June 15, 2010 — It's been exactly 20 years since Twin Peaks aired, but most of us who have watched the show, well, we never quite left Twin Peaks.
All it takes is for a few of the slow, somber notes of the Twin Peaks theme song to start blowing through our ear canals to take us back to a strange time in our lives, a time when we eagerly visited a place where a dancing midget talked backwards in a red room, where a woman’s pet log held unfathomable secrets, where a single prom picture somehow symbolized mystery, evil, and hope all at the same time, and where an accidental camera shot of a set director in a mirror would birth one of the most evil characters in the history of a medium historically bad at depicting evil.
And we still bear the emotional scars.
Twenty years ago, David Lynch introduced his impossible-to-summarize series Twin Peaks to a public used to watching television shows like Perfect Strangers, L.A. Law, and MacGyver. To summarize, Twin Peaks is the story of an FBI investigator attempting to solve the strange murder of a teenage girl named Laura Palmer in the small logging town of Twin Peaks, Washington. Overtly surreal, darkly supernatural, and peopled with characters that somehow seemed both perfectly normal and oddly deformed, the first season made television watchers vibrate excitedly on the same wavelength for a few months and made many realize that television might not have been living up to its potential for the past 60 years.
Unfortunately, the fervor deflated faster than a weather balloon hoax when the network put pressure on the show creators to reveal the solution to the central mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder. Halfway through the second season they did just that, and it was an incredible revelation in a scene that still haunts me daily. However, without that foundational mystery, the show quickly lost its resonance and then its viewership before being canceled by the end of its second season. Lynch revisited the story later in 1992 with a theatrical-release film called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me that depicted the harrowing last days of the doomed teenager and added spectacular ammunition for whatever entities are in charge of my nightmares.
My own personal history with Twin Peaks is a bit time-shifted. As is sometimes my way with cultural phenomena, I didn’t experience this particular one until years later. I try to stagger stuff like that to avoid being too trendy. One day I may find out who shot J.R., if Sam Beckett ever leaped home, and what that island on Lost is all about. However, even a decade or so after it originally aired, I went through the same bafflement, intrigue, horror, breathlessness, amazement, and disappointment as everybody else did previously. Just on a faster cycle thanks to Netflix (and in a different order thanks to a ludicrously convoluted DVD release schedule).
A lot of the exterior shots of Twin Peaks were filmed in the Snoqualmie Valley area of Washington, not too far from Seattle, in the towns of Snoqualmie, North Bend, and probably others. As we drove the area, I don’t remember seeing any logging trucks like the ones that cropped up here and there in the series, but there were many signs of the area’s logging history. I mean, like literal signs proclaiming the area’s logging history.
Since the main Twin Peaks site we came to see was a restaurant, we made sure to time it for dinner. That’s right, I’m talking about the Double R Diner, frequented by just about every character in the series and home to the famous cherry pie and (excuse me) “damn fine cup of coffee” that became beacons of light and comfort for the characters in the gloom that was Twin Peaks.
Located at 137 West North Bend Way in North Bend, the restaurant is called Twede’s Café these days. Only the original pilot and the later movie filmed inside, with a better-lit studio mock-up used at all other points in the series. Back when it was a Twin Peaks filming location, it was the Mar-T Café. Even with the name changes, you won’t be confused whether you’re at the right diner or not. “Twin Peaks” is painted in large letters on the front, along with a Twin Peaks mural at the back and a menu inside that touts its film lineage mercilessly.
But you will be confused when you enter. Other than a parallelogram of pinkish neon tubes on the ceiling, the place where pies go when they die looks nothing like the place where we were all mesmerized by the sultry swaying of an entranced Audrey Horne. That’s because sometime around 2000, a fire walked with the interior so that the place had to be remodeled. Now, instead of the décor being stuck comfortably somewhere at 1960s truck stop, it’s now stuck awkwardly at 1980s teen hangout, with sparkly blue vinyl booths and pop culture kitsch on the walls.
Still, we chose one of those sparkly booths and jumped right into a menu that featured a Twin Peaks burger (two patties, two forms of pig, two cheeses) and touted the famous coffee and pie. Now, I don’t drink coffee for philosophic reasons, but we made sure to order the cherry pie, which unfortunately did not come with a piece of paper and a pencil for us to write an epic poem about it. Ha, that Gordon Cole. Best director cameo in the history of vanity. The pie was pretty good, even for a 20-year build-up and even accounting for changes in ownership and, I’m sure, recipes. Probably good enough, in fact, that I too could have forgotten the horrifying murder of a young girl for the few minutes it took me to eat it.
It was relatively crowded when we visited, so I was too embarrassed to take any pictures of the interior as a whole, but on a wall at the back of the restaurant near the bathroom were a bunch of pictures from the show, which seems like it would be tacit permission for picture taking. That, and the “Twin Peaks” painted in large letters on the front of the diner, the Twin Peaks mural at the back, and the menu inside that touts its film lineage mercilessly. I still didn’t.
The big surprise to me about the location was the fact that there really was a big hunk of mountain just outside the restaurant. I actually thought it had been special effected into the diner exterior scenes of the show for special effect. I forget that there was a day we didn’t spill CGI all over our moving pictures.
The Double R Diner was the only site I really wanted to see amidst all the generic house exteriors and natural scenery shots that made up the Twin Peaks Washington locations. I had other places to explore and, after all, I’m not this guy (although damn-it-all I wish I were. He even found the branch on which the bird sat during the opening credit sequence). However, only about five miles away in the town of Snoqualmie was another central location that was an easy stop, the Great Northern Hotel, where dying souls get trapped in dresser knobs, spectral giants appear out of nowhere, and FBI agents hang by their heels from the ceiling while gleefully speaking into audio recorders.
On our way, we passed by the horizontal section of giant log also featured in the opening credits. These days, a roof protects the gigantic 400-year-old Douglas Fir torso, which probably has quite a few other notches in its trunk to be proud of than a mere television series cameo.
The outside of the Great Northern Hotel was played by what is currently the Salish Lodge and Spa, located at 6501 Railroad Ave. SE. Behind it roars Snoqualmie Falls, right on the side of the road. A free viewing platform gives you pretty much the exact angle that you see the falls and hotel from in the opening credits (this article is starting to sound like I only watched the opening credits). To my eye, the falls even looked like it poured a few frames too slow.
We didn’t bother go inside the lodge, because the show interiors were based on a totally different hotel. Besides, by the time I saw the falls, I’d pretty much exorcised most of the Twin Peaks ghosts still clinging to me. Still, and not to get all old-Winona-Ryder-in-Edward-Scissorhands on you, but I sometimes like to pretend that Laura Palmer’s murder remains unsolved. That way I have an excuse to go back.