Sitting approximately 25 miles from the western gate of Yosemite National Park is Groveland, CA. The town straddles highway 120 and is as rooted in the past as any other you will see on this historic highway. It's not hard to conjure up images of time past, as the population hovers at just over 600 citizens.
Other than modes of transportation, nothing appears to have changed much over the last 160 years in Groveland. The main street is lined on both sides with old frame buildings, making the passageway of State Route 120 a narrow artery for the lifeblood of tourists on their way to or from the national park.
What drew me to stop at this enclave was none other than the Iron Door Saloon. Advertised as the oldest bar in the Golden State, the building was constructed in 1852. However, it was first used as a general store and it didn't become a tavern until 1896. Thus the argument with other watering holes across California claiming to be older: San Diego’s own Tivoli Bar opened in 1885, but did close its doors during Prohibition.
The saloon draws its name from a pair of iron doors originally brought from England in 1937. They were intended to serve as a fire defense – combined with the establishment's granite walls, it was believed that should a fire come to town, all would be safe within the building. Fortunately they have not had to test the theory.
As you enter the tavern, passing through the iron doors, a long wooden bar immediately grabs your attention. Overhead, an antique chandelier illuminates the otherwise dimly lit surroundings (left).
Competing with the interest of the old light fixture are hundreds of one-dollar bills that have been attached to the ceiling. A couple of elk heads protrude from the wall, as well as a number of historic photographs of the area – included are past residents who run the gamut from Black Bart to John Muir. There is a dance floor and an epic pool room. The furniture is forgettable, and looks like it could have been purchased from the last pizza parlor that went out of business. Add to that giant black speakers hanging in front of the makeshift stage, and it appears nostalgia is in play here.
I tried to stay with the theme and ordered a local microbrew and a burger. The food was average, but it was better than the service. All that said, I would stop again in a heartbeat. Gold has become harder to find in the area, but the Iron Door is a nugget that should not be missed.