Stop by the Pine Street Saloon
Before Toby Keith and Willie Nelson recorded “Beer For My Horses” the Pine Street Saloon was serving whisky for the men and beer for the horses on Pioneer Day in Paso Robles for 30 something years. This Saloon is housed in one of Paso Robles’ oldest buildings (cir 1857) and, as rumor has it and story tells it, has a colorful history. That history includes names like Jesse James, being a bordello, being owned at one time by the Blackburn family, who are founders of the town, along with names such as James Drury, Jesse and Frank James Uncle. Much of the new history and pictures being dug up can be found on the PineStreetSaloon.com website History link.
Regarding the horses coming in the Saloon owner Ron French said, “People get a real kick out of it (hopefully not from a horse), and how often do you get to have a beer with a horse?” Ron and his mom, Pat French, own the establishment on Pine Street. During the 1880s there were over a dozen saloons and bars between 13th and 10th streets and there were Saturday night dances and horse races as well.
The opportunity to literally saddle up to the bar might be unique, but it’s not the only thing that sets this bar apart from the rest. Incredible hometown hospitality, daily drink specials, and that country ethos make the Pine Street Saloon an essential stop for anyone looking to enjoy a cold beer in a down to Earth environment.
“We go out of our way to take care of customers,” said French. A few years ago, the saloon acquired its own limousine, which French uses to pick up and deliver a Safe Ride to customers when they don’t have a sober driver on hand. Because he wants everyone to enjoy a safe night on the town, he’ll take you anywhere within city limits, and all for free – though that kind of service warrants a generous tip to the limo driver!
“It’s really popular with folks staying at the hotels,” said French. “If you don’t have a designated driver and can’t afford a cab, we want to make sure you don’t do anything that’s going to get someone hurt.” As a matter of fact, French gave actor Gary Busey a ride back to Hollywood in the limo – check out the picture at the Saloon. But even free limo rides don’t reach the extent of the bar’s helpful hospitality; Ron helps some find a room where they can sleep it off.
But beware. The Saloon is rumored to be haunted. As documented in an article in Smithsonian Magazine, “Our visits to a handful of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County’s longest continually ale-slinging establishments would indicate that ghost stories may be as old as the saloons themselves.”
“I don’t really believe in ghosts or any of that,” said French. “It’s an old wooden building with creaky noises.” Many guests tell us stories of noises, pans falling in the kitchen, and things moving. Out of curiosity, French set up night vision cameras in the hall corridor and has video footage of what he calls “super charged dust particles” that appear to glow, travel through glass, and zip around the room even when the air is still. And there are the videos of lamps and an old vacuum cleaner moving across the floor late at night.
Live music is a key element of the entertainment at the Saloon. Past performers include Paula Nelson, Willie Nelson’s daughter; country star Kacey Musgraves; Kenny Lee Lewis, lead guitar for the Steve Miller Band; Travis Howard, who has written a dozen of Miranda Lambert’s songs; Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; Louie Ortega; actors Gary Busey and Robert Carradine and more.
“We’re a country bar through and through,” said French. “We’ve got about 10 local bands that play here regularly. We keep them on a kind of rotating schedule and mix in an out of town act every once in a while to keep it from getting stale.” The Thursday night NORTH COUNTY LINES SERIES has been bringing a number of acts from Los Angeles and off the road to be recorded and live videos posted on the website, where you can see great pictures weekly, find out who is playing, and link to the Saloon’s Facebook page from the site at www.PineStreetSaloon.com.
During the day, the Pine Street Saloon is a quiet place to relax and visit with neighbors and friends, but it’s a bit different at night. There’s always something fun happening, and the night time activities are guaranteed to draw a crowd, with Sunday’s Karaoke, Monday’s Open Mic, Tuesday’s Karaoke, Wednesday’s Open Band Night, the Thursday North County Line Series, Friday night Karaoke and live bands on Saturday.
A bit unrefined
There’s little about the bar that could be called “refined,” and there are no fancy frills. The jukebox plays both kinds of music: country and western. The decorations consist of historic signs and pictures, animal heads and old concert flyers. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights there is a food trailer in the back yard with some very find food. It’s a cash only establishment, but they do have an ATM inside for those that only brought their credit cards.
“We can make those foo-foo drinks, but they’re not very popular around here,” said French. “Our specialties are beer or Jack and Coke, nice and simple…It ain’t a wine bar, that’s for sure.” And you can shoot a game of pool, or hang in the new backyard till the cows come home.
The simple, no nonsense formula of cold beer and good service has worked at Pine Street Saloon for 40 years. It’s a family operation that started in 1971 under Pat French. For most of its run, the business was in the building next door to its current location, but the family always had their eye on the old brothel as a perfect drink house. They moved the business in 2002 just in time for the big earthquake that damaged several buildings in the area, including the brick building that had housed the bar. It was torn down, and but the new location suffered nothing more than a slight tilt. If you look carefully at the front entrance, you can see that the wooden building leans a little to the right.
“This place was built to last,” said French. “We did some retrofits to reinforce the walls and make sure it was safe.”
After the move, Pat handed the reins to Ron, but she still gets behind the bar to serve drinks every now and again. Ron’s son works in the bar as well, making it a third generation business. “Mom started it. I’m keeping it going, and Danny’s keeping it stocked with beer and spirits,” said French.
Whether you’re a homegrown local or a weary traveler, point your horse toward 1234 Pine Street in the historic downtown district of Paso Robles and visit the Pine Street Saloon. For more information call (805) 238-1114 and ask for Ron, or visit the website at pinestreetsaloon.com.
— Nick Powell & Benford Standley