Disney-MGM Studios Catwalk Bar

By Keith Mahne

Before Playhouse Disney and Disney Junior – Live on Stage! took over, Disney-MGM Studios had a neat restaurant inside the studio gate called the Soundstage Restaurant. More importantly, inside that restaurant and up in the rafters was a seldom heard of and seen area called the Catwalk Bar. Today, we take a rare peak at a lost gem where one could slip away for a nice cocktail and take in the scenery down below. Join me as we take a look inside the legendary Catwalk Bar…

Picture of the main area below the Catwalk Bar

Those of you who visited the Disney-MGM Studios in the early years may remember a restaurant in what is now the Animation Academy area. That restaurant was called the Soundstage Restaurant and the inside was designed from the actual movie sets of the Plaza Hotel that had been used in the movie “Big Business” starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin from 1988. The Soundstage Restaurant was located in Soundstage 5, which is where Playhouse Disney is located and was a full-service restaurant that was designed to give the effect of a “live set”.

A 1993 Disney-MGM Studios park map featuring the Soundstage Restaurant and Catwalk Bar circled in red.

It was a buffet that featured characters from Disney animated classics and served breakfast and lunch. The “live set” theme featured set pieces and props from other productions strategically lying about. There were sandbags on ropes and lighting control boards and that sort of thing hanging around. The Cast Members that worked at the restaurant wore catering costumes to tie-into the whole theme of the restaurant being a “wrap party”.

The Catwalk Bar can be seen above

Rare picture of the actual Catwalk Bar level

The real gem of the restaurant was the fantastic Catwalk Bar. The bar was a cocktail bar located on the catwalks above the seating and service areas for the Soundstage Restaurant. The bar served appetizers, light snacks and even featured sporting events on a large television. The photos above are the only few I have ever seen and are pretty rare as not that many people took photographs of the location. (If you have one that you may have snapped back then please let me know.) It’s hard to tell from the picture above but the Catwalk Bar was, in fact, pretty dark in reality and it was up high looking down into the main dining area. To get to the Catwalk Bar, you’d have to use a stairway or elevator between the Soundstage Restaurant and the Brown Derby that you can see below.

Areal shot of the park with the entrance location circled in red
Elevator and stairway entrance near Brown Derby bathrooms

On November 14, 1998, the Soundstage Restaurant closed for good to make room for a new show called Bear and the Big Blue House. After Bear in the Big Blue House took the location of the Soundstage Restaurant, the Catwalk Bar remained open, although it would be forced to close during showings. Due to this inconvenience, the Catwalk Bar eventually closed for good. Both the Soundstage Restaurant and the Catwalk Bar have since been removed while Disney Junior – Live on Stage! currently takes its place, but it will always remain an early piece of Disney-MGM history.

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Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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The Grand Opening of Disney-MGM Studios

By Keith Mahne

May 1, 1989 was the debut of the Disney-MGM Theme Park. Located south of EPCOT, it was Disney’s 5th theme park in the world and the third park on WDW property. Although it rained throughout the day, the park was packed. It was the largest opening day press event in Disney World history. The park was so crowded that officials had to close its parking lot at only 9:15 a.m. – just about an hour after opening! Join us as we have a look back at the opening of Disney-MGM Studios…

The park includes a replica of the entrance to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, with a courtyard for celebrity handprints and signatures. A program called “Star Today” (which would allow celebrities over the years to leave their mark) started on this day.

The very first “Star Today” was original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Among the Hollywood legends who visited the park were George Burns and Bob Hope, who helped cut the filmstrip ribbon dedicating the Studios. Entrance to the park was $29 for adults and $23 for children (between the ages of 3-9).

The  Walt Disney Company’s original concept of the Disney-MGM Studios was to operate it as a full fledged television and motion-picture production facility, not just a theme park. (In 1988, among the first feature-length movies filmed at the facility, prior to its completion and opening as a theme park, were Ernest Saves Christmas and Newsies.)

Despite the “MGM” in the park’s name, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had no part in designing, owning, or operating Disney-MGM Studios – although many of its famous films are featured in The Great Movie Ride. Disney-MGM Studios draws inspiration from the heyday of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. The park consisted of 4 themed areas in 1989 – but unlike the other Walt Disney World parks, it does not have a defined layout. The park features a mass of streets and buildings that blend into each other, much like a real motion picture studio would. 

Opening day at the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was certainly a star-studded affair. Everywhere you turned, there were familiar faces. Bob Hope. George Burns. Audrey Hepburn. Annette Funicello. Kevin Costner. Molly Ringwald. Dick Van Dyke. Mary Tyler Moore.

In 1989, the areas consisted of Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, and Animation Courtyard. (Sunset Boulevard and Pixar Place were later added – giving the park a total of 6 themed areas.) The park’s icon in 1989 was the Earful Tower (but as of 2001 the park is represented by The Sorcerer’s Hat, a giant stylized version of the magical lid from Fantasia that will soon be relocated.)

DISNEY-MGM STUDIOS OPENING DAY ATTRACTIONS, RESTAURANTS & SHOPS:
 
 
Attractions:
 
 
The Great Movie Ride – a dark ride paying homage to several classic films, located inside The Chinese Theatre – a recreation of the famous Hollywood landmark Mann’s Chinese Theatre
 
 
The Backstage Studio Tour – a 2-hour guided tour including the short films The Lottery & Michael and Mickey
 
The Magic of Disney Animation Tour – a show and tour including the 9-minute short Back to Neverland
 
 
The Monster Sound Show – hosted by Sony – showing the importance of sound in cinema through a film and an interactive stage show
 
 
Superstar Television – hosted by Sony in a 1,000-seat theater – an interactive live show that recreates the production of some of TV’s greatest shows, using park guests as part of the cast
 
 
Restaurants:
 
 
50s Prime Time Café – themed retro diner across from Echo Lake
 
 
Backlot Express – warehouse style themed counter service
 
 
Hollywood & Vine – Art Deco-designed restaurant located in the Echo Lake area
 
 
Hollywood Brown Derby – located on Hollywood Boulevard & patterned after the famous Hollywood landmark Brown Derby restaurant
 
 
Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner – snack kiosk
 
 
Studio Catering Co. – counter service
 
 
Soundstage Restaurant – full-service restaurant located in Soundstage 5
 
 
Shops:
Animation Gallery
Crossroads of the World
Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction
Mickey’s of Hollywood
Sid Cahuenga’s One-of-a-Kind


During that opening year, the park added two attractions based on popular George Lucas films: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (on August 25, 1989) and Star Tours (on December 15, 1989).

“The world you have entered was created by the Walt Disney Company & is dedicated to Hollywood – not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream & wonder & imagine, a place where illusion & reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was – and always will be.”

– Michael Eisner’s opening day dedication of Disney-MGM Studios

Here, in its entirety, is the 1989 grand opening special for the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park with commercials included:

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Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday. Keith and his wife reside in New Orleans, Louisiana and he is a huge New Orleans Saints fan. Keith created Disney Avenue as a “happy place” where one can come to learn, enjoy, and escape each and every day. As our slogan goes, we hope you “Enjoy your stroll down Disney Avenue; it’s not Main Street, but it’s close to it!”

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