Friday, September 14, 2012

Afternoon at the Pozo

The Pozo Saloon reopened in 1967 and is all that remains to offer locals and curious travelers the hospitality and frontier friendliness of a bygone day.

Curious travelers.  Boy, they got that right.  How anyone finds this place unless they are crazy, curious, wander-happy nomads, is beyond me.  We first discovered Pozo by pouring over a map.  It's not far from Lake Lopez and there's even a sign at the lake pointing to it.  Off we went last year on "the high road" but never made it.  The road was simply too rough for our van.  A 4-wheel drive is needed for clearance.  This year, we went the long way around:  Up the 101 and through Santa Margarita.  We drove ten or so miles through rolling hills, dotted with cattle and grapevines.  Even the paved road had a few potholes in it.  We saw only one other car:  A jeep.  Ah, ha.  We were on the right track.
Pozo is another one of those California towns that sprung up over night due to the discovery of gold.  In the late 1800's, it was a thriving little town with stores, hotels and, of course, saloons.  By 1900, though, it started to decline.  In the 1930's, the buildings were torn down and carted away.

 The Pozo Saloon was built in 1858 and still quenches the thirst of the weary traveler.  How on earth did it survive?
Pozo Saloon and Restaurant

Well, the owners of this "off the beaten track" place were very very smart, that's why.  They started to hold concerts in the back and I mean, BIG concerts.  We could not believe the list of bands that have played here:  Steppenwolf, Country Joe McDonald, Maria Mauldaur, Willie Nelson and Friends, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Sugar Ray, to name only a few.  Future concerts are listed on their website.

My travel buddy and I spent an enjoyable afternoon there last Sunday.  A local band was playing and the only patrons besides ourselves were some very friendly ranchers who lived nearby.  "The whole town of Pozo is right here," one of them said, laughing.  

We had hamburgers and a salad, but declined the homemade carrot cake even though our new friends raved about it.  "My wife calls first to make sure they're serving it," the same guy said.  "Otherwise, she won't come."

I had an exceptionally good glass of wine (okay, two glasses) of a viognier blend called "Pozo Pale."  I ended up buying a bottle to open at a future date.  Since my travel buddy was the designated driver, he was drinking iced tea.  I worried about the ranchers.  Big jars of Pozo martinis, draft beer with olives, were being drunk with prodigious pleasure although I suppose they could find their way back blindfolded.  One of them told us he moved here in the 1980's when Santa Margarita had a population of 500.  "It's grown to a thousand," he said.  "If it gets to the point where I can't make a u-turn without stopping, it'll be time to move."

There's still a lot of open spaces in California.  The Pozo Saloon is smack dab in the middle of nowhere, and a gem of a place because of it.

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