You’ve got to get off the beaten path in Calabasas to find Saddle Peak Lodge. The hidden gem is tucked in the Santa Monica Mountains, just a few miles from Malibu Beach. Saddle Peak has been many things in its century-old lifespan—general store, roadhouse, and old Hollywood star hangout—but its current iteration as a restaurant fashioned as a rustic hunting lodge of stone and timber feels like a museum. The building’s design and decor tell fascinating stories about the history of its owners and visitors.
“One thing we like to say is, ‘We’re a mile away, but a world apart,’” says Hargun Sethi, who’s co-owned the lodge with his father, Deep Sethi, since 2016.
Indeed, the 15,000-square-foot lodge is transportive. Sitting on an acre of land, the restaurant has a patio with breathtaking views of the canyons and mountains, including its namesake, Saddle Peak. Inside the main dining room, taxidermy mounts of African eland, bison and water buffalo line the walls. More than 30 preserved animals are displayed throughout the three-story property, and Hargun says one of the moose was even rumored to have been shot by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Executive chef Adam Horton, who has been with the lodge on and off for nearly 20 years, says much of the taxidermy was donated by a regular diner. The collector’s father was a National Geographic photographer who had lived with the San people in Africa; they gave him the animal heads early in the 20th century, according to Adam.
In fitting with its theme, the restaurant is a carnivore’s delight. The menu includes elegant but unfussy classics like chicken breast in a red wine jus, as well as more adventurous fare such as the chef’s game trio of elk tenderloin, bison short rib and emu strip.
The space was originally a one-story structure. It wasn’t until husband-and-wife Bud and Jean Simmert became the owners from the 1960s to 1980s that it was renovated with a new dining room and second-floor bar.
However, the lodge got its warm cabin look when Grand American Fare Inc., a chain that also helmed the former Oar House in Santa Monica, took over the restaurant in 1985. Founder Al Ehringer, who still frequents the lodge, added log walls and columns—mostly a facade—and set large stonework imprinted with fossilized seashells around a roaring fireplace. Al and his wife gathered the stones from old creek beds in Malibu, “before you could get in trouble for that stuff,” Adam shares.
The staircase in the lodge is lined with manzanita wood, another relic from the past, as the species is now protected.
In addition to Al’s collection of antiques, the interiors feature old-timey memorabilia donated over the years by friends of the restaurant. The walls are adorned with hunting and fishing gear, and a collection of guns that includes muskets, a French flare pistol and Hollywood props. A set of model sailboats, believed to be passed down from Al’s father, fills the den, which has sailboat-themed wallpaper and paintings.
Some of the lodge’s most striking works of art are its old saloon paintings of nude women. While Hargun declines to name the artist, Adam says the paintings are extremely valuable, so much so that the originals were removed from the walls to be restored; framed copies are in their place now.
When Al’s ex-wife, Ann Graham Ehringer, a former University of Southern California professor, purchased the restaurant in 1992, she added her own touches as well. She collected vintage books from thrift stores and yard sales, and amassed thousands that fill the shelves of the lodge’s library, according to Adam Horton. He posits that the oldest books date back to the late 1800s.
Most recently, the Sethi family converted the third floor into the Double Barrel Room, an exclusive lounge with over 900 types of whiskey. As guests walk up the stairs to the loft, they’re met with more taxidermy, including a lion head attached to its pelt.
Saddle Peak Lodge is a “juxtaposition between upscale and rustic,” Adam says. “It’s one of the hardest aesthetics in the world to meet where you feel like you’re in someplace very nice, while everything feels old. It’s a really difficult balance to keep.”