The fact that the Bagdad Cafe doesn’t mean much to most Americans is perhaps exactly why it means so much to the rest of the world. Every day, international film buffs venture into the middle of the Mojave Desert by the busload to visit this dinky Route 66 roadside cafe. The set location of German filmmaker Percy Adlon’s 1987 indie cult-classic of the same name, the Bagdad Cafe is the Mojave Desert’s cinematic claim to fame.
It wasn’t always the Bagdad Cafe. Until the producers selected it for the location of their film, it was known as the Sidewinder Cafe. The name “Bagdad” was employed in reference to a ghost town 50 miles east on Route 66 called Bagdad, a nod to its situation in the driest corner of the contiguous United States.
The understated comedy-drama—which is titled Out of Rosenheim in Germany—tracks the unlikely friendship that emerges between two women, a German tourist and an African-American cafe owner, and how that bond rejuvenates the crumbling eatery into a vibrant meeting-point for a town of quirky characters. American audiences largely overlooked the quiet charm of the low-budget work, with the exception of Roger Ebert, who wrote that the film “sets us free from the production line of Hollywood’s brain-damaged ‘high concepts’ and walks its own strange and lovely path.” European audiences in particular fell under its spell, birthing pilgrimages among international fans who, to this day, come to pay homage, even in the heat of July and August (European holiday season). In 1995, the cafe’s real-life owners leaned into the film’s pull, officially changing the name to the Bagdad Cafe.
The cafe’s interior tells of the busloads of visitors received over the years. Flags from countries the world over hang from the ceiling, stickers cling to every inch of wall, and guest books overflow with comments (mostly in French) stretching back several decades.