Paso Robles, California, is a historic little town tucked away along the Salinas River in San Luis Obispo County, California, its name coming from the original El Paso de Robles, meaning “The Pass of Oaks.” It is the quintessential Old West town, looking very much as it always has, and it possesses a long history populated by colorful characters. It was inhabited by Native tribes for thousands of years until the mission era, when settlers began pouring in to the region and the area of Paso Robles became known for its numerous thermal springs, and in later years has become known for its haunted historic saloon.
It was due to the hot springs of the area that in the 1880s Mexican War veteran Drury James, of Kentucky, uncle of the infamous Jesse and Frank James, moved in to secure a land grant along the Camino Real trail in order to provide a stopover for weary travelers. Drury would actively advertise its hot springs as having healing properties and curative effects for a wide range of ailments, even going as far as to bottle it and sell it, and as more settlers and visitors poured in it became a town in its own right, as more hot baths, orchards, cattle ranches, and vineyards sprung up around them. In fact, in 1886 the Southern Pacific Railroad made it a major stop along its route, and Paso Robles was officially incorporated as a city in 1889.
It became a popular destination as a hot spring resort, with the magnificent El Paso de Robles Hotel serving as a main attraction for the wealthy with its numerous bath rooms, plunge bath, garden, and 9-hole golf course. The hotel itself became well-known for its healing hot springs, and it and the town would go on to be visited over the years up to the present by such famous personalities as President Theodore Roosevelt, actors actors Douglas Fairbanks, Boris Karloff, Bob Hope, and Clark Gable, Gary Busey, Robert Mitchum, Mel Gibson, Sam Elliot, Greg Kinnear, Grammy Award winner Louie Ortega, Kenny Lee Lewis of the Steve Miller Band, musician Merle Haggard, bass player for Steppenwolf Nick St. Nicholas, Eagles songwriter Jack Tempchin, Blues player K.M. Williams, and many others. Yet although this place in is early days was an attractive holiday destination it was not without its shadier elements lurking about, most of which revolved around a rough around the edges of a place called Pine Street.
The street itself was originally a stagecoach stop where coaches would stop on their way to Bakersfield, and it became known as a gathering place for miners, ranchers, and the more nefarious dregs of society. They would hold dances and horse races here, often drinking, gambling, and raising a ruckus, and among them were also some notorious outlaws, notably Drury’s own relatives Jesse and Frank James. In the midst of this den of villainy was a modest two story structure which held within it a bar that was at the time called the Red Door, also a notable billiard parlor and card room, at one point even serving as a candy store, which while one of many other similar establishments along the street was certainly one of the most infamous, being one of Jesse James’ alleged haunts when he was in town.
The bar would eventually be known as the Pine Street Saloon, and it has gone on to become one of the oldest standing buildings in Paso Robles, with full swinging doors and looking like something out of a Western movie, as well as the most haunted. Perhaps it is due to its rough history, but the Pine Street Saloon has long been considered ground zero for all manner of paranormal phenomena, including roving cold spots, mysteriously moving objects, shadow figures, and even the supposed apparition of Jesse James himself, said to lurk in darkened corners of the bar only vanish when approached. Patrons have also complained of being pushed or slapped by unseen hands, and mediums who have visited have reported there being very malevolent spirits here that mean people harm. There are also often fleeting figures and other anomalies captured on the security cameras of the establishment, and the paranormal activity is such that the Travel Channel show The Dead Files has done an episode on it all called The Watcher.
In recent years Paso Robles is a quaint, historic town known mostly for its many vineyards and wineries and its burgeoning beer brewery industry more than anything else, but the Pine Street Saloon still stands, having become a major music venue in modern times, despite its reputation as an intensely haunted place. Indeed, the town itself continues to be a major tourist hotspot, and the saloon has become a haven for people looking to enjoy spirits in one form or another. It seems that the history of this place and its often violent underbelly may have some part to play in the hauntings here, but it still leaves one to wonder why these spirits might remain tethered to this place. Whether there are any real ghosts at the Pine Street Saloon or not, it is certainly something to keep one’s eye out for if you are ever in town for a drink.