The Old Place restaurant is known for country fare that has dutifully served cowboys and men who play cowboys onscreen for over four decades. Less known is that the establishment’s history begins long before its stint as a Hollywood hotspot in the 1970s. In fact, its story mirrors the development of Los Angeles itself.
The Old Place’s original structure was built around 1915 to serve the small, secluded village of Cornell in the Santa Monica mountains as a general store and post office. It began its evolution into the place it is today in the 1960s, when a young man by the name of Tom Runyon happened upon the spot and envisioned its potential.
Runyon had spent his early years roaming the Hollywood Hills, shooting pigeons and raising falcons in Runyon Canyon, an area his father had bought and bequeathed with the family name in 1919. Runyon’s roots are evident in the design of The Old Place. He brought the old structure back to life using salvaged materials, each with their own story. The stately bar at the main dining room’s center was imported from a saloon in Virginia City, Nevada on Runyon’s private bomber (he had served as a pilot in World War II); the stool that surrounds it is a repurposed antique diving board.
Throughout the ’70s, The Old Place entered into another phase of its relationship with the Old West: Located just two miles down the road from Paramount Ranch, a popular site for shooting Western films, it attracted a cadre of film stars with ties to the genre. Steve McQueen was a regular, as was Sam Peckinpah. An occasional fiction writer, Runyon was a natural-born storyteller and kindred spirit to his celebrity clientele. He made an appearance in several Westerns himself, most often as a bartender.
Photographs from the restaurant’s heyday as a rustic celebrity getaway are situated on a wall in the back of The Old Place, next to a small corner that once stood in for a Canadian lodge on the original Twin Peaks series. In the next room, the original structure’s post office area remains intact and functions as a private dining area.
After Tom Runyon’s passing, his son Morgan took over the spot. The menu has been updated since the ’70s (when its only items were steak and clams), and the restaurant has grown to form a complex of Runyon endeavors: Next door is a winery and tasting room, and an old truck has been revamped as a coffee shop out back. But the bathrooms are still located outside, and the steak is still fired over a grill made of local oak wood.
The Old Place’s overall affect is that of a walk-in time capsule, a historical relic wise to the years that have passed since it was created.