The Restaurants Are Not What They Seem: Why 'Twin Peaks' Is Still Inspiring Food Culture
Thirty years on, fans of David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks are still stanning the show, designing bars and restaurants with references so obscure only hardcore fans get the joke.
Mounted on the wall above the rows of liquor bottles at The Black Lodge, a bar in the trendy, industrial neighborhood of Scott’s Addition in Richmond, Virginia, are two taxidermied owls, frozen mid-flight. Patrons chatting at the bar are cast in a blood-red glow beneath black pendant lights that look like heat lamps filled with igneous jello. Painted on the backlit banner of the beverage case are the words, FIRE WALK WITH ME. In the back of the room is a red neon sign for The Bang Bang Bar, and above the La Marzocco espresso machine, the words Damn Fine Coffee glow in white.
If you get it, it’s because you love Twin Peaks, the bizarre, surrealist TV series that aired for two seasons on ABC in 1990 and 1991—and another, Twin Peaks: The Return, on Showtime in 2017. If you don’t get it, The Black Lodge is just a peculiar, hipster bar.
Twin Peaks begins with the investigation of the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) by the buoyant and intuitive FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). In the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, the show’s creators David Lynch and Mark Frost unspool more than a dozen plotlines surrounding doppelgängers, giants, shut-ins, drug traffickers, fraud, professional rivalries, friendship, and love affairs. It’s a frightening, romantic, murder mystery soap.
Thirty years after Twin Peaks’ release, fans are still debating the show’s coded messages on Reddit, throwing festivals to screen the series and interview the cast, designing fan art, making music inspired by Peaks’ famous synth-heavy score, and writing fan fiction about Dale Cooper solving new crimes and falling in love. Some have created restaurants imbued with the Peaks’ essence: dark, ambient, and full of secrets.
At Richmond’s Black Lodge, named for the mythical, extradimensional place in Twin Peaks where one must face their “shadow self,” some references to the series are such deep cuts that most fans don’t catch them, says co-owner Brittanny Anderson. Stacked on top of the beverage case is a row of creamed corn in oversized cans. In the world of Twin Peaks, creamed corn is known as “garmonbozia”—or, as the word is translated in the series, “pain and suffering”—a fictional substance that nourishes spirits stuck in The Black Lodge. Though creamed corn is referenced briefly in Season 2 of the original series, you’d likely catch this one only if you know Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the movie prequel to the series released in 1992 after ABC canceled the network series.
Anderson and co-owner Nathan Conway opened the Black Lodge as a take-out-only pop-up in the height of the 2020 lockdowns. “Covid was a very Lynchian era,” says Conway. “It’s our weird little clubhouse. It’s our dark side.” Their Black Lodge does have a lighter side, called Brenner Pass, a high-end restaurant serving Alpine food to markedly different clientele. The two share a foyer, so when you enter through the front doors, there is a choice you must make: To the left is the Black Lodge, to the right is Brenner Pass.
Brenner Pass is lit in gentle yellows, blues, and whites. It feels like a cheerful ski lodge, with wood-paneled walls and blonde accents. The patrons are the button-ups-and-slacks set. In the Black Lodge, the room is darker, redder, and louder, the patrons are tattooed.
It would be a superficial interpretation to say that Peaks has inspired so many restaurants because of its repeated references to black coffee and cherry pie or even maple syrup and ham (all favorites of Agent Cooper’s). That’s not what’s going on here. By and large, Peaks-inspired restaurants don’t replicate the show’s cuisine. Instead, like the best byproducts of fan culture, they rework the material so that fans can experience the original art in a real way.
Around the world, there are restaurants, bars, and coffee shops that draw inspiration from Twin Peaks. There’s Damn Fine Coffee in Chicago, Illinois, (the name is a reference to a famous line from the show). In Berlin, Germany, The Black Lodge is a bar made up to look like the show’s famous Red Room, with its red-curtained walls and black-and-white chevron floors. The owners describe it as “a creation of how we experienced the lodge in Twin Peaks. Dark, hidden, mysterious, intriguing, what makes it a perfect combo for a bar in Berlin.”
There’s the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon, a restaurant and music venue named for the trees that shroud the town of Twin Peaks and designed to look like the Great Northern, the hotel where Agent Cooper stays while investigating Laura’s murder.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, Peaks fans can visit the Log Lady Cafe, named in honor of one of the show’s most enigmatic characters, a woman who carries around a baby-sized log, a log that tells secrets only the Log Lady can hear.
Establishments like these are named in homage to the show, decorated with Peaks memorabilia and fan art, and some are even engineered to look like settings from the series. They have cocktails named after characters, like “The Dale Cooper” or “The Laura Palmer,” or famous lines, like “The Owls Are Not What They Seem.” They loop the series on muted TVs or pipe leitmotifs into the bathrooms.
Pieter Dom, founder of the fan site WelcomeToTwinPeaks.com, describes Peaks as “a dreamy universe we’d aspire to visit with multiple places where we’d love to hang out: the diner, the Roadhouse, the Great Northern, all gathering places for both the gifted and the damned, the heroes and the outlaws. There’s always something in the air transcending the mundane, and I truly believe many bar and restaurant owners aspire to recreate that mysterious feeling, that magic.”
Much of Twin Peaks is coded, and its crypticism is one reason it remains so compelling 30 years on. There is always something to puzzle out or bandy about with other Peaks fans. Lines like “the owls are not what they seem” and “fire walk with me” remain the subject of debate on Twin Peaks forums.
In the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, there is Wyckoff Starr. The coffee shop is named for streets that intersect nearby, not Twin Peaks, but over the years, owner Scott McGibney has outfitted the place in Peaks memorabilia. Inside the shop are “posters and knickknacks,” as McGibey describes them, but also “hidden clues.” For example, casual viewers may not notice the wooden door knobs he recently installed, but hardcore fans will remember that when Josie Packard, the owner of Packard Sawmill in the town of Twin Peaks, is killed, she becomes trapped in the wooden drawer pull of a nightstand. A true deep cut if ever there was one. “Those are in honor of Josie,” McGibney says. “People that are in the know are pretty excited about it.”
In Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, there’s Black Lodge Brewing. “People who get it, get it,” says Ginger Cantamessa, the owner and head brewer. Cantamessa’s brewery is dressed in gold, white, black, and red, the colors that tint the series. “It just fits,” she says. “Most of the time [customers] just think it’s a folky space to hang out, which is funny, considering the vibe of the show.”
To David Lynch, place and setting matter a great deal. Before Lynch pitched the series to ABC with co-creator Mark Frost, they drew a map of the fictional town. “We knew where everything was located and that helped us determine the prevailing atmosphere and what might happen there,” he said in a series of interviews with filmmaker Chris Rodley in the mid-1990s.
Importance is given not only to the total environment—in the case of Peaks, a logging town in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest surrounded by thick forests of Douglas Fir—it’s also given to hotels, diners, restaurants, bars, houses, train cars, even singular rooms. Sometimes those rooms are real, like the bedroom of Laura Palmer, who is, as Lynch describes it, the “absent center” of the show. Sometimes they’re unreal places, like the Black Lodge, which appears mostly in Agent Cooper’s dreams.
The irony in Twin Peaks is that those physical indoor spaces—the houses, hotels, restaurants, living rooms, and bedrooms of the show—are some of the least concrete settings. They may introduce a question, but they don’t answer it.
“The space is integrally related to that mystery element or to the unknown,” said Frances Pheasant-Kelly, who teaches film and screen studies at Wolverhampton University in the UK. “In Twin Peaks, the spaces are always related to something that’s unknown, and you want to know more about it. You want to know more.”
Those small interior spaces make the story too. Killer Bob, the demon who possesses Laura Palmer’s father and ultimately kills her, wasn’t in the original plan for the series. Lynch spotted set dresser Frank Silva arranging furniture in Laura’s bedroom, and, as Lynch tells it, someone on the set joked, “Frank, don’t lock yourself in the room.” And “BINGO!” He cast Silva as the show’s murderous demon, who didn’t exist until he grew out of the set.
Fans of Lynch’s work have to be OK with the nonsensical. Red herrings, diversions, garden paths, subplots, and tangential characters, scenes, and plotlines are standard, and that’s kind of the point. His work refuses to obey rules of storytelling. It’s not linear. Not all questions are answered. Not every action means something.
In Providence, Rhode Island, Daniel Becker runs Great Northern BBQ, a joint where they smoke brisket, pork, wings, and fish. When Becker joined the venture, it was a food truck named Great Northern. No relation to the show.
It wasn’t until they moved the operation from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2018 that Becker decided to go full Peaks. When he scouted the location, he noted its similarities to the Great Northern hotel of the series. When preparing to convert a space, “you have to look at what it’s saying to you, design-wise, and this space, with the wood walls and wood benches that were left behind by the last owner,” he says. “Twin Peaks just kept coming up.”
Plus, “nothing gives you more creative license to do something than to use David Lynch as a basis point,” Becker says. “He’s so abstract, so supernatural, surrealist.” He loves that Lynch’s work leaves people confounded. You get it or you don’t.
Becker says patrons bring in their friends to point out the Peaks references. “They point it out and they get very excited about it. I like that. It’s like their secret.” Becker estimates that only 2% of folks get the references, but that’s fine. He relishes the slow reveal. “I’m willing to give it the time to let it digest and let that 2% bring in their friends.”
That the tribute to Twin Peaks is so unexpected is exactly what Becker likes so much. When I asked him why Twin Peaks and barbecue, he answered, “It’s just so weird. Why not?”