No one under 18 is allowed into Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre without a parent, and the reverse seems to apply as well: A parent would definitely pause before going there in daylight without a kid.
Once inside the front room, however, fathers are transfixed by "The King," a bigger-than-life mechanical dog dressed in a gold lam,e suit who sings "Love Me Tender" for tips. You never know which song of the great repertoire will issue forth for the 25- cent token you drop in the slot. The King's eyes flash, flutter or close, depending on the mood, and he strums along in pretty fair time, for a robot.
Because The King can never be offended by fawning fans, little boys and girls slide their chairs up for a better look. One recent evening the room was the scene of an intimate bowling-team banquet, and five old- timers were nursing their beers at a stage- side table, close enough to see the performer's tapping toes.
There's a comfortable randomness to the place, but one can usually count on having his paw warmed by the mouse himself, Chuck E. Cheese. Looking like a stray from King's Dominion, the host doesn't talk much, being generally intent upon holding his long rattail and waggling it at little kids. He doesn't notice -- or if he does he's too polite to mention it -- that people usually get his name wrong, calling him Chunky Cheese.
Pizza seems to be his game, though it's possible to visit there without eating a thing. This is facilitated by a darkened electronic game room -- purgatory, some call it -- where Centipede and Donkey Kong and Defender and Crazy Climber lie in wait to take your tokens. There's heavenly bliss, however, in the face of a seven-year-old boy who, while standing on a footstool to reach Pac-Man's joystick, is able to clear a screen.
The back room is fit for a FONZ award night, with its animal gallery coming alive every eight minutes when a band of beasts shakes and sings. Inside a frame, assorted disembodied paws clap; around the rest of the room, flags wave along. Kids can climb through a den of Swiss-cheese partitions, while you escape to another room where a wide-screen television takes up about half a wall.
This is a place where, if the sitter fails to show up, you can go for a beer, and leave the kids to Chunky.
CHUCK E. CHEESE'S PIZZA TIME THEATRE, 855 Rockville Pike, 11 to 11 weekdays and 11 to midnight on weekends; and at 8445 Annapolis Road, New Carrollton.