From outside, Old Place Cornell looks like an abandoned building from the set of a 1950s Western. Standing at a certain angle, you could even imagine it being a movie prop, a mere fake store front leaning on stilts. But don’t let the rough-hewn exterior fool you. Once you open the front door, it’s a different story. Here, you’re greeted with rustic floors, timbered walls and a long wooden bar so polished it reflects the light from the vintage chandeliers hanging from the low ceiling. If you’re in luck, co-owner Tim Skogstrom will pour you an ice-cold Craftsman 1903 beer and shoot it down the bar so it lands right in front of you. On a 100-plus degree day — that’s how hot it gets in the Santa Monica Mountains in August — you can’t ask for a better start to an afternoon.
Originally a country store, the Old Place was turned into a restaurant in the 1960s by New Yorkers Tom and Barbara Runyon. The couple served a no-frills menu that included steaks, clams, baked potatoes and sourdough bread. The chill atmosphere attracted the likes of movie stars Jason Robards, Burgess Meredith and Steve McQueen, who used to cruise up to the Old Place on a Triumph motorcycle with Ali MacGraw.
Behind the restaurant is the Cornell post office, which operated from 1884 to 1904. Today, the rustic building serves as a private dining room with the original mail sorting table still intact. An antique chandelier held in place by a 100-year-old mariners chain, recycled metal in the ceiling and an old-school record player complete with a set of Johnny Cash vinyl add to the charm.
Above: The old post office turned into a charming private dining room.
Above: The relaxed outdoor barbecue patio.
On weekends, the parking lot is jam-packed and the wait to get a table can run up to an hour. But come on a day in the middle of the week and it’s a different world. The afternoon heat lends itself to lounging outside on the brick steps, watching motorcycle riders buzz by on the winding Mulholland Highway. If a peacock or two show up to keep you company, don’t be surprised: They’re a remnant from the days when actor Peter Strauss kept an aviary across the street before turning the land over to the National Park Service. Sitting there on the steps, surrounded by old-growth oak and pine trees, you can’t feel but transported in time. If Steve McQueen were to pull up, jump off his bike and stroll in for a beer, you probably wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.
Photographed by Ulrica Wihlborg ©2013.