Pappy & Harriet’s opened its doors in 1982 and saw a number of prosperous years as a family friendly restaurant with live music. After being sold and experiencing a few down years, in 2003 Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz left behind their lives in New York and headed West with the dream of taking over the space and turning it into a destination for Rock ‘n’ Rollers and music lovers alike. After a decade, their dreams have been realized, and the number of stars that have graced Pappy & Harriet’s stage reads like Who’s who of musicians: Eric Burdon, Bonnie Raitt, Les Claypool, Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Page, Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, and Sean Lennon, just to name a few. When we met up with Robin we sheltered ourselves inside from the sun and heat, surrounded by memorabilia evoking legendary nights of music.
You’re from New York City, which couldn’t be more different from Pioneer Town visually, what brought you here?
I grew up in New York since 1985, and around 2003 the New York that I loved just became a different city completely. I mean, I still love New York, I think about it all the time, but it was just time to move on, and I know it’s insane that I came out to the desert, but I love this place, I used to come here and loved it. When it was for sale I thought it just needed some new energy.
What were you doing in New York before?
When I lived in New York I was basically in bands, I was a singer, played guitar, and was a waitress. The two things that I knew were music and the restaurant business.
"I love the desert nights, like when it's 7:30pm and still light out and you're driving home and it is just beautiful"
So – take the three things you know best and build a business around them?
Totally! I said, “Okay, what can you do?” That’s the point, that’s the question, Robyn, because now it is time to do something.
How did you discover this place?
My business partner Linda, who owns Pappy’s with me, was in the film industry, she did a movie out in Pioneer Town. This was in the 90s, maybe.
Is Pioneertown still movie set?
It is all the facades of the actual movie set, but when Linda was filming the movie out here Pappy had already died and Harriet was running the place by herself. Then Linda came back to New York and told a bunch of us, “You’ve got to come see this place!” So a bunch of New Yorkers would come out every New Year’s Eve and just get rooms in the motel in back of Pappy’s and have a great time. Then one year we came up and it wasn’t the same, this was before the financial world collapsed – we literally bought this place with credit cards.
What did you change?
I think nothing’s really changed except that we tried to make the food and service better and have different kind of music. But nothing was done quickly, it was all a very slow, organic kind of thing.
Is it hard to get service people here?
That’s a funny thing, when I was waiting tables, there were thousands of girls that were ready and waiting to take my job – if I didn’t show up for work, or went out of town, or anything! Here it’s not that way. You know what I mean? It is kind of like you can’t just fire somebody, you need them. (laughs)
Where do they come from?
I have a couple of girls that were raised in Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley, some from Orange County, some from New Jersey – now people come from all over.
How do you attract all the bands and musicians that come play?
I didn’t know a soul, honestly! When we came out here we met Dave Catching from Rancho de la Luna – they have been really sweet and they have always talked about us to their friends and I just always felt that if you treat musicians really well they are going to just tell their friends and it will just escalate. That is exactly how it happened.
What was your favorite show so far?
Oh god, I don’t know. My first show was Lucinda Williams. That is one of my favorites because I can’t believe we pulled it off. Rufus and Martha Wainwright was an amazing one, just to have it here was like “What?!” There have been so many.
Do you have more locals or tourists?
This place is crazy, in the summer it is very local because who’s going to come to the desert in the summer? It’s too hot. In April and May it’s a lot of out-of-towners. I think that it’s a lot cheaper for people to drive to the desert instead of Arizona these days, so we are getting a lot of people on weekend getaways.
What’s your favorite season?
I think the best season here is the spring. It’s beautiful, gorgeous really.
How is life compared to life in New York?
I think when I first moved out here I wasn’t even thinking about it – we just hit the ground running but we couldn’t fail. We had to make this place work. I think that after a couple of years went by, you know, I could breathe a little bit. There was a moment, after a couple of years, when I had a little bit of a freak out where I thought I had to go home, that I couldn’t be out here anymore, but I love it here now. I miss the people from the East Coast because they’re different, but I love it here and I’ve made lifelong friends out here.
What do you like most about the desert?
I love the desert nights, like when it’s 7:30 pm and still light out and you’re driving home and it is just beautiful.
And what makes it hard?
(laughs) Sometimes I just want to walk on something concrete, you know, it’s like sand everywhere here.
Plans for the future?
We’ll just keep working, just keep building Pappy & Harriet’s up – that’s really it. There’s always something to fix, it’s a really old building.
Do you also own the motel?
No, we have nothing to do with the motel. No way. (laughs)