When it comes to movies, Eugene is famous for being the home of National Lampoon’s “Animal House”. Unfortunately, the actual animal house was torn down shortly after the movie was shot. And although all the other locations still exist, many or most have been remodeled or otherwise altered. But another well-known movie had a memorable scene shot in Eugene, and its location is remarkably well-preserved. How much longer is a question, as traditional diners like Denny’s are becoming endangered species in this part of the world, home to so many hip new restaurants.
Having driven by it for over 25 years, I decided I better stop and get a few shots, as I’ve learned to trust my intuition on these matters.
First, here’s the famous scene of Jack Nicholson trying to order a plain omelette and toast, from the 1970 movie “Five Easy Pieces”. Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, a surly oil-derrick worker who comes from a privileged youth and was a piano prodigy. When Bobby learns that his father is dying, he goes home to see him, taking along his waitress girlfriend (Karen Black). They pick up two hitchhikers, who add some additional color to their journey up north to the Puget Sound.
And they get hungry along the way, and stop in at this diner just off I-5 in Eugene, which was not a Denny’s at the time.
One of the likely reasons this diner is still so well preserved is because it’s in a terrible location. Presumably it was built shortly after I-5 was built, along with a Motel 6 next to it, but this spot turned out to be rather awkward to get to, and nothing else was ever built there. meanwhile, two miles further north on I-5 is the huge and bustling Gateway area. But just as well, as it really does feel like a time capsule, tucked into this little crook of land off an exit nobody in Eugene ever takes.
I’ve driven by it forever, but did not know how to actually get to it, and botched my first attempt.
Which probably explains why it’s mostly empty at 11:45 AM the day I popped my head in to take a quick shot. The folks that were there all looked like local regulars. No tourists would ever find themselves here, unless they were coming to find the diner in this movie. The hanging lights are a new addition, but otherwise it looks mighty similar to the way it looks in the movie.
And no, I wasn’t tempted to stay and eat lunch (no offense to you Denny’s lovers). I looked at the menu and there are no sides of toast. That’s a must.
I have never seen that movie, and must watch it some time.
I have eaten at Denny’s, but it has been a long time. The Grand Slam breakfast offered at all hours of the night made it a great place in college. Actually it sounds pretty good right about now. Count me as a fan of classic American diner food.
It has Jack Nicholson in it so it can’t be bad 🙂 Actually it has been many years since I last saw “Five Easy Pieces” and the diner scene is about all I remember. Time to check on Netflix.
” The Grand Slam breakfast offered at all hours of the night made it a great place in college.”
I too enjoyed Denny’s food back in my youth, but rarely find myself in one today.
However, if I arrive in a strange town after 10 PM, and everything else is closed, Denny’s is a good late dinner option. Their fare is much like a GM rental- Nothing special, may be poorly assembled, but it meets all your basic needs.
I do remember that movie, and that scene, well. As far as the diner is concerned it would be just the place I would go to for a breakfast. Describe a place as being “hip” and I run for the hills as fast as possible.
Now I have never had dinner in a Denny’s and maybe lunch once or twice in my life. I have had many a Grand Slam breakfast in the mornings though. Plus, while in college, it was a better place to catch a snack breakfast at one in the morning after partying. Certainly far better than Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, or god forbid Der Weinerschnitzell in San Diego.
I stumbled into Taco Smell many times after the bars closed.
The Grand Slam breakfast offered at all hours of the night made it a great place in college.
That’s what I miss the most after moving back to Germany. The late night Döner Kebap sandwiches or Imbiss weren’t anywhere closer to the American breakfast after pub crawling or discotheque.
In Denver, my favourite is Pete’s Kitchen on East Colfax where there’s always a long queue every Saturday and Sunday mornings, but the wait was less than fifteen minutes due to quick and efficient service.
One of the best things about 60’s through 80’s movies was high-quality filming on location in contemporary, often urban areas. No studios and no CGI. I enjoy old movies for their interesting and unintended vignettes into the past, like this diner scene.
Unrelated point….. I also enjoy these movies for their long, unedited takes, using one camera. Actors actually had to memorize several minutes of dialogue at a time, with minimal dependence on editing for a quality final product.
“Five Easy Pieces” is a great example of the “new Hollywood era”, which started with 1967’s “Bonnie & Clyde” and lasted through the ‘70’s until blockbusters like “Jaws” & “Star Wars” brought it to an end. I’m sure some of you noticed the woman in the last scene was in the backseat of a breezeway, a 1963 Mercury Monterey, which was used throughout the film.
Another movie filmed in Eugene is the 1980 comedy “How to Beat the High Cost of Living”.
Hi PaulChgo, You wrote “… I’m sure some of you noticed the woman in the last scene was in the backseat of a breezeway, a 1963 Mercury Monterey …”
I don’t recall much of the movie 5EP (I saw it when it came out) but you’re exactly right, I immediately noticed the backward slant of the Mercury Breezeway rear window in the above short clip.
Funny how the details of old cars stay with me forever while I cannot recall the names of people I met two days ago.
I like the architecture of this Eugene Denny’s — I guess since it wasn’t built as a Denny’s it could be more interesting than the typical Denny’s corporate architecture of the time (or at least what we had on the East Coast).
This is an example from here in Virginia… taken in the early 1980s. Note the gold-trimmed Cimarron in the parking lot.
5 Easy Pieces:
Jack Nicholson on the 88’s…. being passed by a Valiant & a Chevelle.
At this this point in time I have not watched the entire movie, although I watched a couple of scenes many years ago.
Whether here at home or at the downtown Denny’s in San Francisco (A few steps from Mel’s Diner) I’m a fan of the Denny’s restaurant chain. To have a meal in a cafe or diner that has some history and still in its original structure and interior finish is a treat.
Mrs. M and I have talked about driving to Portland when we visit the grandchildren in Redmond, WA next spring. Perhaps a detour to Eugene and lunch at the featured Denny’s would be included?
That place totally reminds me of Sacramento’s Pancake Circus. Actually the roof on Pancake Circus is basically the inverse of the one on that diner, it slopes upwards towards the front of the building in that oh so mid-century style. And it’s a total time capsule, too. The building apparently dates from 1961 and it’s been Pancake Circus since 1970, and it appears the place hasn’t changed a bit since then.
Paul, I gotta know why you require a side of toast?
A related joke I read years ago:
There was a newlywed couple, the wife didn’t have much cooking experience, but she tried, and her husband loved her so, anyways.
Shortly after getting married, the husband had a request for two slices of buttered, blackened toast at the end of every meal, sometimes as many as four. She never asked why, and he didn’t elaborate.
One evening, several months into the marriage, the wife made his favorite meal, a pot roast with the usual sides. At the end of the meal, she asked if he would like his customary toast, to which he replied, “No, thank you. It won’t be necessary, this meal was especially tasty!”
Buh da bump…
Dennys does seem to be endangered, the one in Bend Oregon closed in the early 2000s and the Beaverton Dennys on Scholls Ferry Road was demolished and replaced by a mattress store in 2017. That one hurt because it was a piece of our kids’ childhood that disappeared.
Fortunately Shari’s is still alive and kicking with their patented octagonal buildings.
I grew up in New York so diners are important to me
A lot of chain restaurants have been on the decline in the past decade or so, especially ones in the “casual dining” category which would include Denny’s. I think it has a lot to do with people’s changing tastes when it comes to restaurants. It used to be that being part of a chain was a good thing, because it meant you knew exactly what to expect no matter what city you were in. Now everyone wants fresh, local, organic, etc.
I also suspect the rise of smartphones and apps like Yelp have changed how people find restaurants when traveling. Before I had a smartphone if I was in an unfamiliar city and needed to eat, I’d drive around until I saw a familiar restaurant that looked appealing and stop there. Now I pull out my phone (not while driving, of course!), look to see what restaurants are good in that area, and decide where I want to go. More often than not that ends up being a local mom & pop place, not a chain.
Anyone remember Sambos’s? All gone but one now apparently somewhere in California. We used to be chock-full of Big Boys here in the Detroit area and in Michigan. Not too many of those left. At least in our area, mom-and-pop diners, many owned owned by hard working Eastern European immigrant families are still alive and well and plentiful. Some good, some not so good.
We had one in the little eastern TN town I grew up in. My recollection was Sambo was a tiger perhaps? It was closed by the early 80s. We only went out to eat 3 or 4 times a year and went there for breakfast every now and then, otherwise it was Mom’s cafe. This was not unusual at all. My father, now in his 80s, cannot make toast so mom did every bit of it. Imagine that today!
Sambo the restaurant chain was actually named after its two founders, but they incorporated much of the imagery and characters from an 1899 children’s book called The Story Of Little Black Sambo. Although the story placed the child in India many American editions of the book used illustrations that fed into the kinds of racial stereotypes that were all too common then. The restaurant chain got caught up in the controversy and was, well, toast by the mid 70s.
For those unfamiliar with the story tie-in, it was about a kid who lived in the jungle. One day some tigers were going to eat him and he somehow tricked them into chasing each other around a tree so fast that they turned into butter. Sambo took the butter home and his mother made pancakes and everyone lived happily ever after. I don’t think the restaurant actually used butter made from tigers, but they milked the story hard in its menu and decorating. They clearly picked the wrong story to hitch themselves to.
Curiously enough, we had a Sambo’s here in Fairfax, Virginia, which closed in the 1980s and was replaced by… a Denny’s. The Denny’s is still there.
I havent seen a Denny’s close in SoCal. There still seems to be one at nearly every off ramp along I-5, as well as the “South Bay curve” part of I-405. Chain fast food may be doing better, but Denny’s still survives.
the Dennys in Glenwood has been a Dennys since the 60’s. I know since I worked there, starting as a dishwasher and was a cook at the time they filmed it. I looked too young, so the manager stood in a the cook.