Mel's Diner and Mr. Lucky's Vintage Signs: Hidden Valley

The Mel's Diner sign, as seen on TV.
The Mel's Diner sign, as seen on TV.
E. Groves

On the outskirts of Central Phoenix, quirky old Grand Avenue careens west toward Glendale and Wickenburg at a 45-degree angle, as it has done for almost 85 years. A lot has come and gone along this arterial road, but many signs of Phoenix past remain.

Literally. The stretch of Grand Avenue from Roosevelt Street to 57th Drive boasts some of the coolest vintage signs in the city: the boxy, yellow space age-looking sign for City Center Motel; the rusty, circular Smith Radiator Exchange sign; the sun-bleached neon green marquee for Crystal Motel.

But two of the most telling signs on Grand are the Mel's Diner and Mr. Lucky's signs. Both date back to the 1960s, and each represents a unique piece of Phoenix history.

Mel's Diner is known for being the inspiration behind the 1976 sitcom Alice, about a woman who works at a roadside diner on the outskirts of Phoenix. But the show was actually filmed on a set in Burbank, California; the only thing featured from Phoenix was the Mel's Diner sign.

The sign's changed a little with owners over the years - starting with "Lester's Diner" in the 1960s, then "Mel's Diner" from 1976 to 1985, then "Pat's Diner" in the '80s, and finally, back to Mel's.

Mr. Lucky's was the hottest honky-tonk in Arizona for 38 years, a massive saloon that hosted live country music, a fog of Marlboro smoke, and its share of cowboy fights, too. It closed in 2004, and now sits caged in a chain-link fence in the center of a vast, empty parking lot, doors and windows shuttered.

The towering, colorful Mr. Lucky's sign stands sentinel at the entrance, a demented-looking joker with red balls hanging off his hat grinning at the traffic on Grand. He dangles signs that say "Musica" and "En Vivo" (live music) over a ramshackle marquee still advertising shows long past.

It's well worth cruising Grand Avenue to see all the signage along the road, but if you want to head straight to these two, here are links to Google maps for Mr. Lucky's and Mel's Diner.

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