kids who could only wish it was coming to their table, it was really going to come straight to us! We ate ourselves sick and it was beyond great. Thank you Mr. Farrell.

    I feel lucky, almost honored to have experienced Farrell’s and wish my kids could have a place like that to go to. All they get for a birthday is a scary seven foot rat named Chucky with stale beer breath.
    If only someone would franchise Farrell’s or something like it again…