Burbank is a bit of a Western town. “High Noon” and “3:10 to Yuma” were filmed there, at the old Columbia Ranch. Also “Blazing Saddles.” Equestrian zoning allows some residents to stable horses. And at one local watering hole, there’s a standoff.

Late last year, amid a surge in COVID cases, California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, banned all in-person dining in restaurants. Baret Lepejian, the owner of Tinhorn Flats, a joint with swinging saloon doors, refused to follow the order. “It’s pure tyranny,” he told the conservative commentator Mike Slater. “This is right up there with organized crime.”

When L.A. went back into lockdown, Tinhorn kept its patio open. Pork chops on Thursday, steak on Friday, N.F.L. on Sunday. The county health department sent inspectors, who, stationed across the street, photographed lines of risk-tolerant patrons slipping through a side door. When an inspection team went inside, a customer shouted, “I am surprised one of your health inspectors hasn’t been murdered yet!”

The situation escalated. Tinhorn was sued by the city, cited by the county, fined, and red-tagged. Its health permit was revoked. The griddles stayed hot—until the city shut off its electricity. Lepejian’s son, Lucas, brought in a generator. In March, the city padlocked the doors. Lucas sawed off the latch. On Instagram, Baret wrote, “We open at 12 noon. . . . Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!” The elder Lepejian, who currently lives in Thailand, supports his son. “I’m a peace-and-harmony guy,” he said, by telephone, from a beach south of Bangkok. “But they’re trying to take my business away. Honestly, if the rules came straight from God, I wouldn’t do it.”

Weeks passed, and neither side blinked. The city nailed plywood over Tinhorn’s door frames. Lucas sawed those off, too. Baret posted a photograph of the Tiananmen Square tank man with the caption “WE WILL NOT COMPLY.” The next day, Lucas was arrested. Then he was arrested again, for continuing to violate a court order, and again, for removing sandbags that the city had stacked in front of the door. On April 10th, at the city’s behest, a local contractor—one who has serviced zoos and airports—drilled holes in the sidewalk and installed a chain-link fence, encircling the restaurant. The Lepejians’ attorney told the L.A. Times, “It basically looks like the siege of Fallujah.”

The outlaws dug in. Forcing the city to close their business was a way of doing business. On GoFundMe, the Lepejians have raised nearly a hundred thousand dollars. On their Web site, shirts printed with Lucas’s mug shot go for twenty-seven bucks. Weekly rallies, featuring “freedom burgers” served on the sidewalk, attract protesters, gawkers, and live-streamers to the fenced-off Flats. Holly Cleeland attends the rallies (she calls them “flag waves”) even though she wasn’t a Tinhorn regular. “It’s a dude’s place,” she said. “But we’re standing up for liberty, freedom, the Constitution.” Her girlfriends, she said, go down to Newport Beach to party, “because you don’t have to wear a mask or anything.” She went on, “That’s not for me. If you don’t stand up and fight, they’re going to steamroll us!”

On a recent evening, a resident walking his dog nearby paused to reflect on the embattled establishment. “Some of the demonstrations get pretty big, pretty noisy, with bullhorns, all kinds of nonsense,” he said. On the corner, a strolling couple chimed in. “A lot of these protesters, they’re from out of town,” the woman said. In a front yard, two new parents agreed: after the first weeks, the Tinhorn regulars weren’t showing up as much. They were replaced by a different class of agitators, with their own priorities. “You can hear them say, ‘Oh, Beverly Hills is here, San Diego is here!’ ” the mother said, her hand on a stroller. “Like a roll call.”

Night was falling. Across the street, outside Handy Market, where Tinhorn used to buy its beef, an employee was taking a break. He wore an N95 and blue nitrile gloves. The protesters—recently, around a hundred and fifty of them—had made life difficult. “A few would come in here, buy beer, cause a ruckus, tell our customers to take off their masks and stuff,” he said. “Weird mix of people. I avoid it.

“It’s crazy, too,” he went on. “If they just followed the rules, they could be open!” The ban on outdoor dining had been lifted in January, and indoor dining has been allowed since March. Tinhorn was looking like a battlefield without a battle. “It’s pretty quiet now,” the employee said. “They’ll be back, though.” A tumbleweed might’ve blown down Magnolia Boulevard. ♦

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