Into the Woods

Henri risks it all to find the Bambi Inn

DEER ME!The Bambi Inn turned out not to be quite what Henri expected when he visited recently. But who knew the Bloody Marys were so good?

DEER ME!The Bambi Inn turned out not to be quite what Henri expected when he visited recently. But who knew the Bloody Marys were so good?

Photo By Tom Angel

Venison is not on the menu: The Bambi Inn is located 32 miles east of Chico. Take Highway 32 to the Butte Meadows turnoff and continue about five miles. You can’t miss it. The restaurant is closed Mon.-Thur. and opens Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. until mid-May, when it begins serving lunch daily at 11:00. Burgers, grilled sandwiches, chicken strips--all around $5. Saturday nights, the Bambi Inn features all-you-can-eat barbecue from 5:30-9. For more information, phone 873-4125.

Perhaps it was a sign. Serendipity. For over a year Henri had been hearing about the Bambi Inn, somewhere deep in the wilderness outside Chico, but he’d been putting off a visit. The very thought of venturing into nature makes him break out in a cold sweat.

But then one of Henri’s all-time favorite movies was digitally restored and released on DVD for the first time: Bambi, Disney’s delightful story of shattered innocence and coming of age.

Henri promptly bought a copy, took it home and watched the story of the young prince of the forest twice—gorgeous color, crystal-clear sound—and then the accompanying disk, with interactive and trivia games, “The Making of Bambi,” and previews from the sequel, scheduled for release in 2006.

So it was time. Last Sunday morning—following a late-season storm—Henri packed two solar blankets, a first-aid kit, waterproof matches, a snake-bite kit and a Costco bag of Milky Way bars and headed up Highway 32 into the wilderness, trying to assure Miss Marilyn that everything would be fine.

It wasn’t long before snow began to appear in patches by the roadside and all signs of civilization had disappeared entirely, and while I was nervous at first—I kept thinking Donner Party, Donner Party—there was a certain serenity to it all.

I was deep into the wilderness, when I saw the sign I’d been watching for: “Butte Meadows.” I turned off the highway and started up a mercilessly steep and winding grade. Soon the road leveled out and a cluster of buildings appeared in the distance, one a rather rustic structure with a sign advertising itself as the Bambi Inn. Not exactly the exterior dàcor that Henri was expecting—muddy, snowy parking lot, worn wooden porch—but he was thrilled to see the smaller sign near the door: “Biker Friendly.” Henri smiled, remembering his seventh birthday, and wondered whatever became of that old red Schwinn Stingray.

Surely, the interior would be more, well, Bambiesque. Decorations featuring Thumper, Flower and, of course, Friend Owl. Perhaps vintage posters from the movie itself. I parked, rolled the windows down an inch or so for Miss Marilyn, and went inside.

Well, the interior dàcor was not what Henri expected either. Knotty-pine walls decorated with blurry old snapshots of what looked to be wild times at the restaurant—men in baseball caps and orange vests holding large glasses of beer. Also photos of men holding dead fish. The place was empty except for the bartendress and a cute little hound of some kind curled up by the wood-burning heater.

I headed straight for the bar and ordered a Bloody Mary, which came in a huge Mason-jar mug. Delicious. I ordered another and then a BLT—also excellent—and was taking my last bite when I noticed them. Deer heads. On the wall. Three of them. One with a golf club across the antlers! A golf club! And a hangman’s noose hanging from one of the little horns!


Henri was shattered. I could barely finish my third drink.

In a daze, I stood and headed for the door, turning one last time only to see the bear-skin rug nailed to the ceiling. Quelle horreur! I stumbled to the car and sat with Miss Marilyn for a long time trying to make sense of it all. I shook my head to clear it, and then just as I was driving away, six big motorcycles pulled up and parked under the “Biker Friendly” sign. Oh.

When I got home, I watched Bambi again—over and over the part where Bambi’s mother is shot by a hunter and the little prince of the forest is left all alone to face the cruel world.