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Modern Living: Dining with Henry VIII

3 minute read

“Good evening. For tonight you are back in 1520 A.D., where women are second-class citizens.” With that greeting male customers are ushered into the 1520 A.D. restaurant in Anaheim, Calif., where Old English fantasy, audience participation and a big helping of unabashed male chauvinism are on the menu. Women are ordered to walk six paces behind their escorts into the paneled banquet hall, where spoons are used for banging on tables, and the diners themselves play leading roles in an outlandish floor show.

Others in the cast of characters include a juggler, a man dressed in a bear costume who periodically chases a fleeing damsel around the room, and a bevy of “pinchable wenches” who wait on tables—and dance on them too. Presiding over all is a reincarnated Henry VIII, brought back to life at the boisterous age of 29. When the King enters the room, diners are expected to drop their forks and snap to attention. When he raises his tankard and exclaims “All hail,” the guests are expected to return the toast, “Wassail.” When his jester leads a chorus of the King’s favorite ditty, Immorality Forever, woe to the bloke who fails to sing along.

“I am told someone thinks his soup is more important than singing,” bellows the King’s henchman if a nonsinger is detected. “He who does not sing goes to the stocks, and we encourage bread to be thrown at him.” Without further encouragement, the customers begin beating their spoons on tables and chanting, “Stocks, stocks” and the hapless miscreant, man or woman, is unceremoniously clapped in a pillory and pelted with wads of bread by his fellow diners. As a consolation, the prisoner may also receive spontaneous—and sympathetic—kisses from other diners.

“It’s like mass group therapy,” says John Bloom, the 1520s creator, in explaining why people spend $7.95 for the privileges of eating a mediocre meal and taking part in the far-out activities. “This is a place where people can release their inhibitions. It’s all in fun and we don’t let it get out of hand.”

A fast-talking Englishman, now 40, who made and lost a fortune selling washing machines, Bloom had been struck by Comic Don Rickles’ ability to insult Las Vegas audiences and make them love it. Audience participation, he decided, could spark interest in the little-known medieval restaurant he had opened in London. The serendipitous broadcast of The Six Wives of Henry VIII on British television provided some free publicity, and after Bloom added the nonstop entertainment, the prototype 1520 became a success.

The Anaheim version of the restaurant shamelessly mixes old English songs with choruses of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and The Star Spangled Banner. But despite the anachronisms and some complaints from outraged feminists and men who did not like the way their dates were manhandled in the stocks, the 1520 has been packing them in since it opened three months ago. Bloom and his associate, Writer Daud Alani, have already opened a second branch in Los Angeles and plan to go nationwide next year. They hope to make a profit while they can, for there is an obvious limit to the amount of repeat business the 1520s will do. “You could not come here every night,” says Bloom. “You could not stand the strain.”

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