Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour was one of those places that you either loved or absolutely despised. Everyone loves ice cream and even the actual food was pretty good, but their shtick was hard to take for some people, including me as a kid. It seemed like there were always bells or horns going off and employees shouting as part of their old timey bullshit that other people found so endearing.
Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour was started at NW 21st Avenue in Portland, Oregon, by Bob Farrell and Ken McCarthy in 1963. Farrell’s became known for their offer of a free ice cream sundae to children on their birthday. The parlors had an early 1900s theme, with employees wearing period dress and straw boater hats, and each location featured a player piano. The menu was printed as a tabloid-style newspaper. It featured appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, and dozens of different sundaes, as well as malts, shakes, sodas, and floats. Unusual offerings included a glass of soda water for 2 cents, and the traditional free sundae for customers celebrating a birthday.
Some of the sundaes were huge and intended for a group to share. The largest, the “Zoo” sundae, was delivered with great fanfare by multiple employees carrying it wildly around the restaurant on a stretcher, accompanied by the sound of ambulance sirens. One of the more amusing highlights of their original menu was a “Low-Calorie Diet” recipe sheet you could theoretically “adopt” to if you ate too much ice cream. A bowl of “Bees Knees and Mosquito Knuckles” were among the “impossible-to-eat” dishes that were featured in the joke-menu.
In 1972, the Farrell’s chain was purchased by the Marriott Corporation. By 1975, there were 120 Farrell’s nationwide. Thereafter, sales dropped and most of the parlors were sold off in the 1980s. In 1982, Marriott sold the chain to a group of private investors. By 1990, almost all Farrell’s locations had closed. One of the last original Farrell’s locations in Portland, located near the Lloyd Center mall, closed in 2001. At the time of its closing, it was privately owned and known as The Original Portland Ice Cream Parlor. The final original location closed in 2006 in Eugene, Oregon. At the time, it was operating under the name of Pearl Street Ice Cream Parlour. In 2009, there was a discussion of an eventual return to Portland, but nothing came of it.