Off the wall
the Old Spaghetti Factory / Expecting checkered tablecloths and the ubiquitous maroon vinyl booths, were you? Not at this spaghetti joint. Perhaps it’s been a while since you set foot in Honolulu’s Old Spaghetti Factory, but the nationwide franchise favorite and the local Ward Warehouse institution is the rare place that feels just as magical today as it did 30 years ago.
Yes, there’s still an actual trolley car inside the sprawling, warehouse-like two-story restaurant. More than 70 years after its 1938 retirement from the streets of St. Louis, the bright red trolley has been converted into a dining car, the most conspicuous among a treasure trove of antiques in a setting that makes this ordinary-sounding eatery anything but. Take, for example, the wooden wall behind the trolley car, the panels of which were once doors to rooms on a long-since dismantled ship.
“You can still see the numbers on the doors if you look closely enough,” says General Manager Kenji Bek, pointing to the glossy rectangles. “Room numbers 525 and 204.”
Bek says he first walked into the restaurant lobby years ago, as a student at the University of Hawaii applying for restaurant jobs all over town. When he stepped into the lobby, he says, he was blown away.
“It’s really a fun place to be,” he says. “Even just the floor plan, which they did in 1978. A place this lavish? They don’t make them like this anymore. It’s a huge, old-school style. Then you just look around, and we’re surrounded by a million dollars of antiques. All of this under one roof.”
Original owners Sally and Guss Dussin opened their first Old Spaghetti Factory in Portland, Ore. in 1969. The Dussins both died in the past decade, and their son now runs the company, but antique décor–much of which Sally handpicked, including brass headboards used to create booth seating in the flagship restaurant–remains the signature design concept at each of the 38 Old Spaghetti Factory locations.
In Honolulu, the intricately carved wooden hostess stand was once the pulpit in a European church, the ornate bar in the entryway came from a St. Louis tavern, and the magnificent chandelier hanging above the lobby–crystals and bulbs emerging from either end of a robin’s egg blue bowl encased by leafy wrought iron swirls–requires 50 light bulbs.
“It uses more electricity than a lot of houses,” says Bek, who adds that it’s outfitted with energy-saving bulbs. “Just that one light fixture.”
Throughout the restaurant, there are florid chandeliers, cylindrical and other oddly shaped light fixtures, lampshades made of mosaic glass or bright jewel-toned fabric, some with tassels or crystals, even a breathtaking stained glass window rumored to be made from authentic Tiffany glass. A floor-to-ceiling half-moon-shaped wine case was once the enormous revolving door in a London bank (it was cut and half and given shelves to hold bottles). A large mirror in a stairwell came from a European castle, original oil paintings dot the walls, and the second-floor railing was originally the fence of an Austrian cemetery. There are eclectic seating options–from tall-backed, maroon arm chairs to an emerald green set with mother-of-pearl inlay on the arms, said to have been the restaurant-chain founders’ favorite.
Bek says it’s mostly families who frequent the restaurant–the banquet-sized tables make for great birthday-party seating–though he notes that the upstairs bar, complete with a view of Point Panic, can be rented out for private parties.
“You’ve got a million-dollar view out there,” says Bek. “But a million-dollar view in here, too.”