There's always a flatbed truck loaded with huge logs driving past the Double-R Diner. Inside, the uncannily beautiful waitresses wear uniforms that are the blue of the sky somewhere besides this place, where the world is always cloaked in diffuse gray. The uniforms are white-trimmed, stylized, a signal from an iconographic American past where you'd be called "hon," and your coffee would never be empty; likewise the old- fashioned jukebox, which would only ever whir to life to play a torch song or a crooner or something to set the toes of saddle shoes tapping.
The man sitting at the counter—there is a horseshoe-shaped counter, with swiveling stools rooted to the floor, because there must be—the man sitting at the counter in the background works at the sawmill, and he's wearing his absurd silver hard hat while he eats his breakfast. The message, if you care to see: You never know when something terrible will come down upon your head. The boy-man who comes in to flirt in an almost sinister way with the waitresses, the one with the fast car and the leather jacket: He's both the football jock and the angry rebel, and his electric energy makes the jukebox light up almost of its own accord. "I'll see you in my dreams," he says as he departs, a threat as much as a promise. "Not if I see you first," the older, wiser waitress replies.
The Double-R Diner is in the town of Twin Peaks, located five miles south of the Canadian border, 12 miles west of the state line, in the imagination of David Lynch. "Diane," says Special Agent Dale Cooper of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into his bulky handheld tape recorder on the way into town for the first time, addressing his never-to-be-seen secretary; he tells her about the cherry pie he had at the Lamplighter Inn, giving the price for his expense report, and wonders at the trees. "I've never seen so many trees in my life. As W. C. Fields would say, I'd rather be here than Philadelphia."
Twin Peaks is, as you must know, David Lynch's 1990–91 television series exploring the realms of good and evil, in and far beyond its titular small town, filmed here in the Pacific Northwest. Its darkness, weirdness, sense of humor, and endless foreboding pretty much exploded TV sets across the country; if you think the renaissance of television began on HBO, you have never seen Twin Peaks. The town of Twin Peaks is, as all things Hollywood are, a falsity. The real-life diner is in North Bend, while the Great Northern Hotel with its inevitable waterfall is some miles away, at Snoqualmie Falls. The naked, plastic-wrapped dead body of Laura Palmer, homecoming queen and so much more, is found washed up by a huge driftwood log at a location that Twin Peaks fans know is Kiana Lodge, way over on the Kitsap Peninsula (Great Northern interiors were also filmed there). Her blue-gray skin looks almost opalescent; her face is flecked with mica.
The real-life Twin Peaks diner was the site of pilgrimages in the 1990s, with tour buses and festivals and much picture-taking. In the series, Special Agent Cooper—played as both unremittingly square and profoundly odd by handsomely dark-haired Kyle MacLachlan—wonders at the old-fashioned, pure goodness of the place. It moves him to swear, in the squarest, most gentlemanly way: "You know, this is—excuse me—a damn fine cup of coffee." The pie served there becomes emblematic of the unassailable, the heavenly, the world as it should (but never will) be.
Kyle MacLachlan visits Seattle this week. As part of the Seattle International Film Festival, he'll be interviewed onstage before a screening of the Twin Peaks pilot on June 3 (which, in addition to a pricey reception at posh Mistral, is sold out). In his honor, I went to North Bend to drink coffee and eat pie.
It's not really the number of trees around here—lots of places have so many trees—but how densely and darkly firred the forests are. These aren't the frivolous trees of elsewhere, waving their branches and shimmying pretty leaves; our Douglas firs are serious, possessed of both beauty and the ominous, as nature should be. Go to witness it anew, and this will strike you, as it did Special Agent Cooper (and, clearly, David Lynch). Take the Fall City exit on Interstate 90 and keep going east, to Snoqualmie Falls and onward to North Bend, and you will see the same trees from the show, 20 years bigger, and the same curves of the road.
What is not the same is the Double-R Diner. Of course, it never was the Double-R Diner at all; when Twin Peaks was filmed, it was called the Mar-T Cafe, and the illuminated sign had a cursive red neon "RR" added to it. Then the cafe was sold and became Twede's, which, in a Twin Peaks–worthy plot development, was set on fire in the middle of a quiet North Bend night. A burglar or burglars broke in and made off with $450, according to a 2000 Seattle Times article on the wall back by the bathrooms; the arson was perhaps meant to cover up the crime.
The old jukebox, the wood-paneled walls, and the mustard Formica counter with its red and silver stools are all gone. The remodel is already showing its age: The dropped acoustic-panel ceiling is stained, the black-and-white checkered floor scuffed. The replacement booths are upholstered in a dark, sparkly blue, in a sort of neo-1950s gesture that, alongside some pilled fabric conference-room chairs, registers as a little sad. A few large, dusty plush toy Tweety Birds hang here and there (because of the name Twede's, apparently). The counter is smaller and farther back and taller, and no one sits there. On top of it is a hodgepodge, including postcards and a Plexiglas display of "Fun Books" for sale. The only visible title is The Holy Bible.
There's one old photo that David Lynch would like, of the exterior of the place at the very beginning, when it was Thompson's Cafe, with a line of 1940s trucks passing by carrying sections of a log that is truly immense—a giant of the forest, felled and sectioned and carried off to its American uses and abuses. He might also like the model trains, not bidding for much attention on high shelves.
Neither David Lynch nor Special Agent Cooper would like the pie at Twede's Cafe, for it is abysmal. "This must be where pies go when they die"—Coop's line in Twin Peaks was meant in a good way, but this pie is on the verge of expiration. The crust is dry where it should be moist, compressed where it should be light, mealy where it should be flaky. The cherry filling is a lurid, unnatural red; it looks like artificial cherry flavor tastes, and the taste itself is overpowered by the gelatinous texture. The apple pie seems a little better, by dint of not trying so hard, but still: gelatinous, and then there are a couple bites that have small, unidentifiable fibrous bits in them.
The coffee is very hot, as coffee should be. But it comes in a mug that depressingly reads "Home of Twin Peaks Cherry Pie and 'A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee,'" which it is not. The mug, the spoon, the place, all have a little bit of a film on them. And the service, which is otherwise exactly diner-fine—gravelly voiced and not at all unkind—falls down in the one key area: The coffee is never refilled.
Hardly anyone else is there, and it's dinnertime. It feels like a place that is slipping away, which is sad, even though the original is long gone anyway. Back outside, there are a couple of Twin Peaks–themed murals, and the sign still looks both right and wrong, and in the distance, there are the trees.