Top 14 Flying Machine Restaurants

The Airplane Restaurant, built around a Boeing KC-97 tanker, in Colorado Springs.

Flying and dining, will our relationship to these things ever be fully restored? While we’re waiting for the pandemic to abate, let’s whet our appetites by fondly recalling some of the finest gourmet flying machines in the world. Remember your table manners and pack the Pepto Bismol as we chart, and order, a course for the heights of aero-culinary culture. Some of these places are long gone. A couple of them are truly happy instances of aeronautical conservation, even if they are going to be off limits for a bit longer. For others, well, pass the salt. As with everything else in this life, all is temporary, kids. Stephen Caulfield is out to lunch.

  1. The Airplane Cafe, Los Angeles, California, USA

Considering some of the monstrosities produced in the first decades of aviation this plywood box could easily be mistaken for an actual aircraft in 1927. Best feature is the light bulb poking out of each cylinder of that radial engine. Cute for sure and with an aspirational gap between the ground and the ‘fuselage’ representing flight. Sadly, even the exact location of The Airplane Cafe is no longer remembered.

Cockpit access: no.
First date prospects: likelihood of success estimated to be high.

  1. Zep Diner, Los Angeles, California, USA

A brick-and-mortar tribute to the airships of the 1920s and 1930s. How gracefully the Zep Diner glides onto this top list. Picture yourself in Howard Hughes’ Italian loafers walking up those front steps in a natty double-breasted suit. An adoring Hollywood star or starlet on your arm. You both might have ordered well-done Hinden Burgers from the menu. Rather aptly destroyed in a gas main explosion in 1999, the Zep Diner is sorely missed by three generations of Angelenos. Her old corner at Figueroa Blvd and West Florence Ave today hosts only the usual drive-up dreck North Americans have endured for the last hundred years.

Cockpit access: not applicable.
First date prospects: fantastically high likelihood of success associated with the Zep in newspaper accounts and contemporary diaries.

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  1. Space Shuttle Cafe, New York City, New York, USA
Pic: TIM MCDANIEL

Aviation history is social and cultural history as well. Can this mash-up of a city bus and a Douglas DC-3 be a depressing metaphor for the decline of a once serious nation and its global hegemony? Is it up for sale online every couple of years? Yes, both.

Cockpit access: driver only.
First date prospects: looks shaky, all depends.

  1. Douglas DC-3, Taupo, New Zealand

Before 1945 it was a quirky world of independent, owner-operated aero-dining establishments. While rich in character and diversity that world was eventually replaced by a handful of all-powerful chains. This ex-Australian Airways DC-3 bridges both worlds. Some day this airframe will be a five star opportunity for restoration and museum display. One day we will even see it flying again. We feel that in our bones. And in our lower intestines.

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: low-to-moderate likelihood of success expected.

  1. Flying Saucer Restaurant, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Canada aerospace spent much of the Cold War working on actual flying saucers. None of these planned wonder weapons offered onboard burgers.

Eye-catching roadside novelty buildings were features of the great heyday of North American consumerism and automobile tourist culture. Aviation and later space travel themes abounded in built structures from the 1930s into the 1970s. The Unidentified Flying Object also entered the popular culture and architecture starting with the Foo Fighters of the 1940s and the flying saucers of the 1950s. A few tired survivors of that era still dot the continent’s biways, stubbornly holding onto the better times. Those were romantic and prosperous days built on hard work, cigarettes, depression, cheap gas and coronary-artery disease. Oh Canada, if only they could have lasted forever.

Cockpit access: not applicable.
First date prospects: very good (especially by local standards).

  1. DC-6 Diner, Douglas DC-6, Coventry Airport, UK

A handsome vintage airliner from less viral times. A time of optimism and rapid economic growth. A great place for a Lysander Chicken Pot Pie a generation later. This conversion is apparently part of a minor pre-lockdown boom in aeroplane restaurants in the UK. It serves up a brace of meaty dishes that are, wait for it, named after aeroplanes. The UK’s beef-loving geeks and spotters also have a destination now in Lancashire. Post Covid-19 this trend will hopefully grow and grow. Imagine brunching with your love interest in the back of a retired Antonov An-225 Mriya next Valentine’s Day without a mask in sight.

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: moderate-to-high expectations of success.

  1. Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Aeroplane bars and restaurants are often accessories to hotels. So it was at Toronto’s Regal Constellation, briefly the largest convention and hotel site in Canada’s business capital. The Globe and Mail looked back in 2011 and said that it ”…was once the hippest hotel in town, with the city’s coolest cats sipping martinis on giant red leather couches while conventioneers from across North America rubbed shoulders in its Arabian Nights-themed bar.” Plunking an ex-Trans Canada Airlines Super Constellation down in the parking lot as a cocktail bar was a 1980s attempt to reenergise the hotel’s fading mid-century glory. Ahead of its time perhaps. The full lust for such things would have to wait for the age of Mad Men. Toronto’s blazing commercial real estate market refuses to tolerate anything but high intensity usage of property between the downtown core and the airport. The ageing hotel buildings were demolished. Luckily, the Constellation was restored for static display. It reposes with the dignity befitting such a beautiful machine.

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: universal reports of absolutely massive success.

  1. The Airplane Restaurant, Boeing KC-97, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

How spoiled we were before the lockdown. So many choices. Eating outside the home tempted us daily. In equal measure, familiarity, quality and tastiness brought us out in the first place. The setting and atmosphere inside our favourite establishments kept us coming back. Local foodies and tourists with an enthusiasm for Cold War airplanes loved to sit where the A-1 jet fuel tankage used to be. Advanced reservations and big lineups were a small price to pay to see this rare 1950s bird based on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. No smoking within 500 feet, please.

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: moderately successful on most days after 11:00 am.

  1. LaTante DC 10 Restaurant, McDonnell-Douglas DC-10, Airport City, Accra, Ghana

A happy retirement for one example of a good design that never escaped notoriety for a series of crashes early its career. Indeed, a joyfulness surrounds this conversion of a wide-bodied, trimotor airliner from the early 1970s.

Regional dishes pique one’s curiosity about this cheerful-looking establishment. Would we rather pass the time here or in any post-9/11 airport terminal anywhere on the face of the Earth? Yes, and we’ll have the fish.

Cockpit access: yes (with virtual reality feature!).
First date prospects: enormously high.

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  1. Lily Airways, Boeing 737, Wuhan, People’s Republic of China

Airplane-to-restaurant conversions can be interpreted as artefacts of peak economic power. No less than three airliner conversions from the high-growth cities of Asia have made it to this list. The Optics Valley New Technology Development Zone in Wuhan checks in with this fine-dining showpiece. Your table is reached by an airport-style loading bridge connecting to a large commercial development done up in the style of a small European capital city in the nineteenth century. Avoid the bat sushi buffet.*

*Editor: you’re doing that joke, seriously?

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: data is controversial but expectations cautiously positive.

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  1. Boeing 737-400, Keramas Aero Park, Malaysia
Image: @inflightrestaurant

The 737 remains one of the most successful aircraft of all time. It was the DC-3 of its day and so restaurant conversion is a natural second career for them. The 737 is small enough not to be excessive and they are common in the airliner aftermarket. Tuck in to your Nasi Lemak like it was 1970 all over again!

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: moderate-to-good levels of success expected.

  1. Runway 1. Airbus A310, Rohin Adventure Island, Delhi, India

Fasten your eat belt, people. Shahi paneer, aloo ghobi, palak paneer with pilau rice and coriander naan: that is what we would stuff our faces with if we went here. Then we’d stroll out on that port wing deck with a water view for a drink or six. Wide-bodied airliners offer serious opportunities for restaurant conversion. They have proper entrys and exit points, reasonable head room and extra compartments for modern HVAC and safety equipment, washrooms and so forth. Pass the samosas.

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: always strong.

  1. Grill-Avia, Sud-Ouest SO-30 Bretagne, Amberieu-en-Bugey, France

Some things shouldn’t need explaining. This twin Bretagne could have probably flown if it hadn’t been destroyed by a blaze that began in the starboard grease trap during this one totally crazy New Year’s Eve party. What a way to ring in 1989!

Cockpit access: two for the price of one.
First date prospects: good-to-outstanding level of success guaranteed.

  1. Lockheed Super Constellation, TWA Hotel, JFK Airport, New York, USA

Has there ever been a better time to live in the past? Now your retro escape to the near past when the future was still something to welcome can be taken to boutique levels. Right in the grounds of the original mid-century Aerotropolis itself. Constellation conversions seem to have made sense over the years given the size and initial supply of them at low cost when jetliners were taking over. Few other objects say ‘cool’ and mean it as much today as they did sixty-five years ago quite like a Constellation does. Small wonder this model of airliner makes a double appearance here and has at least nineteen cocktails we know of named after it.

Cockpit access: yes.
First date prospects: honey, it’s never ever gonna get any better than this.

8 comments

  1. nikita

    We had a tu-114 as a cafe in velikiy novgorod, Russia in ussr times. It ended up in flame in 90s. Later we, kids, get a lot of magnium from the remains of wheels for the diy pirotechnics

  2. Nguyen

    There was an Olympic Airways Boeing 720B used as a bar near the town of Kalavryta in western mainland Greece. It was quite a sight as the region is mountainous and you wondered how that plane got there! Unfortunately, it was removed many years ago.

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