It’s kind of unreal that the Ovaltine Café still exists. The timeless diner doesn’t look like it’s changed much since it opened in 1942, even though the area around the Vancouver DTES institution definitely has. Even the cafe’s legendary for its old timey menu prices.
That the Ovaltine and its iconic neon seems frozen in time has made it a popular filming location (including appearances on I Robot, Almost Human.) But the diner’s trippiest appearance was in an The X-Files classic – the third-season’s “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”
It’s a tough episode to explain, but here goes: Charles Nelson Reilly plays Jose Chung, a science fiction author writing a book about two teens that were abducted by aliens. He interviews everyone involved with the abduction, but everyone he talks to is an unreliable narrator, including Scully, and the stories barely connect, Rashomon-style. The episode is hilarious and ultra-paranoid, and it even becomes a meta-commentary on The X-Files itself.
The diner appears in two scenes, taking advantage of the Ovaltine’s neon ambience and old school-diner charm.
The first scene has Mulder talking to the pilot who’s connected to the deepest point of the episode’s abduction plot. The Ovaltine’s neon window sign glows in the background, colouring the scene with hypnotic pink weirdness.
In the following scene, it folds back to the diner worker’s recollection of Mulder being alone at the diner, sans pilot. It sets up one of the funnier sequences, with Mulder ordering a slice of pie after slice of pie while grilling the diner cook with paranoid questions. With the deadpan humour, pie, Duchovny, and darkness, the scene invokes heavy Twin Peaks vibes.
In the entire production of The X-Files, the Ovaltine was “one of the very few locations… that required virtually no prep,” leaving the set dressers and construction departments with nothing to do, except feeding Mulder pies.
Before it was saved by a new owner, it was a wonder if the 103-year-old building would be bulldozed and the diner would fade from the city’s collective memory, as hip coffee shops and trendy stores pop up in one of Canada’s poorest postal code.
If/when the DTES institution and its ultra-cheap breakfast ever disappears, it will still exist in the film and TV shows shot inside the diner, including the Ovaltine’s finest appearance – a rather fitting episode of The X-Files all about fleeting and hazy memories.