Where: On the way to the mid-century angles and sleek finishes of Palm Springs, home to celebs and senior citizens, one passes through Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree, two boho outposts of the High Desert that host an assortment of refugees from bigger cities. Pioneertown is a few miles up a winding mountain road, an eccentric mirage that’s part Old West, part modern hipster.
When: If Pioneertown looks like a vintage Hollywood film set, that’s because it was. Built in 1946 by a group of movie types including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, Pioneertown was the set for numerous western movies and TV shows including The Cisco Kid and The Gene Autry Show. It fell into disrepair, but in 2003, Pappy & Harriet’s was bought by Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz, two New Yorkers who gave it a rough-edged renovation and turned it into a unique music venue. The Pioneertown Motel was redone last year, but the street of “Wild West” shacks and storefronts remains essentially the same.
What: Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is a bar/restaurant/music venue that excels in all three fields. The ramshackle building is a sprawl of wood-paneled rooms hung with memorabilia, from taxidermied moose heads to knockoff Remington landscapes to a near-lifesize portrait of a sultry and neckless Jane Russell giving the eye to the fellas at the bar. Beyond the dining rooms, barroom and tiny stage, there are two outdoor spaces with bars, barbecues and fire pits that offer breathing room between sets and/or accommodate larger festival-style shows (which are still only a few hundred people).
Why: Like Austin, Nashville or New Orleans, the area is home to a disproportionate amount of musicians, which makes for good gigs and appreciative audiences. The warm vibe and solid sound system at Pappy & Harriet’s have also drawn plenty of names that seem too big for the room, including the Arctic Monkeys, the Pixies and Lucinda Williams; when Paul McCartney was whiling away time between weekend sets at Oldchella (sorry, Desert Trip) this summer, he played a gig at Pappy & Harriet’s that has already passed into legend. Upcoming acts include the Bronx, the Aggrolites and the Kills.
The food is top-notch—the nachos are an ideal of freshly fried tortilla chips with a perfect balance of gooey toppings and the burgers are thick and juicy on puffy brioche buns, while the steaks are unexpectedly delicious. As far as drinks, it’s not a place for mixology or microbrews, and that is as it should be. Finally, Pappy & Harriet’s and Pioneertown also offer one of the world’s oldest and simplest forms of entertainment: With no bright lights—or any lights—nearby, stargazing may be the best show of all.