Photos from the Vault

Carl's Billiards in Paso Robles was a colorful place

Customers enjoy standard-size pool and billiards tables without the coin slots at Carl's Billiards in Paso Robles.
Customers enjoy standard-size pool and billiards tables without the coin slots at Carl's Billiards in Paso Robles.

Before TV and radio, a community was on the entertainment map if it had a pool hall.

It was the original man cave and usually included a bar.

It sounds like Carl’s Billiards and the building where it was housed had a lot of characters.

Reporter Dave Verbon wrote about the billiard hall in the then-Telegram-Tribune on April 7, 1970, noting that it had layers of dust older than many residents.

Carl’s Billiards

Paso pool hall just like old days

To a casual observer, the billiard parlor in Paso Robles looks very old — it is.

Jimmy Taylor, 85, is a lifelong resident of Paso Robles.

A retired barber and well-known in the community, he recalls the day that construction of what is now Carl’s Billiards started.

“I can remember my father digging the basement for it with a horse and scrapers,” he said.

“They built a three-story building, and the bricks they used to build it were all made in Paso Robles.”

He doesn’t remember the date exactly, but figures construction must have begun sometime around 1895. It was before the Spanish-American war, anyhow.

“It was a huge department store,” he recalled. “It carried plumbing equipment, groceries, clothing, hardware — anything you wanted. The whole thing was one main store. I remember clothing was on the third floor.”

“Eventually, thought, part of the top story fell off into the street, so they condemned part of it and had the top taken off.”

Like his store, George Bell is one of the more interesting items in Paso Robles’ history, said Taylor.

“Bell took eggs and chickens for payment,” he said. “It was all the farmers had. They’d sell it to Bell to buy groceries. Bell owned a lot of ranches. He was ranch crazy, more than he was store crazy, He’d buy mules and goats by the hundreds.

“He was a great guy to buy up stuff. You’d never have an auction if Bell wasn’t there. He’d just buy it and leave it.”

Taylor worked for Bell as a youngster — before he became a barber, an occupation he held for 54 years — so he knows Bell’s habits probably as well as anyone.

“What hurt Bell was the credit he’d give. He was a great guy to give credit to guys that wouldn’t pay. He couldn’t run a business nowadays if he was alive.

“He used to bring in rattlesnakes and put two or three of them in the barley sacks. God knows why he did it, but I remember the clerks were always afraid to touch the sacks.

“He used to drive a Model A, but when it stopped in the middle of the street, he left it there and wouldn’t move it. He died about 15 years ago, I guess.”

Bell’s store was closed tight in the 1930s, and didn’t come to life again until 1941, when Carl Taylor took over the street floor for a pool hall. He operated the pool hall until last year, when he sold it to Russ Luke.

The hall is filled with memories of a life style decades old.

“These are the best pool tables in the county,” said Luke, pointing at the tables – with standard pockets and no slots for coins. “They don’t make them like this anymore.”

Decorating the walls are trophies of animals shot around Paso Robles. Paso Robles old-timer H.B. (Uncle Bill) Williams shot most of them said Luke.

Adorning the back bar is a series of carvings of cowboys animals and covered wagons.

“These were carved by a local cowboy named Gene Hoback,” said Luke. “He worked out on the plains on different ranches around here. He made those about 20 years ago. They’re worth a lot of money now.”

Also hanging behind the bar is the first dollar the bar earned back in 1941. Like most of the other relics in the establishment, it’s old, musty and showing its age.

That, however, doesn’t phase Luke. He knows what he’s got.

“No,” he said, “I’m not going to change it. I’m going to keep it just like it is.