Updated: Feb 25, 2020
If you’ve ever been to a garage sale late in the day, when all that’s left are assorted Barbie limbs or a party pack of fridge magnet letters, you’ve probably wondered who on Earth is buying this garbage. For your answer, all you have to do is visit Baltimore’s PaperMoon Diner. An otherwise standard diner is wrapped in a bizarre skin of colorful decoration that encourages boundless exploration.
Paige was beyond excited about the PaperMoon - it was her main reason for wanting to explore Baltimore at all. Pulling up into the lot, I immediately saw the vibrant decoration she had been awaiting. The front yard of the restaurant is peopled by spooky mannequins dressed in a variety of household trash - from boxer shorts made of Lego bricks to a war bonnet comprised of kitchen knives. One mannequin pushes a cart filled with other mannequin’s limbs. It’s bizarre and entirely inexplicable.
As you scan the front of the restaurant, splashed randomly with bright swatches of color, you come across a variety of other hidden gems strewn around. Some of our favorites included a blue and pink cow with preened eyelashes as well as an assortment of toilets potted with various cacti. There was also a mannequin decked out in a Volvo logo who looked like a rejected Avenger. Paige had spent the previous week trying fruitlessly to get her mail key copied to no avail and we commented lovingly that our Volvo hero would be able to help, as he was completed with a long and luscious beard of house keys. He was truly dreamy.
No hunky mannequins could compete with the madness of the interiors however. While Paige queued briefly to get us a table, I marveled at the decor. Every surface of the restaurant was coated in rollicking hills of junked toys and found objects - there was a grand spiral of grinning Kewpie Dolls that looked like a family reunion in Hell, there was a great green head covered in surreptitious army men instead of hair and an entire window frame filled with a veritable tsunami of toys. Anything you ever threw out was here somewhere: clinging to a wall or drooping from the ceiling.
We secured a table in the back, giving us plenty of time to waltz through the insane displays. After we’d settled, we browsed the menu and settled on burgers. For all the obscurity in the decoration, the menu is a relatively standard diner fare. The burgers were very nice and reasonably priced as well. While we were waiting for them, we played a truly impossible round of I Spy.
Before departing, we wanted to check out the bathroom, as we assumed it would be crazy as well. It did not disappoint - the room was coated by a wall-to-wall display of PEZ dispensers. After our visit to the PEZ Museum (read more here), we thought we’d had our fill of the iconic candy case, but throughout the bathroom we also found an exceptional array of characters to enjoy. If you want more dispensers to say “oh, I know that one” about, the lobby of the diner has an even more extensive collection, featuring every conceivable recognizable face and a few not-so-recognizable ones. It’s hard to imagine the Martin Van Buren PEZ is a top seller. Finishing off the bathroom is the ceiling, which is packed with hundreds of upside-down Hot Wheels, resulting in a traffic jam very familiar to us as New Yorkers.
I could go on for pages about each obscure display (why is there a bald pink woman in a bra made of pennies who is climbing out of a fake tree and making a grab for a globe hanging down from the ceiling?), but ultimately no level of detailed description can do justice to the fantasy landscape that spreads through the diner. It’s hard to capture the energy of the place with words - the best I can do might be Salvador Dali’s storage unit - but the experience of visiting is thrilling and vibrant. If you’re looking for an interesting bite in Baltimore, definitely make the stop. You too can wonder “why did PEZ bother making Martin Van Buren?”
The PaperMoon Diner is located at 227 W 29th St in Baltimore, Maryland and is open every day from 8AM-8PM, except Tuesdays.
Prices are standard for a city diner and the food is nice, but if you only want to explore the decor you could just pop in for a pot of coffee instead.
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