The Golden Best.

The Golden West Saloon.

You may be over a hundred years old, but I still think you're pretty.

Fort Bragg is one of those places that’s loaded with iconic western markers, which I think is pretty fantastic. These signs, for example, are posted all over downtown. What I want to know is, what if it’s the horses who are riding the bicycles or the skateboards? Didn’t consider that, did you, Fort Bragg?

A couple of blocks from the Golden West is this stagecoach step that people once used to climb up and down from horse-drawn wagons.

And right across the street from the Golden West are a couple of these hitching rings that were used for tying up horses.

But the best story concerning the Golden West is one that some might find distasteful - which explains why I find it so delightful. The Golden West Saloon, you see, was once a brothel. A den of sin. A house of ill repute. With whores and everything. According to town lore, downstairs in the Golden West was where the fishermen and lumbermen and ranchers gathered to gamble and drink. But as you can see from this picture, there are also rooms out back and up above the saloon, and this is where the * ahem * tender lovemaking took place. In this photo, you can also see some nice antique iron stars above the door, and the wooden louvers on the window are interesting too. But I have mixed feelings about the tag job. I mean, if you’re going to go to all the effort to tag a historic building, you should at least bring it. Not your best effort, Zerribbe. Just sayin.

Historians struggle when people perpetuate the mythology of a place because as time goes on, it grows increasingly challenging to tell what parts of the mythology are true and which are flights of fancy. Sometimes, though, the place is the product of its mythology, so I say let’s piss off some historians.

See the patch on the wall there? To the lower right? Here’s the story:

After an evening in the company of the ladies of the Golden West, the bartender would ask the Johns to toss coins over the top of the barback as a pension for the whores. It was meant to be a kind of hedge against their fading looks and * ahem * talents as they grew older. For reals. This went on for years, supposedly.

Fast forward.

Even though it was one of only two brick buildings in town to survive the 1906 earthquake, the Golden West still had to be retrofitted for earthquake safety. But before anyone could excavate all of those old coins, bandits broke through the brick wall from the outside and made off with the decades-worth of booty. If you ask me, stealing from retired whores makes those bandits worse than Zerribbe. Which is saying a lot.

This is the bar. What a beauty. That beamed ceiling ain’t bad, either. Kip, the owner, told me that the bar and barback are hand-carved French rosewood and had come “around the horn” of South America more than a century ago. Talk about mythology. Probably came from San Francisco via the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. But as I mentioned, none of that matters once the legend takes over.

Kip makes no apologies for his clientele of loggers, fishermen, slangers, ranchers, bikers, and general badasses. This poster kind of makes his point. Deplorable? Yes. Funny? Hell yes.

As I was admiring all of the original lights and woodworking and bar fixtures, I asked Kip who had painted the mural on the back wall. He said, “Some kid passing through in the 70’s who couldn’t pay his bar tab. Damn hippie.” When I told Kip that I thought he'd gotten his money’s worth, he said, “Well then you’re a damn hippie, too.” I said he was probably right. He laughed and gave me another bourbon.

I wandered around the place, looking at all of the old photos covering the walls. Below is a detail showing a felled redwood with a huge hollow inside. It’s a little tough to see, but inside of the hollow is a guy on a horse.

With all of the unapologetic machismo on display, I was a little surprised that Kip pleaded ignorance when I asked him about the whole brothel thing. One of the guys shooting pool in the back laughed and said, “Kip’s afraid it’ll damage the bar's reputation if he admits that it was a brothel once. But I tell you, when I was a kid my mom used to grab me and my brother by the hand and yank us across the street rather than have us walk in front of the Golden West. Didn’t matter that there hadn’t been any whores around the place for years, the fact that they had been around at all was enough for her.”

Kip said, “Your mother’s full of it.”

The guy shrugged and took his shot. “If it was me, I’d spread the word from here to San Francisco that the Golden West was once the best whorehouse in all of Northern California. Because there’s nothing like a shady reputation to make people want to check a place out. Maybe have a drink while they’re here. Maybe two. Maybe they'd even buy one of those damn tee-shirts you've had hanging back there since Reagan was president...”

Kip looked thoughtful for a minute. Then he said, “You have a point.”

You think, Kip? As far as I’m concerned, the Golden West is the sort of place where legends are made. In fact, I think that Kip's bar is no less deserving of its own mythology than Schwab's Drugstore. Or Michael Jackson. Plus, since when are “the facts” important when it comes to the making of a legend?

So here it is, Kip - my gift to you and the Golden West - the internet launch of a scandalous rumor. Now the world will know:

The Golden West was a whorehouse.

Long live the Golden West.


  1. I loved this blog! Who knew there was so much history in the little town ... T shirts Genius!!

  2. A couple of years ago my wife and I went to Ft. Bragg (to look for colored beach glass) and stopped in at the Golden West.

    I had a couple of shots of a fine Scotch and Shirley had a beer. We sat there shooting the shit with some locals for hours.

    We really like Ft. Bragg.

  3. Nice pics. The one of the saloon's patched wall and the story it illustrates is totally cewl.

  4. Mmmmmmphfffft!

    That's a good one. Those old farts used to really bug me, with their crazy-logic, and calling me a hippie. Now, I consider these interactions/BSing not only hilarious, but really fun and interesting. Maybe because I'm approaching oldfartdom? Who knows? The Golden West reminds me of a similar place in Ferndale, The Palace. Only there, they'll give you a T-shirt if you're goofy enough to go along with their "trade."

  5. Dave and Jonny, loved your stories about the Golden West. It's quite a place, as you both know. It will still be here if either of you ever decide to come back, by the way. And if you give me a holler, maybe I can be there, too. Swallowtail, I agree that sometimes the hippie intolerance can be a little frustrating, but I remind myself that often these older folks are actually TRYING to push my buttons for kicks. This realization helps me to be able to laugh at myself a little. Oh, and I MUST go to The Palace in Ferndale. I think I need to start a t-shirt collection! Suzy and Marianella, it's a treat for me to tell stories to people who appreciate them, so thank you for the encouragement!