Bagdad / without “h” (Bagdad, USA)

Baghdad. Walking through a place called “Bagdad” in USA, not in Iraq. Notice that it is not spelled “Baghdad”, but Bagdad without “h”.

I noticed while traveling in US, there are many places with the same place name. Examples of town names include Springfield, Lebanon, Salem, and Washington. Of course, US is large and has large population, it has something to do with the fact that there are many towns, but even so, I think that there are a lot of the same names.

Personally, one name that stands out is Bagdad. When saying Baghdad, you think of the capital of Iraq, but the spelling of Baghdad in US is different. Baghdad in Iraq is Baghdad, while the place in US is Bagdad, without “h” in the spelling.

Why is this? I have been thinking about various things, such as whether the person who named the town misspelled Baghdad in Iraq, or whether Baghdad in Iraq was also written as Bagdad in the past, but I have not come to a conclusion.

Here, I write about a place called Bagdad in US. I believe there must be a reason why there is no “h” spelling in Bagdad mentioned above. That is because all three Bagdad cities I visited did not have an “h” in their spelling. It is hard to imagine not knowing the existence of Baghdad, Iraq, when naming the city Bagdad.

Bagdad Cafe

This Bagdad Cafe is also the title of the movie. This is West German film made in 1987. Setting is a cafe in the Mojave Desert in eastern California, USA. The name of this cafe is Bagdad Cafe. The film location for the Bagdad Cafe is near the town of “Newberry Springs” in Mojave Desert. The cafe actually existed, but its name was Sidewinder Cafe, not Bagdad Cafe.

Bagdad Cafe is my favorite movie. It is one of the masterpieces depicting human drama, and I find myself wanting to watch it from time to time. The main character is a fat woman, and the people who appear around her are wonderful, and the song “Calling you” that plays during the movie is a melancholy masterpiece.

I first visited Sidewinder Cafe in 1995. The inside of the cafe was almost exactly like the scene shown in the movie, with the walls covered with messages and photos from people who had visited from all over the world.

I have a good memories of having a lot of fun in taliking with the staff. There was also a motel that appeared in the movie about 50 meters away from the cafe, which made me feel excited. By the way, when I visited this place for the second time, the name of the cafe had changed to Bagdad Cafe, the same as in the movie.

The street in front of this cafe is Route 66, and only see a few houses along the road. Driving a little east, there is nothing along the road. Just like in the movie, it is a cafe built in the desert with nothing around it.

At the time of writing this article, I checked the location on Google Maps and found that although the signboard of the motel that appeared in the movie remained. However, there is no motel building.

(Visited in 1995, 2002)

Bagdad, California

The movie “Bagdad Cafe” is the only cafe in the town of Bagdad, but as mentioned above, the movie was not filmed in the town of Bagdad. It is in a town of “Newberry Springs”. So where is this Bagdad? When I was looking at the Mojave Desert on a map, I spotted a town, “Bagdad”. The location is about 80 km east of Newberry Springs, a short distance from Ludlow on Interstate 40 and a short drive southeast on Route 66.

After watching the movie Bagdad Cafe, I was looking at a road map of the US and found this place, Bagdad. At that time, the Internet was not yet widespread, and I thought that the Bagdad on the map was the filming location for the movie Bagdad Cafe, so I headed to US to visit this place.

Driving west from Los Angeles, I turned onto Route 66 at Ludlow on Interstate 40. Route 66 runs through the wilderness, and there are no man-made objects around. I thought I would definitely see buildings once I got to Bagdad, but before I knew it, I arrived at Amboy, a town located east of Bagdad.

In Amboy, there is a famous cafe called “Roy’s Motel & Café”, which was often used in advertisements. However I did not even know about the existence of this town, and when I arrived in Amboy, I thought it was Bagdad. For a while, I found one person standing in front of what appeared to be the reception of Roy’s Motel in town, then had a conversation with him.

“Is this Bagdad?”
“No, this is Amboy.”
“What about Bagdad?”
“Oh, Bagdad, that’s a little further west.”
“But I just came running from the west, and I didn’t notice the building.”
“That’s right, there’s nothing in Bagdad.”
“Isn’t there a Bagdad Cafe?”
“Bagdad Cafe? Are you referring to the Bagdad Cafe in the movie?”
“That’s right”
“Then the place is in Newberry Springs. It’s further west of Bagdad, which is quite a distance.”
“I see, but there’s nothing in Bagdad.”
“Yes, it’s a ghost town. No, it’s not even a ghost town because there’s nothing anymore. There was actually a cafe in the past, but there’s nothing there now.”
“I see, that’s a shame.”
“Ah, but I know where Bagdad was. There’s one big tree over there. It’s visible from the car, so I think you can find the place easily.”

So I headed back the same way to go to Baghdad.

As the person I talked in Amboy said, a large tree stood where Bagdad once stood. About five meters in height. The area was a wasteland, so it was easy to find the tree. I wander around the tree and look around again, but no one would believe if I told that there was once a town here.

I heard a train whistle in the distance, and when I looked in the direction of the sound, I saw a train about a few hundred meters away, running parallel to Route 66, and a train approaching. The first vehicle of the train blared a slightly longer whistle just before it passed me. Probably because the train driver noticed my presence.

Once again, I walk around the area around, then, on the ground, I found concrete, the foundation of a building. According to the information, the building completely demolished in 1991, but there was indeed Bagdad Cafe in the past, around 1940.

The cafe was the only place in the area with a dance floor and jukebox, and was the inspiration for the movie Bagdad Cafe. I remembered the scene from the movie Bagdad Cafe, and once again looked around at the empty surroundings. I felt like the images of the movie and this place were in sync.

After that, I went further west to Newberry Springs, about 40km, and ended up arriving at the film location of the above-mentioned Bagdad Cafe.

By the way, this is the only tree growing in this Bagdad, but when I revisited in 2018, the leaves had withered. It has been 23 years since my first visit in 1995. I realized that time had passed. According to WiKi, this place once held the record for the longest period in US without rain for 767 consecutive days.

(Visited in 1995, 2002, 2005, 2010, 2018)

Bagdad Theater & Pub, Portland, Oregon

Portland has the image of being an “environmentally advanced city.” It is true that many people use bicycles, the city is clean, and many restaurants and shops are organic. I think it is definitely a comfortable place to live.

While wandering around the Hawthorne area, which is a short drive east across the river from downtown Portland, I spotted a building along the road that looked like a retro theater, and walked up to it. Turns out it was a movie theater. And when looking at the name, it was Bagdad Theater. The spelling is Bagdad. As expected, the “h” was missing. There was a cafe restaurant next to the theater. Since the weather was nice, the barrier with the road removed, so I entered the store without hesitation.

This place calls Bagdad Theater & Pub, and the place where I can eat is a pub. It is more of a proper restaurant than a pub. The interior of the restaurant was wooden tables and chairs, creating a soft atmosphere reminiscent of nostalgic memories from the past. I ate The “Higher Bawl”, a unique dish with vegetables on top of flavored rice, and spent a relaxing time admiring the visitors and the interior of the restaurant.

While paying, I had a conversation with a woman who was in charge of the table.

“What is the origin of this name, Bagdad?”
“The founder gave it the name, but I don’t know why.”
“By the way, do you know that there is a movie called Bagdad Cafe?”
“Oh, I know.”
“The Bagdad in Bagdad Cafe is spelled without an ‘h’. There’s a city in Iraq called Baghdad, right? There’s an “h””.
“Yes, that’s right. That’s called original naming.”

The woman took my credit card from the card reader and returned to me along with the receipt and said, “Thank you, have a good day”

(Visited in 2019)

In the End

In the end, I do not know why US’s Bagdad is not Baghdad. It is strange that all American names for Baghdad match Bagdad without “h”. Well, I have no idea, but one thing I can say is that Baghdad, Iraq, was once the largest city in the world and the center of the Middle East from the 9th to the 10th century.

Perhaps, in recognition of the prosperity of this era, the city and cafe/restaurant named Bagdad. Is it just a coincidence that there is no “h” spelled in all three of the above cases?

So, when I wrote this article and looked it up on the web, I found that someone had written an article about it. According to the explanation, Baghdad in Iraq was actually as “Bagdad” without “h” in the past. However in accordance with the “protophonism” that became mainstream after World War II, the pronunciation changed to follow the Arabic pronunciation. Adding an “h”, it became “Baghdad”.

Basic Information

​■ Name : Bagdad Cafe
■ Address:46548 National Trails Hwy, Newberry Springs, CA 92365, USA
■ Homepage :