Photos from the Vault

Rich in history and character, the Pozo Saloon offers a glimpse of the Old West

A huge cottonwood tree dwarfs the Pozo Saloon, where porsches and BMWs compete with cowpokes' trucks in a 1987 photo.
A huge cottonwood tree dwarfs the Pozo Saloon, where porsches and BMWs compete with cowpokes' trucks in a 1987 photo.

There are some places seemingly immune to the ravages of time.

The Pozo Saloon was one of those places, though recently it has fallen on some hard times, canceling two music festivals last year.

The building that will turn 160 years old this year was closed during Prohibition and is currently closed for remodeling.

Dan Stephens wrote a State of the Saloon story for the Telegram-Tribune on Feb. 26, 1987.

Note to readers: The founder of Pozo, Ynocente Garcia, in some stories has his first name spelled Inocencio.

Pozo Saloon: Where BMW buckaroos belly up to the bar

POZO — Somewhere between the saddle of yesterday’s gunslinger and the bucket seats of today’s cowboy sits the Pozo Saloon.

The 129-year-old watering hole east of Santa Margarita has eclipsed time, fads and droughts, and has served as a living museum — with a beer tap — for both range-riders and BMW drivers.

Walk past the towering cottonwood that dwarfs its entrance. Tip your Stetson to the two porch dogs, Jazz and Timba, who think they own the place. Eyeball the two hitching posts — original equipment — and let your fingers follow the curves of the old saddle that straddles the post.

Walk through the entrance and about-face into time. The Old West awaits.

If ever there was a place where the deer and the antelope play and seldom is heard a discouraging word, the Pozo Saloon is it.

Redwood floors creak when you step. The smell of old leather fills the air. You think you hear spurs. You know you smell barbecued tri-tip and beef stew.

You spot the two black-and-white photographs hanging on the wall next to the century-old, wood-burning stove.

One photo shows four members of the Dalton gang, sprawled out, handcuffed and looking serene, minutes after justice peppered them with lead.

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Dollar bills decorate the ceiling of the Pozo Saloon in a photo from 1987. The redwood building was constructed in 1858. David Middlecamp

In the other glossy, our outlaws swing from a tree after the law stretched their necks with rope.

In front, a mahogany bar — as long as five rattlesnake skins — stretches the width of the living-room sized saloon.

Animal trophies, including a “jackalope,” border the bar. Above the mythical rabbit and antelope critter, a three-point buck gazes out into eternity.

Word is the bar came around Cape Horn in the hold of a windship.

You like that.

Suddenly the ceiling catches your eye as you order a draught. The brew comes in a mayonnaise jar. Wine is served in jelly jars.

Though owners Brian and Rhonda Rodenberger use a computer cash register, about 30 $1 bills stick to the ceiling.

Bartender Vi Richards, originally from England, said bill-sticking is a custom in saloons.

Customers wad a quarter in a dollar bill “for weight,’ shove a tack through the bill and toss it skyward.

“Someone stuck a $20 bill up there once but the owner’s 5-year-old took it down,” says Vi as she sweeps away last weekend’s dust through a beam of a.m. sunlight.

As she explains what a kangaroo hide is doing on a wall in Pozo, you thumb through two well-used guest books. They date back to 1977 and contain unsolicited customer comments.

Roger Farell of Sydney, Australia, dropped in for a few beers long before Americans began talking with Australian accents. He makes this observation: “Bloody Good Mate! We only got lost twice, but we finally made it. Was worth it.”

From Flagstaff comes this comment about the Pozo Saloon: “Reminds me of home.”

Another entry reads: “To live and die in Pozo …”

Then there is simply “Hot Dawg.”

Representing the underaged crowd, one girl laments “Damn. I wish I was 21.” She is by now.

From a city slicker in New York City comes the wish “Bury me in Pozo.”

A realist offers this advice: “Don’t put up any road signs.”

“Stay small,” warns another.

A local who calls the area “God’s Country,” writes “Been here before. Here now. And hope to be here again. You’re good people.”

Another, who fancies a good time, noted the traffic patterns in the isolated community of less than 100.

“I’ve crawled home five times and haven’t been run over yet.”

Despite being a good-time bar, Vi said the Pozo Saloon is a family restaurant. Six thick tables fill most of the space, and there’s a new addition, a dance hall that boasts of the bar from the movie “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Vi will let you know when you’ve had enough. And chances are you won’t take offense because she’s friendly yet firm about it.

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Mike Garcia takes aim at horseshoe pit outside Pozo Saloon in 1987. David Middlecamp

Another house rule at the Pozo Saloon is keeping a civil tongue. A sign above the old cash register next to the antique lantern that everyone wants says “Pahleeze. No Cussing.”

While trying to identify some of the rusted Old West paraphernalia hanging on the walls, you might spot a few regular customers.

One is an 80-year-old cowboy, a rancher. Vi says he comes in occasionally to eat lunch. “Always a hamburger and one beer,” she says.

“Just one. And it’s got to be draft beer. He won’t drink from a bottle.”

After the cowpoke eats, he puts an elbow on the bar and turns sideways to see the crowd. Then he dozes off.

One day the historical society dropped by. One member worried that the old cowboy might tip over and hurt himself.

“I told him he’s fine,” said Vi.

After his nap, the cowboy says goodbye and walks out the door, wreathed in portraits of George Washington.

The redwood saloon doesn’t go back that far.

It was built in 1858, possibly by Ynocente Garcia, the founder of Pozo.

Pozo used to be known as El Rancho San Jose. As the town grew, a post office became necessary.

But a San Jose Post Office already existed.

Somebody decided on the Spanish name of Pozo, and the name stuck.

It means well or spring water. Its broader usage means small cup-like valley surrounded by steep hills.

Finding Pozo is simple, despite what the Australian penned. Head east from Santa Margarita past the green bridge and beyond the flock of guinea fowl that hangs out near the shoulder of the road.

Look for the red building that looks as if somebody old was born there. You might hear a flock of wild turkeys gobbling in the distance.

As Vi offers directions, you realize your time travel is nearing an end. You finish your beer and hope when you walk out the door you’ll see horses tied to the post and cowboys jawing about their latest gold claims.

But a note pinned near the door brings you back to 1987: “House for Rent. $650 a month. $750 deposit.”

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. Contact him at 805-781-7942, or @DavidMiddlecamp.

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