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Behind the walls at the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes

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There’s a dive bar in the northwest Bay Area where a visit from the future king and queen consort of England is one of the least interesting stories about the joint. 
 
In fact, the pint of ale once shared by then-Prince Charles and former owner Judy Borello in 2005 pales in comparison to its hidden passageway, nude art, antique bullets lodged in the wall and an unsettled spirit that seems to have a thing for the Everly Brothers. 

You’ll find all of that (plus an interior that hasn’t changed since the 1970s) at the Old Western Saloon along Highway 1 in Point Reyes Station.

Michele Pelton’s family bought the bar in 1972. “I grew up in this place,” she said. 

The building was constructed in 1906 and a second story was added around 1915 to accommodate the hotel and restaurant/saloon.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Her mother, Judy, served as the bar’s matriarch and creative force until her passing earlier this year at the age of 79. Now the Old Western Saloon finds itself at somewhat of a crossroads as Pelton hopes to modernize the business without losing the watering hole’s charm and connection to the community.
 
“The truth is I’m still running the place like my mother would,” Pelton told SFGATE, hunkered in her tiny office behind the bar. “I miss her too much to change anything right now. I will find my groove eventually, beginning with operations, but the bar will always aesthetically remain the same. Much of our town has changed over the years, but the Western will always feel like home for many of us.”
 
The familiar bar is adorned with classic wood paneling, red backlighting, floral patterned carpeting, a nude painting of an unknown woman and an old wood-burning stove that greets you as you come in the front door. 

Old photos and knickknacks line the walls from front to back, including vintage coins once used in Bay Area brothels in exchange for “some action,” as Pelton laughingly puts it. She said her mother acquired the coins from the estate of famed San Francisco madam Sally Stanford while working as a coat checker at the Valhalla Inn in Sausalito.

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

The scene inside the Old Western Saloon on a recent evening. (Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE)

While the — ahem — currency doesn’t have a direct tie to the Old Western Saloon, Pelton pointed to the building’s mysterious hidden stairwells as evidence of bygone forbidden activity. “This kind of turned it into a house of ill repute,” she said. “There’s a lot of doors upstairs and it kind of made sense. I’ve got a hidden stairwell that comes down into the bar.”
 
Those dark passages, along with secret spots for hiding money in the bar’s walls and a false, 6-foot ceiling between the first and second floors, would have also been heavily trafficked during Prohibition, according to Pelton: “This place along Tomales Bay was very popular because they could smuggle booze in very easily too. We have a lot of inlets and I think there were a lot of good times during the Prohibition days.”
 
The building has seen many uses over the years, beginning as a stone retail store in the late 1800s before the 1906 earthquake destroyed it and the owners rebuilt using wood. A brick building across the street was built in 1915, allowing for the transition to saloon and restaurant after the store moved into its new quarters, according to Dewey Livingston of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. The bar’s second story was added in 1915, and today there’s a space in the back of the building where customers can shoot pool while enjoying a beer or two.

Owner Michele Pelton steps inside one of the many hideaway staircases.

Owner Michele Pelton steps inside one of the many hideaway staircases.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Between the bar and the backroom, bands and the occasional open mic night occupy a small stage on Friday and Saturday nights. Famous musicians like Grace Slick, Huey Lewis and the Allman Brothers have reportedly graced the stage, both scheduled and unscheduled. 

Customers are often treated to a diverse music lineup from jazz to marching bands and everything in between. Once, during a remodel of the ceiling above the stage, Pelton’s husband was greeted by falling antique bullets and shell casings when he opened the wall. The spot apparently once held a clock that drunk ranchers would shoot at when they had one too many.



As a historic venue for some of society’s underbelly, it’s reasonable to assume the Old Western has a paranormal tie. Asked if the bar was haunted, Pelton didn’t deny it.
 
“You ask any one of my bartenders and [they] will say it’s haunted,” she said.
 
So, we did.
 
Longtime Old Western bartender Bob Hansen, whose mother actually worked at the bar before him, didn’t hesitate when the question was posed. “Absolutely,” he replied.

Patrons, a puppy and the ominous jukebox inside the saloon in 1949.

Patrons, a puppy and the ominous jukebox inside the saloon in 1949.

Courtesy of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History

Both shared several stories; among them a mysterious red light in the backroom, glassware broken just feet from the bar with no one around, music with no source and footsteps in the upstairs hallway. 

But the happening that “still sends chills” up Pelton’s spine involves a vinyl jukebox that her mom didn’t want to part with. According to Pelton, the jukebox would “click, click, click, click” and — without explanation — begin playing “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” the 1958 classic by the Everly Brothers.
 
This happened several times when she was alone in the bar.

Two of the Old Western’s more recent famous patrons were Prince Charles and Camilla in 2005. The two swung through Point Reyes Station while on an eight-day tour of America, specifically to see the entirely organic farmer’s market across the street. When the prince spotted bartender Bob’s pug, Fred, at the door of the Old Western, he inquired about coming inside to get a drink. 
 
“My mom sat next to him on her barstool, and she said that Camilla was very friendly and talkative and she loved this place,” Pelton said. “She and Prince Charles carried on for a while and my mom gave them T-shirts to give their sons.” While it’s unlikely you’ll see this event recounted on Netflix’s hit show “The Crown” or the new Harry and Meghan docuseries, the royal drink is memorialized above the bar in a series of photos sometimes mistaken for former Vice President Dan Quayle.

A copy of the Marin Independent Journal from 2005, when the saloon hosted then-Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. 

A copy of the Marin Independent Journal from 2005, when the saloon hosted then-Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. 

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Through it all, the Old Western Saloon has seen a lot. The latest is a difficult 13-month closure during the COVID pandemic, which allowed owners to address some much-needed maintenance around the building. “All the windows out front are all brand new,” Pelton said. “We repainted. We did all these things that normally we might not have thought about if we had stayed open seven days a week.”
 
Pelton even considered selling the bar following her mom’s death, but pulled the Old Western off the market when it became clear a possible buyer planned changes to the bar’s charisma. 

A dog naps on the dashboard of a car parked in a "No Barking" zone in front of the saloon in Point Reyes Station in 2008. 

A dog naps on the dashboard of a car parked in a “No Barking” zone in front of the saloon in Point Reyes Station in 2008. 

The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

“I had a feeling they wanted to gut the place … just like a knife to the heart,” she said. “We can’t have that. We got to keep the tradition a little bit. We’re a local scene. We’re meat and potatoes. That’s who we are.”
 
For now, at least, the saloon stays in the family.

Eric Brooks is a multimedia journalist with over a decade of experience in radio and digital storytelling. He hails from the Midwest, where he graduated from Valparaiso University, and now proudly calls the Bay Area home.


There’s a dive bar in the northwest Bay Area where a visit from the future king and queen consort of England is one of the least interesting stories about the joint. 
 
In fact, the pint of ale once shared by then-Prince Charles and former owner Judy Borello in 2005 pales in comparison to its hidden passageway, nude art, antique bullets lodged in the wall and an unsettled spirit that seems to have a thing for the Everly Brothers. 

You’ll find all of that (plus an interior that hasn’t changed since the 1970s) at the Old Western Saloon along Highway 1 in Point Reyes Station.

Michele Pelton’s family bought the bar in 1972. “I grew up in this place,” she said. 

The building was constructed in 1906 and a second story was added around 1915 to accommodate the hotel and restaurant/saloon.

The building was constructed in 1906 and a second story was added around 1915 to accommodate the hotel and restaurant/saloon.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Her mother, Judy, served as the bar’s matriarch and creative force until her passing earlier this year at the age of 79. Now the Old Western Saloon finds itself at somewhat of a crossroads as Pelton hopes to modernize the business without losing the watering hole’s charm and connection to the community.
 
“The truth is I’m still running the place like my mother would,” Pelton told SFGATE, hunkered in her tiny office behind the bar. “I miss her too much to change anything right now. I will find my groove eventually, beginning with operations, but the bar will always aesthetically remain the same. Much of our town has changed over the years, but the Western will always feel like home for many of us.”
 
The familiar bar is adorned with classic wood paneling, red backlighting, floral patterned carpeting, a nude painting of an unknown woman and an old wood-burning stove that greets you as you come in the front door. 

Old photos and knickknacks line the walls from front to back, including vintage coins once used in Bay Area brothels in exchange for “some action,” as Pelton laughingly puts it. She said her mother acquired the coins from the estate of famed San Francisco madam Sally Stanford while working as a coat checker at the Valhalla Inn in Sausalito.

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Old Western Saloon

Old Western Saloon


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

The scene inside the Old Western Saloon on a recent evening. (Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE)

While the — ahem — currency doesn’t have a direct tie to the Old Western Saloon, Pelton pointed to the building’s mysterious hidden stairwells as evidence of bygone forbidden activity. “This kind of turned it into a house of ill repute,” she said. “There’s a lot of doors upstairs and it kind of made sense. I’ve got a hidden stairwell that comes down into the bar.”
 
Those dark passages, along with secret spots for hiding money in the bar’s walls and a false, 6-foot ceiling between the first and second floors, would have also been heavily trafficked during Prohibition, according to Pelton: “This place along Tomales Bay was very popular because they could smuggle booze in very easily too. We have a lot of inlets and I think there were a lot of good times during the Prohibition days.”
 
The building has seen many uses over the years, beginning as a stone retail store in the late 1800s before the 1906 earthquake destroyed it and the owners rebuilt using wood. A brick building across the street was built in 1915, allowing for the transition to saloon and restaurant after the store moved into its new quarters, according to Dewey Livingston of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History. The bar’s second story was added in 1915, and today there’s a space in the back of the building where customers can shoot pool while enjoying a beer or two.

Owner Michele Pelton steps inside one of the many hideaway staircases.

Owner Michele Pelton steps inside one of the many hideaway staircases.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Between the bar and the backroom, bands and the occasional open mic night occupy a small stage on Friday and Saturday nights. Famous musicians like Grace Slick, Huey Lewis and the Allman Brothers have reportedly graced the stage, both scheduled and unscheduled. 

Customers are often treated to a diverse music lineup from jazz to marching bands and everything in between. Once, during a remodel of the ceiling above the stage, Pelton’s husband was greeted by falling antique bullets and shell casings when he opened the wall. The spot apparently once held a clock that drunk ranchers would shoot at when they had one too many.



As a historic venue for some of society’s underbelly, it’s reasonable to assume the Old Western has a paranormal tie. Asked if the bar was haunted, Pelton didn’t deny it.
 
“You ask any one of my bartenders and [they] will say it’s haunted,” she said.
 
So, we did.
 
Longtime Old Western bartender Bob Hansen, whose mother actually worked at the bar before him, didn’t hesitate when the question was posed. “Absolutely,” he replied.

Patrons, a puppy and the ominous jukebox inside the saloon in 1949.

Patrons, a puppy and the ominous jukebox inside the saloon in 1949.

Courtesy of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History

Both shared several stories; among them a mysterious red light in the backroom, glassware broken just feet from the bar with no one around, music with no source and footsteps in the upstairs hallway. 

But the happening that “still sends chills” up Pelton’s spine involves a vinyl jukebox that her mom didn’t want to part with. According to Pelton, the jukebox would “click, click, click, click” and — without explanation — begin playing “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” the 1958 classic by the Everly Brothers.
 
This happened several times when she was alone in the bar.

Two of the Old Western’s more recent famous patrons were Prince Charles and Camilla in 2005. The two swung through Point Reyes Station while on an eight-day tour of America, specifically to see the entirely organic farmer’s market across the street. When the prince spotted bartender Bob’s pug, Fred, at the door of the Old Western, he inquired about coming inside to get a drink. 
 
“My mom sat next to him on her barstool, and she said that Camilla was very friendly and talkative and she loved this place,” Pelton said. “She and Prince Charles carried on for a while and my mom gave them T-shirts to give their sons.” While it’s unlikely you’ll see this event recounted on Netflix’s hit show “The Crown” or the new Harry and Meghan docuseries, the royal drink is memorialized above the bar in a series of photos sometimes mistaken for former Vice President Dan Quayle.

A copy of the Marin Independent Journal from 2005, when the saloon hosted then-Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. 

A copy of the Marin Independent Journal from 2005, when the saloon hosted then-Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. 

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Through it all, the Old Western Saloon has seen a lot. The latest is a difficult 13-month closure during the COVID pandemic, which allowed owners to address some much-needed maintenance around the building. “All the windows out front are all brand new,” Pelton said. “We repainted. We did all these things that normally we might not have thought about if we had stayed open seven days a week.”
 
Pelton even considered selling the bar following her mom’s death, but pulled the Old Western off the market when it became clear a possible buyer planned changes to the bar’s charisma. 

A dog naps on the dashboard of a car parked in a "No Barking" zone in front of the saloon in Point Reyes Station in 2008. 

A dog naps on the dashboard of a car parked in a “No Barking” zone in front of the saloon in Point Reyes Station in 2008. 

The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

“I had a feeling they wanted to gut the place … just like a knife to the heart,” she said. “We can’t have that. We got to keep the tradition a little bit. We’re a local scene. We’re meat and potatoes. That’s who we are.”
 
For now, at least, the saloon stays in the family.

Eric Brooks is a multimedia journalist with over a decade of experience in radio and digital storytelling. He hails from the Midwest, where he graduated from Valparaiso University, and now proudly calls the Bay Area home.

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