Of all the nightclubs in the Pikes Peak region, all the museums and college campuses, the malls, theaters and religious convention centers, one structure wins first prize in the surrealism category: Fargo's Pizza Co.
The hulking structure, which takes up almost an entire block on East Platte Avenue, is easily recognizable by the thousands of white lights hanging outside the brick building, an ornate brick and iron fence, and an enormous rendering of a rambling stagecoach covering the tan pseudo-Victorian facade.
The story goes that the restaurant was built in 1873, by a gambler named Fargo and his stunningly beautiful wife, Sophia, whose noble family fled Italy to avoid political persecution. Broke but in love, Fargo and Sophia decided to start a life together the only way they knew how -- by drawing upon Sophia's knowledge of Italian cookery and introducing pizza to the wild Colorado territory.
This is all a lie, of course. Fargo's actually opened in the early 1970s by Leon Gardner, an enterprising, if not unconventional, businessman.
Gaudy evidence of Gardner's eccentricity can be found brazenly splashed across the 15,000 square-foot eatery's walls. Upon entrance, patrons are confronted with more antique eye-candy than at a senior citizen burlesque gig. Somewhere between Jack London and Hunter S. Thompson, the decor is in no way understated. The walls are covered in gaudy flocked wallpaper, and that is mostly covered by all varieties of curious decorations: rifles, collections of ladies' hair pins, stained-glass art, sepia-toned photographs of long-dead settlers, and enough pistols to arm a small force of revolutionaries.
The bar, complete with a brass footrail and barmen wearing red satin garters, is guarded by an ever-suspicious wooden Indian, a stuffed owl and the dusty heads of various large game animals. Presiding over this mad scene are possibly the most bizarre objects displayed in Fargo's (although with so much kitsch one can't truly be sure): life-size wax figurines of Fargo and Sophia, posing at a balcony table overlooking the main room.
The balcony occupies three sides of the building, in the style of an old dance hall. This arrangement lends itself beautifully to people watching, which is, hands down, the most entertaining and compelling reason to visit Fargo's.
Early evenings, the restaurant is the destination of any number of tour companies, visiting rural school sports teams, Brownie troops and pre-adolescent birthday parties; so many that kids often have trouble determining which bus to board after their meals. Add to this mix random families with young children, sweet older couples in matching jackets, khaki-wearing youth group leaders, motorcycle club members and my personal favorite, teenage couples seeking romance in the velvet-curtained booths. Tinny melodies arise from the reproduction player piano. Couples moon and spoon under the glow of two gorgeous chandeliers. It makes you want to burst into a singalong of "Shine On, Shine On Harvest Moon."
Masses of people meander through the seating area, around the salad bar, into the video arcade and even the bathrooms, glassy-eyed from sensory overload. It's like the county fair.
Another ingenious facet of this glittering paste gem is the way the food is served: you order from a waitress dressed in full Gibson Girl regalia and are given a ticket with a number on it. When it appears on one of the many "magic" mirrors hung amongst the knickknacks, your kids begin to scream and you scramble to the kitchen window to pick up your pizza, before you are shamed by having your number called over the loudspeaker. The food -- pizza, pasta and a few sandwiches, is nothing spectacular, but is adequate. Who can eat much anyway, when trying to digest this magnificent monument to camp?