Susanville is a unique place. Situated near the base of Mr. Lassen National Park, it is the only town with full services in the Mt. Lassen neighborhood. Long the staging place for cowboys, ranchers, logging, and mining. The town was profiled in a 2007 PBS special titled “Prison Town” that examines the economic effects to a community that chose to host a state prison, however, I wasn’t interested in the prison, I wanted to see the old town and learn a little about this part of California.
Armed with my curiosity and my camera, I walked from the county fair uptown to the old retail section on Main Street. Not unlike how we shop for art, I was looking for a place that would capture my imagination and lunch. I took a few photos as I walked, looking for something artsy and something that would set Susanville apart from any other California town in the Sierra Nevada’s or the foothills. Obviously, the local CVS wouldn’t do. I needed something that had been around for a while, something with secrets.
As I wandered Main street the sign for the Pioneer Café caught my attention, in part because at two o’clock in the afternoon it was illuminated. The sign has a certain style to it that speaks of yesteryear which called me like one of the sirens in the Odyssey. I was greeted by the 36 foot long bar, the longest bar in northeast California. I knew this place has stories to tell.
The 19th century residents of Susanville were no more anxious to pay taxes than you or me. With so much ranchland both states of Nevada and California claimed the area for taxable purposes. One common tale is that the when tax collectors came by residents “agreed” to be part of whichever state suited their lowest-tax-needs. For some taxes Nevada was chosen but for others California was a better choice. Some residents naturally preferred one state over the other which caused some hard feelings. Legend has it there was a scuttle between the two sides as they worked out the border. Instead of shooting each other they went to the bar and settled the issue over a few beers. Is this the bar where the fabled event happened? No one knows for sure so the Pioneer Bar claims it must be the place!
Over the years the Pioneer has been the site for a good drink, a place to play pool and snooker. For a while it had a “Gentleman’s Room” upstairs. You don’t have to give it much thought to figure out what was going on. They don’t call it the wild west for nothin’.
Today the building is occupied by the Lassen Ale Works. Home of a couple of unique brews and good food. I had a Pastrami Ruben served on marbled rye with a good horseradishy-based dressing and wonderful beer battered onion rings with and their Uptown Pale Ale
. I’m no Guy Fieri so I‘ll just say I enjoyed my meal and recommend it. Their menu has a brief history of the place. For more details check out their history tab of the website https://www.lassenaleworks.com/history. As I waited for my meal the murals on the wall that tell the story of the county and the overall attitude of the place worked on me. The back room is a good place for the little league team to celebrate their on-field victory while the front of the store has that marvelous bar and white linen tableclothed dining. In the back is a painting that commemorates the racing heritage of Moto Guzzi, a tip of the hat to the passions one of the owner’s.
I had a great conversation with the manager, Margaret Liddiard who is full of stories about the bar and the area. She filled me with stories that fit in the category of “things I forgot” and her pleasant attitude was the icing on the experience.
Here’s a few photos to give you a feel for the place. Don’t take my word for it, when you’re in the neighborhood, stop by for a meal, a brew, and some old tyme eye candy.