By ANNE WALLENTINE | Contributing Writer
With a shamrock-green exterior and a roof topped with eclectic sculptures, Patrick’s Roadhouse is an unmissable landmark along Pacific Coast Highway.
Inside, the diner is a cozy, kitschy time capsule: The walls are covered with framed photos and antiques, and a top-hatted skeleton is seated at the counter.
“It is this crazy, one-of-a-kind, nutty place,” owner Anthony Fischler said. “People would go crazy if we ever changed it.”
Patrick’s Roadhouse has stood guard at the mouth of Santa Monica Canyon since 1973, when Anthony’s father Bill bought the business. The oldest part of the building dates from 1897, when it served as a train stop for freight along the coast. During Prohibition, the stop allegedly became a bootlegging hangout, and in the 1940s, it became a greasy spoon called Roy’s.
As Fischler tells it, Bill brought his kids to eat at Roy’s one day when he was at a personal crossroads. He told Roy, “This is the worst garbage I’ve ever eaten!” Roy retorted, “Why don’t you buy the place and cook your own damn hamburger?”
The two cantankerous WWII vets hashed out a deal that night. The next day, Fischler recalled, Bill opened the diner and put his kids to work in the new family restaurant.
Bill renamed the place after his youngest son Patrick Fischler, now a well-known actor who, according to Fischler, got his break when he was scouted while working in the diner.
The diner became a hangout for numerous Hollywood actors over the years, including, most famously, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once, Fischler recalled, spotting Schwarzenegger squeezed into a booth with Sylvester Stallone caused a tourist to pass out in surprise.
A longtime regular, Schwarzenegger was close friends with Bill. He even had his bachelor party there, Fischler said, although he was tight-lipped on any stories from the event: “The windows were blacked out.”
The diner still has an imposing metal chair reserved for the former governor; an “Iron Throne” that predates the one of “Game of Thrones” fame, inscribed “For the Man of Iron, ‘The Terminator.’”
“It’s a lively place … you never know who you’re going to see when you walk in the door,” said Sarah Jeffries, a local and longtime regular who can recall when the diner was Roy’s. She reeled off a list of celebrities who were often spotted at Patrick’s over the years: Rob Lowe, Elliot Gould, Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell. Bong Joon-Ho stopped in the day after winning Best Director for “Parasite” at the Oscars earlier this year, Fischler said.
Stepping into Patrick’s is like stepping into living history: The stories of the strong personalities who shaped the place practically pop off the walls and the menu. The memorabilia spans Bill’s interests in Hollywood and WWII history, from Clark Gable’s “Gone With The Wind” ascot to personal photos that feature Bill in his service days or veteran relatives of the diner’s employees.
The menu has stayed much the same over the years, focusing on diner classics with idiosyncratic twists: a burger named after Bill’s longtime chef Wanda, and a Schwarzenegger-style breakfast inspired by the former governor’s mother, who once pushed Bill out of the kitchen to make it.
Despite its brushes with celebrity history, Patrick’s has also remained a down-to-earth spot. Jeffries, who served as a lifeguard at Zuma Beach, recollected that the diner was also a gathering place for lifeguards and policemen between shift changes.
“It was so nice to have a place to go … and enjoy a good meal, have some fun and rub elbows with the elites,” she said. “Bill Fischler changed the canyon into a more modern place … [He] came in and enhanced the neighborhood with his wit, sharp tone and warm embrace.”
“I’m here every day,” added Chris McCormack, a postal worker who has been delivering mail to the area for almost 20 years. “The food’s really good.”
Though Bill passed away in 1997, his presence is still felt in Fischler’s determination to carry on the family legacy.
“Anthony picked up where his dad left off,” Jeffries said. “He keeps the light on for you.”
Fischler can be found in the diner on weekends, razzing the regulars and shouting welcomes to newcomers. He has made changes, though, by sourcing quality ingredients from local farmers and ending his father’s policy of banishing customers. (A wise move in the post-Yelp age.)
Today, Patrick’s Roadhouse has become an eccentric stalwart in a rapidly changing world.
“It’s a very weird, magnetic place,” Fischler said. It’s the kind of place you wouldn’t think could exist anymore, but against all odds—through fires, floods, food trends and now, a global health crisis—it does.
“We’ve had our ups and we’ve had our downs,” Fischler said shortly before the pandemic was declared. They relied heavily on local patrons during tougher times, but tourists became “probably 80%” of their clientele in recent years.
In a follow-up, he added, “We are wishing our customers and friends over the decades to stay healthy and happy! … And we’ll be waiting for them when this is over.”
Due to the COVID-19 regulations, Patrick’s Roadhouse is currently open between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for pickup and delivery. Check Facebook for most recent updates.
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