Part roadhouse, Pony Express stop, hunting lodge, European auberge, perhaps even a hint of a bordello, Saddle Peak Lodge has been many things to many people in its long history. For 100 years—some say even more—Saddle Peak Lodge has been a place of enchantment, romance and great dining for generations of those who seek a unique experience. Nestled deep in the hills of Malibu, along the creek that flows through Las Virgenes Canyon to the Pacific Ocean, the Lodge stands under fabulous Saddle Peak—a majestic rock formation made, according to local legend, when God’s first horseman sat upon the Santa Monica mountains. In the shadow of the Peak, a colorful mix of cowboys, hunters, fishermen, oil riggers and miners bound for the gold fields of Piru Creek and the Upper Ojai stopped at the Lodge, then a one room cabin, to swap stories, take on supplies, or simply slake their thirst with a local brew called “Hillbilly Punch”.
Tales of Saddle Peak Lodge abound, in enough variety to fill several volumes. The truth, such as we know it, is not much different than we might have wished: from its origins as a way-stop and general store along a rugged mountain trail, the area surrounding Saddle Peak Lodge evolved in the twenties into a summer resort known as Crater Camp, with rustic cabins, fishing camps, motorcycle runs and healthful recreation in the mountain air. The Lodge began a general store and roadhouse for campers and neighbors, and then became a simple dry-goods, beer, and sandwich shop.
After being discovered by Hollywood, it began a new era of its wildly romantic history. Featured in many movie classics, it served as resting place and roadhouse for stars from the nearby ranches of Warner Brothers, Paramount, and Twentieth Century Fox. Errol Flynn and Clark Gable, with their Bugattis, starlets, and fellow cast members, were frequent guests, bringing with them the glamour and mystery of the silver screen. From Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, who, with Herbert Hoover, were said to have built their famous New Mexico hunting lodge with designs from the Saddle Peak, to Milton Berle, Ernest Borgnine and today’s theater, film, and music industry leaders, the Lodge has remained a Hollywood in-place.
In the postwar era, the Lodge was owned by neighbors whose children still enjoy Saddle Peak today. From the early sixties to the mid-eighties the Lodge was owned and run by Bud & Jean Simmert. During that time they added a new dining room and second floor bar and decommissioned the hitching post at the front door. Bud was the cook, and Jean the hostess. Jean had memorable, sparkling lights in her hair. and her beautiful landscape paintings adorned the red-flocked covered walls on the first floor, and the gold-flocked colored walls on the second.
In 1985 the Lodge changed significantly, all it’s history marshaled toward becoming the unique establishment it is today. The entire structure was renovated by the then owner, Grand American Fare Inc., also owners of the famous Oar House in Santa Monica. The vision of its founder, Al Ehringer, created the unique ambiance that we experience at Saddle Peak today–its massive timbers and log walls, its native rock booth, its hunting and fishing gear, its elegant salon paintings, and its fantasy and warmth. Old friends contributed memorabilia ranging from objects of fine art to relics of the Old West. Books of every kind, moved from private libraries of guests, line beautifully crafted shelves. The badger on the south wall? A gift from a grateful diner who thought it needed to go there. An antique spoon collection, old hunting and fishing gear, dreamy landscapes, birds, animals, fish—all collected with meticulous care to recapitulate a history shared by generations of friends. The mystery of Saddle Peak and its ability to inspire every sort of tale or happening remained. Was there really a ghostly woman with long dark hair who occasionally appears unhidden at Table 41 upstairs? Was mayhem once committed by a jilted rancher in an upstairs room? What is the real origin of the dining room’s saloon paintings? Do the likes of Richard Burton or the Hollywood Rat Pack still feed the coyotes with buffalo bones thrown from the back terraces at night?
In late 1992, Saddle Peak Lodge was purchased and revitalized by Ann Graham Ehringer Ph.D., then an executive coach and professor of business management at the University of Southern California.
Today, Saddle Peak Lodge offers secrets and charms unmatched anywhere on the California coast. Neighbors ride their horses to Sunday brunch in the elegant atmosphere. Guests return for weekly dinners at their favorite tables. Anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions are celebrated in the downstairs dining area, intimate upstairs chambers, and on the rustic patios as climate allows. Weddings on the Lodge’s stone terraces, overlooking canyons and mountains, are renowned for their scenic beauty. Corporate executives retreat to the Lodge’s private dining rooms for daytime meetings—just minutes from their offices, yet light years away in tranquility, to renew themselves and resolve their thoughts in the creative magic of the surrounding hills of the Monte Nido Valley. Saddle Peak’s spectacular natural surroundings, its history, its rustic elegance, and its passion for pleasing guests, all combine to make it the first choice for memorable dining.
Our greatest pleasure, says Ann, “is having our guests return again and again, and having them feel that Saddle Peak is also ‘theirs’–their favorite place for casual dinners and special occasions with families and friends. Serving our guests with excellence and warmth is what we do, and what we want most to do.”