JAMES SCHWATZ / Bull
Mulholland Highway on a weekday is a relatively quiet place, tranquil even. Apart from the residents who live on the dusty road and the odd squirrel or coyote attempting to cross it, the winding highway is virtually deserted.
But on any given weekend, this stillness is shattered by the near deafening roar of motorcycles hurtling up and down the canyon passes. And chances are, they are heading towards the The Rock Store.
It is an incredible sight. After driving down Mulholland’s twisting and turning bends under an endless cerulean sky and beaming sun, you turn your wheel again for the umpteenth time and there, as if out of nowhere, you are confronted with the sight of seemingly countless motorcycles, the sweltering SoCal sun glistening off their metallic paint-jobs, all parked more or less neatly in rows.
Ever since opening its doors in 1961, The Rock Store has become a place of legend for motorcycle enthusiasts from all walks of life.
The original building is made solely of rocks and mortar (hence the name), with some metal supports here and there in order to keep up to date with the earthquake code. “You can’t make buildings like this anymore. This is all hand made, all pieced together, hand mortared,” explains Billy
Favaro, a young bartender gesturing to the wall of rock behind him. “They literally packed it in there by hand. You can’t build buildings like this anymore, they’d fall down.” It was originally used as a stagecoach stop. It changed hands a few times before Ed and Vern Savko, a young couple from Pittsburgh bought it and turned it into a convenience store in 1961. But because of its location in the mountains, it was in a prime location to serve as a pit-stop for whoever might be riding.
“Steve Mcqueen, Jason Robards, and James Dean parked their bikes under the tree, and it was just word of mouth. Next week there were more and more bikes,” explains Vern. And ever since then, it has become an iconic place in motorcycle culture.
There is also a small cafe built of wood along side it, selling omelets and pancakes in the morning, and hamburgers, hot-dogs and tri-tip sandwiches for lunch. The cafe is split into two levels. On the ground level are three red leather booths and a counter that looks in on the kitchen with its oily griddle and gas hobs lazily spouting yellow flames around the base of well-used frying pans.
There is a Native American theme to the paint-job, now somewhat discolored from age and a fine covering of greasy smoke from the incalculable number of burgers, hot dogs and omelets that have been cooked there over the years. Upstairs there is more seating, and a big screen TV which seems to always have a football game on it.
There are some plastic tables set out by the trunk of a towering oak tree which has motorcycle-related fliers and all kinds of long forgotten nails, staples, thumbtacks, and pins used for securing them still tacked on to it. Behind it and up some stone steps to the right side of The Rock Store is a patio area with some more tables and an outdoor bar, behind which a red and blue neon sign that reads “Rock N’ Roll” is stereotypically flickering away.
In the front of the cafe there is an old, bored looking gas pump, which gives the impression that it spat out its last gallon years ago. And under the shade of the enormous oak tree, the leather clad can be found milling around each other’s bikes, exchanging technical information and admiration.
“You get to see a wide variety of bikes, and you meet a lot of nice people, you see the same people up on the weekend,” shouts Steve Sabo, trying to contend with a particularly loud Harley peeling out. Walking through the throngs of bikes and riders, you can’t help but pick up shards of conversations, most of which involve chrome in them at one point or another.
There are all kinds of bikes here, from the traditional Harley-Davidsons to the super fast Asian Suzukis and Hondas, and maybe even a three wheeled motorcycle or two.
“Riding is just a different kind of way of life and culture, and a great way to meet new friends,” says Mark Stevens, who owns “that Heritage (motorcycle) over there with the ice chest of beer on the back.”
The clientele does not only consist of hard-core bikers who have tattoo sleeves, bandanas, and cut-off denim jackets with patches, although there are a fair few.
“When someone says bikers, they think of gangs, but I have lawyers, and doctors for just about anything out there,” explains Vern “Come talk to them, they are not outlaws.”
The Rock Store also has its fair share of celebrities. Jay Leno is a regular here, showing up on his jet-powered motorcycle. And Arnold Schwarzenegger used to ride up all the time before he broke his femur while skiing.
Despite its rough look, The Rock Store is a remarkably friendly place. There are even families with kids staring in awe at the bikes in their shimmering glory. It is a great place to come and hang out at even if you don’t ride. As Vern says, “If you don’t have a friend when you come here, you’ll have one when you leave.”