“Good evening Madame, Monsieur. My name is Pierre, ahnd I vill be yeur wait’ieure this . . .”
Four miles northwest of Yucca Valley, just off California 62, perhaps 35 miles or so north of Palm Springs, is dust-blown Pioneertown. The “town” is little other than a collection of old 40s and 50s movie and television façades for the Westerns that Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers (from whence the town derived its name) and a few other Hollywood investors decided would work well amidst the mountains of perilously balanced, stacked boulders and cactus and yucca trees there.
The first structure you see — and the one you must visit — is Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a no-frills, rough-hewn planked and floored in-a-prior-life single-pump service station. Initially the interior of the hangout also served as a cantina set for the many films shot there. In 1972, Harriet’s parents bought the building and opened it as a biker burrito bar for the deep-throated, growling Harley riders headed to Big Bear and Las Vegas. Pappy Allen and Harriet opened the “Palace” in 1982, rustling up Tex-Mex dishes to fill the guts of its patrons and out of the mainstream, sorta-country bands to fill their ears. Both feed to well-stuffed the soul.
Today the tradition began by Claude “Pappy” and Harriet Allen — great, albeit completely unpretentious, mesquite-barbecued delights and live music — continue with a unique mastery that simply is not to be missed.
Cindy, attired in a yellow tee-shirt and black slacks was behind the bar when I walked in around noon, so I didn’t get to sample the live music fare that gets fired up later in the evenings. I found a tile and wood table next to one of the northern facing windows. Before long, Amanda in a black top and faded jeans moseyed on over to inquire what my pleasure might be. I decided a Fat Tire longneck brew (a flavorful, stout amber ale from Fort Collins, Colorado) would be a more congruent accompaniment to my adventure at Pappy & Harriet’s and my barbecued steak sandwich than would, say Budweiser; Bud or Bud-Light being more appropriate to something less authentic, more plastic, which this place most assuredly is not.
Gotta say: From the dusty moose head and elk antlers hanging on the wall, to Cindy, to Amanda, to the grit-sanded and weathered floors, to a few of the bandana doo-ragged bikers at the bar or out back, to the French roll sandwich and steak-fries and the sampling of chili-the-way-it-oughta-be-cooked . . . Nothing disappointed, everything put the broadest grin in my heart and on my face.
One other thing I gotta say: Be absolutely certain to put Pappy & Harriet’s on your “bucket list.” For me, I’ve got to make it back to sample one of C. Ward’s mesquite-grilled porterhouse or rib eyes. Or maybe a half-rack of baby backs. Or his grilled salmon. Then again, just maybe the Cowboy Combo: a half-rack of ribs, Santa Maria tri-tip, and a half of smoked chicken. Just, don’t wanna die before then, though. Because I cannot imagine any heaven serving up the miracles I can get at the Palace.— Ed Tubbs