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Want Fries With That Close Encounter?

July 06, 1999|AL RIDENOUR

A UFO has landed in Hollywood. Thirteen feet in diameter, perched on retractable hydraulic legs and topped by a flashing red beacon, the craft sits at the corner of Vermont and Fountain in a mini-mall parking lot.

For the last six months, the spaceship has been in terrestrial layover, parked in front of what was formerly known as Tom's No. 25 Hamburgers. The restaurant is now known as the Area 51 Cantina, and its new interplanetary menu is posted beneath the ship and includes items like the Galaxy Burger, a Martian Steak Dinner and an Out-of-This-World BLT. Area 51 videos, an Area 51 guide and a UFO gallery are also advertised.

Decorating the interior of this otherwise down-to-earth fast-food joint is a "Gravity Amplification Interstellar Craft" blueprint and thrift-store landscape paintings obviously modified to include flying saucers.

There are no scenes of menacing aliens or messy abductions, however.

"People don't want to sit around eating their pastrami sandwiches looking at an abduction scene," says the ship's creator, whose craft has been parked outside Tom's No. 25 since December.

While patrons may be inclined to believe otherwise, restaurant manager Victor Metaxas has never made the pilgrimage to Area 51, the Nevada military site where UFOs are thought to have landed in the 1950s. But when asked if he's a believer, Metaxas replies with a wink and a chuckle.

"Absolutely! In fact, I've been abducted," claims Metaxas, who is more likely a believer in the space craft's ability to attract customers to his restaurant. "Frankly, I'm not the most familiar with the topic," he later admits.

So when visitors stop by asking to look at the guides or watch the videotapes or just to find out more about the otherworldly object parked by the side of the road, Metaxas redirects their cosmic inquiries to the ship's creator, who, like many alleged UFO witnesses, prefers to remain nameless.

Originally intended as a joystick-controlled motion simulator, the ship might never have found a home at Tom's if its builder hadn't been constructing it on the front lawn of his Hollywood home. Naturally, the oddity drew kids from blocks away until complaining neighbors put an end to the fun.

After a brief docking in a rented garage space, the ship moved to Tom's. But its current landing space is not permanent. "I'd kind of like to sell it," says the ship's builder.

The craft comes with its own trailer and Area-51-style, military-surplus pickup truck, which is decorated in camouflage with a U.S. Army stencil on the side. Asking price: $6,000, or equivalent extraterrestrial currency.

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