Beer: Central Coast Historic Saloons

The Central Coast of California has a raucous past fueled by “demon alcohol”served at the many “watering holes” on the stage coach routes along the El Camino Real. These bars thrived into the Twentieth Century as stops along main Central Coast highways and were discussed in a Smithsonian article.

In my wanderings about the Central Coast, I have been to all of the saloons, except for Cold Springs Tavern. It sits on a winding stagecoach route tucked in the Los Padres National Forest, overlooking Lake Cachuma Recreation Area. The roads in the area are a driving challenge under the best of conditions. Drivers consist of tourists: drunken wine-eos, looky-loos, lumbering recreational vehicles, or locals who are in a perpetual hurry. I was always one of the impatient locals, as I traveled to or from Santa Barbara for business meetings. Somehow, I never managed to stop for a “cold one”.

Some of the saloons in the article are seldom open, such as Mattei’s Tavern and Pozo Saloon. The former is in Los Olivos, which sits just off of Highway 154, about 5 miles east of Highway 101. This hamlet is a picturesque, lunch-spot outside Santa Barbara. In recent years, it has transitioned from a couple of lanes of art galleries to Santa Barbara’s wine tasting hub. Over the years, Mattei’s Tavern has changed hands and now is only open in the evening.

Over the last 30 years, I have attended all sorts of business events at the Far Western in Guadalupe, and have had some fantastic steak dinners there. Unfortunately, the Far Western has abandoned it’s stately Victorian abode in Guadalupe, and moved to new digs in Orcutt, where it advertises itself as “Contemporary California Ranch Cuisine”. The new location is a bit out-of-the-way for the traveler on Highway 101. A person must intend to go there for dinner.

Pozo Saloon is now open Friday through Sunday, and often, sponsors special concerts and events. The trek to the remote Pozo Saloon a gorgeous trek through rolling hills, pasture land, and vineyards, especially in the spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom. For a day trip, you can always add wine tasting, or a stop at the Dunbar Brewery, or dinner at the Range in nearby Santa Margarita.

The two North San Luis Obispo (SLO) County saloons are well-integrated in their communities.

The bacchanal history of the Elkhorn Saloon, in San Miguel, is juxtaposed with the religious fervor of nearby San Miguel Mission. Last summer, on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, I made the short drive from Paso Robles to the Elkhorn. A friendly bartendress welcomed me into the dark, cool interior, aglow with neon beer signs. The Elkhorn has very masculine history serving frontier outlaws and military men from Camp Roberts and Fort Hunter Ligget. Therefore, it was surprising to find only ladies present for an ad hoc “Ladies Day Celebration”. All were ready to swap stories about the Elkhorn’s ghosts and its Prohibition shenanigans.

The Park Street Saloon in Paso Robles vacillates between a quiet spot for an afternoon libation and a riotous, throbbing Karaoke-bar/pub-crawl-destination at night. Take this advice. Be ready to belt out your favorite song and don’t wear flip flops. In the wee hours, the bar is packed, and so much beer is spilled, you may look like Bambi-on-ice if you try to dance.

Kettmann, Matt. The Historic Saloons of Central California. Smithsonian.com. (June 23, 2011) https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/the-historic-saloons-of-central-california-23040632/#lQ4s060ZhxJUTEej.01