San Pedro Spirits

I didn’t party in high school, unless you count that one mishap-ridden hangout at a friend’s house the night before graduation when I decided to mix whiskey, a warm Diet Coke and some off-brand light beer. I did dabble in the alcoholic arts while in college, but never went pro. Now, in my thirties, I know nothing about wine, I don’t have a go-to drink and I can’t stand going to “scene” bars.

When I decided to start blogging again (at, I wanted to re-capture that sense of adventure that I got when I was trying to walk every street. What part of San Pedro hadn’t I covered? Was there anything left for me to explore? The answer is: of course there was.

It really didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed to drink at every bar in San Pedro. I can’t think of any other project that could be more exciting, intoxicating and terrifying all at the same time.

The plan is to visit each bar, even the Kan Kan, have a drink and scope it out (no judgement). Sure, I have my prejudices going into the project, but I know for a fact that there are stories to be found inside those walls and a different vantage point of the town to be had. I’d like to share one of my experiences so far:

Club Royal

There is a boarding house on Tenth Street called The Royal Hotel. Inside the Royal is what claims to be the oldest beer saloon in town, Club Royal. When I told my friend about the project, he insisted on coming with. We decided to start with the oldest bars. The minute we set foot inside ‘The Royal,’ as we call it, it was like coming home. It was quiet, small and cheap. The plan was to visit a different bar every Friday, but we found ourselves meeting up at The Royal, week after week. It got to the point that I actually started to remember people’s names. I’ve never been a regular anywhere but at Starbucks, and I always blushed when they would greet me with, “Hey, venti black iced tea!” But here I am now, walking into The Royal, greeting people, “Hiya Cliff, Norm, Sam, Diane… etc.,” like I’m in an episode of Cheers.

Jack, the owner, had been kind enough to share some history with me during my first visit to the bar. Now, as a historian/busy body, I know I like something if I feel compelled to research it. Within a week or two, I was able to school Jack on his own bar.

The building was built in 1923 by two Basque brothers, Blas and Paul Bengochea. This was news to Jack because he was always told that the hotel was built in 1917. Within a couple of years, Paul sold the building to Jose Corta, a relative of his. Jose, later known as just Joe, owned it until just before his death in 1963. I had even tracked down Joe’s grandson, Paul, who was more than willing to help fill in the gaps of the history where he could. Paul’s aunt is still alive and knew exactly who I was because she reads my column (Hi, Mercedes!). Do you see what I mean about all the stories to be found? They’re there, if you’re willing to look for them.

I can’t say enough good things about The Royal. I’ve taken so many friends to have a drink with me you’d think I was introducing them to a new beau of mine. If you decide to go down and have a beer, bring cash and some luck – when you order a drink, you get to roll the dice (three of a kind or better and you get money off your beer).

If you’d like to be a bar ambassador and introduce me to your watering hole, drop me a line at spt