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Pioneertown, California

Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace

Weary travelers trekking through Joshua Tree have a music-filled, booze-soaked oasis to land before continuing through the desert. 

Pioneertown wasn’t always a real town, but it is now. Only a real town would have its own honky-tonk, right?

Pioneertown was an elaborate film set built in the 1940’s deep in the high desert, a Wild West facade used in several western films including the famous The Cisco Kid. Its remote location made it more efficient to build (era-appropriate in design) lodgings for the talent right there on set, creating a tiny but functional town that served as both a shooting location and an unincorporated community village. 

One of the most notable additions to Pioneertown was, of course, the cantina, a dusty-colored brick building that screamed “Old West Watering Hole.” Stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers would belly up to the bar in several productions, and all in all the saloon would serve as a place for stars to drink on camera in over 50 films. 

In 1972, long after the film companies had moved on to greener pastures, the cantina was purchased by Francis and John Aleba, who turned the joint into an outlaw biker burrito bar—so basically the coolest place in the entire desert. For 10 years the Cantina served burritos to their rowdy  leather-clad clientele, and in the ’80s Francis unloaded the Cantina onto her daughter and son-in-law, Harriet and Claude “Pappy” Allen, who promptly named the place after themselves, adding the catchy term “Pioneer Palace” to the name. The biker bar took more of a family restaurant direction, serving large portions of Tex-Mex food and inviting bands to take to the stage—none of which chased the bikers off, although it’s unlikely that was ever the intention. Now in the hands of owners Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz since 2003, Pappy and Harriet’s has lost none of its rough charm, and is a golconda for music lovers who can show up for dinner and find a single local guitarist from the town down the road on stage just as easily as a hot indie band taking a break from recording at Hicksville Trailer Palace to play a set. Even Robert Plant, Arctic Monkeys and Rufus Wainwright have taken over the postage-stamp sized stage for semi-secret gigs. 

Accessed via California State Route 62 and four miles northeast of Yucca Valley, Pappy and Harriet’s is a welcome site to local and strangers passing through. Make sure to wander around the rest of Pioneertown while you’re there, but for the love of god, be careful around the bikes. You are in the middle of the desert.