I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned down the winding canyon road high up in the Santa Monica Mountains that, according to my GPS, would lead to the storied Saddle Peak Lodge.
After all, it’s hard to know what to expect when visiting a restaurant in an approximately 130-year-old structure rumored to have once been a brothel and a Pony Express stop (neither, it turns out, is true).
I was told there would an impressive menu of game meats and a certain historic, rugged charm to the interior. And, as it turned out, I was not disappointed on either front. In fact, Saddle Peak Lodge far surpassed anything I was imagining.
In the Summer 2013 issue of Preservation, you can read my full report on this famed restaurant tucked somewhere between Calabasas, Calif., and Malibu. But as I was trying to write about my experience there, I found that Saddle Peak Lodge is the sort of place that you can’t fully put into words.
Though the historic building had been a restaurant for many years (it had previously served as a roadhouse to the Hollywood set, among other functions), current owner Ann Graham Ehringer purchased it in the early 1990s and revived much of the interior. Her approach has been one dedicated to continual maintenance, making repairs to the historic structure when necessary and ensuring the space always feels welcoming, with a touch of old-fashioned glamour. When I asked her about her preservation philosophy, she said, “I have always considered myself a steward of this property.”
She also told me that the decor is a combination of found objects, like the dusty hardback books lining a shelf above the bar and the life-sized oil paintings throughout the space, as well as donations from longtime customers and friends, like the water buffalo trophy in the main dining room or the historic photographs of the neighborhood. Some items, including several lamps and the outside bar, are discarded film props, and others, like the silver spoon collections in the library, are Ehringer’s own family possessions.
I invite you to take a virtual tour of the restaurant, so you can get a better sense of the magic of it all. And to see even more photos, be sure to check out the restaurant’s website, which has a full gallery of images, including close-ups of the small details that make the place feel so special.