In the early 1990s, Chicago icon and outsider musician Wesley Willis wrote a tribute to one of his favorite dining establishments—McDonald's. Dubbed "Rock and Roll McDonald's" and set to a fun, keyboard-driven melody, the song extolls the virtues of the fast food haven. Willis once spent time both in and out of the McDonald's and surrounding area, making and selling his beautiful drawings most days.
It's no surprise the place had such an effect on him. The tune is probably one of Wesley's best known songs:
Unfortunately, its reputation and unique design was not enough to ensure its immortality. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported the impending remodel of this iconic restaurant of Wesley Willis lore. Bummer.
Chicago's Rock and Roll McDonald's will close for renovations on Dec. 30, 2017, in an effort to modernize the restaurant chain—whatever that means. From its opening in 1983, as The Original Rock and Roll McDonald's to its second life as the torn-down-and-rebuilt-in-a-new-style Rock and Roll McDonald's in 2005, the restaurant has long been a popular fast food destination in Chicago. Part tourist attraction, part fast food joint, the famous eatery once held the honor of being the busiest McDonald's location in the United States and was the location of the McDonald's 50th anniversary celebration.
The rock and roll part of the museum—ostensibly a shrine to Elvis Presley and the Beatles—was certainly a major attraction. However, the true highlights of the museum are, perhaps, the collection and showcase of McDonald's memorabilia through the years.
One could wander the halls of McDonald's history, learning about the introduction of the Big Mac; seeing vintage menus and uniforms of bygone eras. The seating on the second level offered a look at the exact types of lighting and seats that were available to customers throughout the years. One display case showed old Happy Meal toys and lost characters like the moon-headed Mac Tonight. I remember owning all the toys and seeing the commercials during afternoon cartoons as a kid. I loved that silly character and always wondered what became of him.
Our friends over at Atlas Obscura have a superb piece showcasing the store as it was in 2015. It's hard to imagine a McDonald's with escalators and several floors, a 300-person capacity and a rooftop garden. (Much like it's hard to imagine a McDonald's that floats.) A much more in-depth showcase, from 2009, can be seen here:
This isn't the first Mickey D's "museum" to be closed, demolished or remodeled in 2017—the Des Plaines McDonald's Store #1 Museum in Des Plaines, Illinois was scheduled for demolition recently. The man behind the Rock and Roll McDonald's—Nick Karavites—based his own restaurant design on the recently deceased Des Plaines store, which was Ray Kroc's first franchised store, but actually the ninth McDonald's restaurant. To learn this trip down McDonald's memory lane is reaching its final act is a sobering thought indeed.
Wesley Willis once said, "McDonald's is the place to rock." Sadly, that no longer appears to be the case—but at least you can get some fancy, upscale coffee with your Big Mac and fries.