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SCV -- Hollywood's Backlot: Halfway House Café

Where being ‘out’ is ‘in’

Posted: October 15, 2009 1:00 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2009 6:04 a.m.

Longtime cafe employees Sally Moore and Efrain Rosales.

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Oftentimes, finding familiar things in unfamiliar places can be a bit unsettling. I was reminded of this last year when my wife and I were watching television in our hotel room outside the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. We were packing our bags for a day-hike when an image of the Halfway House Café, a restaurant we frequent only a couple of miles from our Canyon Country home, appeared on the screen.

We certainly didn't need to travel to the Yucatan Peninsula to see the restaurant on the tube. For the past several decades it has appeared in literally dozens of films and television episodes shown all over the world. So many, in fact, that even a casual film or TV fan would be hard-pressed not to have glimpsed it on screen.

"I absolutely love this place, and so do a lot of producers. I actually turn down a lot of filming requests because there are so many," says owner Bob Lima.

Until recently, Lima, whose number must be on speed-dial for every location scout in Hollywood, would actually close the restaurant for one day a week to accommodate the large volume of filming requests. Since then, he keeps the restaurant open seven days a week and now only closes for special films. Occasionally, filming still takes place after the business day is over.

According to Todd Lindgren of FilmLA, which issues the restaurant's filming permits, the café has been used as a location at least 13 times during the past 18 months.

Just a sampling of television shows where the café has appeared includes "Heroes," "Melrose Place," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Numbers," "CSI," "ER," "Angel," "Hyperion Bay," "The King of Queens," "Sons of Anarchy," "Diagnosis Murder," and "Monk."
On the big screen, Halfway has appeared in "Space Cowboys," "Lost In America," "Georgia Rule," "Heartbreak Ridge," "All About Steve," and "Every Which Way But Loose." It was here that Kerri Russell made pies in the 2007 film "Waitress," and this was also the place where Tim Robbins told Jack Black how to steal the magic pick in "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny."

The restaurant has seen a steady stream of stars pass through its doors over the years. Gene Autry is thought to have been the first filmmaker to use the setting in the 1930s. It is also rumored to have been featured in a couple of episodes of Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" in the 1950s. Clint Eastwood, Helen Hunt, Andy Griffith, Eddie Murphy, Val Kilmer, Lindsay Lohan, and Sandra Bullock are among the more recent stars to film here.

Halfway House Café is probably the most unassuming movie star in the entire 30-mile zone. The café, which got its name from being situated halfway between Los Angeles and Palmdale, first got its start as a trading post in 1906 and has been a restaurant off-and-on since 1931. In 1993 it closed after being damaged in a flood. Lima purchased the property a year later, and after a major cleanup, opened it again in 1995. It has been in continuous operation ever since.

The restaurant's location continues to draw a steady stream of filmmakers who need a rustic southwestern rural "biker bar" setting that is near Hollywood.

"This is where the city basically ends. After that, there isn't much until you reach Palmdale," said Sally Moore, who has managed the restaurant since 1999.

The café has also been featured in well known commercials, music videos, and photo shoots.

A famous 1991 Pepsi commercial featuring Cindy Crawford stepping out of a red Lamborghini wearing a white tank top and denim cut-offs was filmed here. It was later voted by a group of advertising judges appointed by Forbes Magazine to be the "steamiest television ad of all time." She returned a couple of years later, this time in an SUV with her two sons inside, to film a Diet Pepsi commercial that poked fun at the previous one. (An autographed photo of Crawford, along with a Pepsi can, graces one wall.)

Steamier still were photo spreads done here for Carmen Electra and Farrah Fawcett.

During the past couple of years, commercials for Suzuki, Miller Lite, and American Express have been made here.

The staff of Halfway, many of whom have been working here for years, each has a favorite movie star encounter. Sometimes they even get into the act.

"I got to be one of the waitresses during a filming of an episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," said Mindy Harper, a former waitress.

Halfway House Café's menu of hearty meat-and-potatoes-type fare makes the restaurant as popular with its customers as it is with filmmakers.

The restaurant is open seven days a week, which is about as often as you can find it on television. Even in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Halfway House Café is located at 15564 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country, 4.6 miles north of Soledad Canyon Road. It is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. the phone number is (661) 251-0102. the Web site is www.halfwayhousecafe.com. (The web site contains clips of several of the films that were made at the restaurant.)
E.J. Stephens can be reached at deadwrite@yahoo.com.

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