It’s almost unreal that the Ovaltine Café still exists. Even more that the timeless diner doesn’t look like it’s changed much since it opened in 1942. The cafe’s legendary menu prices are a blast from the past.
That the Ovaltine and its iconic neon seem frozen in time has made it a popular filming location, including appearances on I Robot and Almost Human to name only a few. However the diner’s trippiest and star-worthy appearance was in The X-Files all-timer, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.”
The truth is out there, sort of
Written by X-Files’ legend Darin Morgan, the season three episode plays like a very silly, insanely-clever, funny Rashomon with aliens.
The plot follows Jose Chung (Charles Nelson Reilly), a science fiction author investigating an alien abduction for his next book. He interviews extremely unreliable narrator after unreliable narrator – including Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) – – with each story layering and intersecting and totally obscuring The Truth (which is out there, somewhere.)
The Ovaltine makes it’s trippy appearance in two notables scenes, humming with its neon ambience and old school-diner charm.
Damn fine pies
The first scene has Mulder talking to the pilot who’s connected to the deepest point of the abduction. The Ovaltine’s neon window sign glows in the background, colouring the scene with hypnotic pink weirdness.
In the following scene, it’s the diner waiter turn to tell his side of the story story: his recollection is of Mulder being alone at the diner, sans pilot, 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 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.
Here’s hoping the DTES institution and its ultra-cheap breakfast are around for ever. And when it does go away, proof of existence will be in the film and TV shows shot inside the diner. That includes the Ovaltine’s finest appearance: as itself, frozen in time in an X-Files episode about fleeting and hazy memories