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Arizona pizzeria organist dies, makes us realize more restaurants need organists

Illustration for article titled Arizona pizzeria organist dies, makes us realize more restaurants need organists
Photo: epicprints, bhofack2 (iStock)

Any old restaurant can have a Spotify playlist or a TouchTunes jukebox. Few have live entertainment these days, let alone live entertainment in the form of an organist. Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, Arizona, was lucky enough to have such a performer until his death last week from complications following a stroke.

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AZFamily.com has a tribute to Charlie Balogh, “a wonderful human being” according to employees of the pizzeria where he’d played consistently since 1991. The American Theatre Organ Society awarded Balogh its Organist of the Year Award in 2000.

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The Wurlitzer organ Balogh played contained 6,000 pipes; this Phoenix Magazine video says it’s the largest in the world. The video also shows Balogh playing his organ atop a revolving stage above the pizzeria.

It’s not hyperbole to say that it’s people like Balogh who make restaurants great. Sure, you can get a tasty pizza at plenty of spots in the greater Phoenix area, but how many of them had an organist? Only one.

Organ Stop Pizza is one of an elite group of restaurants and bars with organs, which includes the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana, and—oh wait, have mercy—this is a way richer collection of establishments than we first anticipated. Only some are still in operation, and a strange number of them are pizzerias. With the number of organ players in decline, even churches are having a hard time finding musicians for services. We hope the Organ Stop is able to find a replacement to keep this tradition going to honor Charlie Balogh’s legacy.

Balogh’s brother, David Balogh, has also set up a GoFundMe to collect money for his family who has been left with “a considerable financial burden.”

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Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

My dad and his wife are snowbirds in Sun City. I visited them last February, and they took me here for dinner . . . at 4 pm.

There was a line of similarly-aged people waiting for the doors to open . . . at 4 pm . . . to order pizza and salad, and get a good seat for the show.

The pizza was atrocious.

The show was amazing. Hokey as heck, so over the top that even Liberace would say “perhaps a bit much!” but a 6,000 pipe organ sounds damned impressive. And this guy knew how to use every one of ‘em.

And the synchronized puppets and other mechanicals that went along with it.

He was the master of his domain.

I would have absolutely gone back for the show alone.

I don’t know that it was good, but it was unique.