Everything Old is New Again, Even at The Old Place
In the relatively brief time between completing the manuscript for L.A. Bizarro and the day it hit the press somewhere in China, one business (the upscale new age sex shop Freddy & Eddy) had closed its doors and Forrest Ackerman had departed for that great sci-fi convention in the sky. Considering the rate at which things change in Los Angeles, we actually considered ourselves lucky that only two of our entries were no longer with us. A recent visit to The Old Place, however, made us realize that while the restaurant was still there, it was a far cry from what we had experienced when we wrote it up for the book.
Located in the former Cornell Post Office and Country Store, The Old Place was the living definition of "rustic" dining. Established in 1970 by Tom and Barbra Runyon, the couple ran the place in what could only be called an "informal" fashion. The menu had two choices: steak or clams--and you had to call ahead to let them know you wanted steak because they had to "cut it by hand" (or, more likely, go buy it). Barbra doubled as waitress and bartender (beer and jug wine only); Tom would fire up the wooden stove when he damn well pleased and sometimes not at all (especially if there weren't enough diners to suit his fancy). On Sundays they served beef stew and only beef stew and if they ran out, well, tough titty. The Old Place didn't exactly stick to a schedule, either. Sometimes it was open, sometimes it wasn't, and sometimes a guy named Billy Gale (yes, C&W fans, that Billy Gale) would stand much too close to you while he strummed his guitar and yodeled a few country tunes. If that didn't make you uncomfortable, then the regulars would, especially when they stared at you like they wanted to kick you in the groin (as most regulars at any dive are wont to do). We were warned by one local that whatever you do, don't ask to use their phone or all hell would break lose. In other words, The Old Place was our kind of place, an exquisitely idiosyncratic place that you enjoyed for its utterly weird ambience, not its disappointly limited menu.
Well. not anymore. Tom and Barbra were nowhere in sight the last time we dropped in. As it turned out, Tom had departed, undoubtedly to tease Forrest Ackerman with the possibility of clams and steak for dinner. Son Morgan had taken over, with assistance from Tim Skogstrom who owns the winery next door (and is, officially, their tenant). The menu had expanded to include over a half dozen appetizers, almost as many entrees, a variety of domestic and imported beers, and wine from (drum roll please) the winery next door. Billy Gale was conspicuously absent and a few of the regulars were the types who wear their LaCoste shirts with the collars turned up. Our groins felt comfortably safe. Morgan was friendly and Tim's a nice guy, too. We met him when we visited the winery towards the end of Tom and Barbra's reign.
For diners craving some country atmosphere and a pretty decent menu, this new and improved Old Place will be a pleasant surprise. We, however, much prefer unpleasant surprises, and fans of the eccentric will find that the new Old Place just ain't what it used to be. It's better, and by that, we mean it's worse. But you'll probably love it.