L.A. Confidential: The Old Place

I got a really interesting assignment for the Dining section of the November issue of L.A. Confidential: head out into the hills of Malibu to check out the scene at The Old Place.

Before this, I'd never even heard of The Old Place, but it's been around for over 40 years, and has a fascinating history. It's up in the mountains off Kanan Road, in a flyspeck town called Cornell. The restaurant is housed in a historic building dating back to the turn of the century, and was started in the late '60s's by a man named Tom Runyon (the canyon is named after his family). Despite serving just oak-grilled steaks and clams, with a baked potato if you were lucky, The Old Place became a backwoods landmark favored by celebrities laying low like Steve McQueen, as well as Hell's Angels, and cowboys working on studio backlots out there.

Tom passed away a couple years ago, but his son and a business partner who started the next-door Cornell Winery have revived the restaurant, expanded the menu (minimally), and breathed new life into the place. They still have the same 40-year-old oak grill, but these days, in addition to the celebrities and bikers, you'll find surfers, Malibu families, and even the occasional Eastside hipster chowing down. While I was there, I also talked to a singing cowboy named Billy who, between musical interludes, regaled me with hard-to-believe tales of the area's salacious past.

All this makes The Old Place one of the most authentic places I have ever experienced in Los Angeles, and I'm sure it will be for you too. My article isn't posted online, but you can find the text below, and if you want to see it in all its glory, be sure to pick up your issue of L.A. Confidential soon!

A SENSE OF PLACE

There are precious few places left in Los Angeles where you can find an authentic piece of the city’s checkered past, let alone have dinner. Welcome to the Old Place, which has been serving steaks to Hollywood starlets, Hell’s Angels and Malibu cowboys for over four decades.

Tom Runyon and his wife Martha opened the grill in 1970 in the hill town of Cornell in a turn-of-the-century building on the Mulholland Highway that once housed the post office and Hank’s Country Store. The Kerouac-like Runyon grew up in L.A. during the 1920’s, served as an Army pilot during World War II, and studied writing at Columbia University. He returned to California and eventually opened the Old Place, constructing a saloon-like fa├žade, and decorating it with an eclectic mix of found and salvaged objects including wooden doors from the Santa Barbara Mission. “That’s why the Old Place has true depth and texture,” explains Tim Skogstrom, who owns the neighboring Cornell Winery, and who reopened the restaurant with Tom’s son Morgan after Runyon passed away in 2009.

Stars like Steve McQueen and Robert Mitchum would come here to get away from Hollywood—though old TV and film sets litter the nearby hills. They’d settle into a booth for a dinner of steak or clams cooked over an oak fire, with a potato on the side. That was the entire menu.

These days, local characters and L.A. hipsters alike crowd the bar, and the new menu includes a wild mushroom skillet, rosemary pale ale chicken, and berry cobbler among other dishes. It’s the taste of the real Los Angeles that most folks come for, though.

29983 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA 91301, (818) 706-9001; oldplacecornell.com.

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