San Diego’s Oldest Saloon Once Owned by Old West Legend

San Diego saloon owned by Wyatt and Virgil Earp, circa 1885

A few short years after the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp arrived in San Diego with wife Josie, and brother Virgil. The saloon pictured above now operates as the Tivoli Bar and Grill.

The original wooden bar and back bar attract long lines of patrons who delight in the fact that they are sitting where Wyatt Earp sat 137 years ago. The bar was handcrafted in Boston, and shipped around Cape Horn to San Diego. Customers pay their tab at the original cash register which is on display at the end of the bar. Daily receipts are stored in the original safe.

Tivoli Bar and Grill located in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp’s oldest bar, Est. 1885
Interior of Tivoli Bar

The bar is located in what was known back then as the Stingaree District. It was so-named because visitors — mostly sailors — were “stung” for every last dime by gamblers, prostitutes and hustlers.

In an oral history presented by the San Diego Historical Society, the Stingaree was described as …

” … crazy with gambling fever developed from fortunes made in real estate, saloons and gambling houses. Crime was rampant. Murder, theft, robbery, fights and general licentiousness was the order of the day, hold-ups were a daily occurrence.”

The Stingaree — known today as the Gaslamp Quarter — was San Diego’s Red Light District. It continued to be so through the 1980’s until the city received a grant to revitalize the area. The Gaslamp is now a trendy hotspot — home to world-class cuisine, million dollar lofts, and baseball’s San Diego Padres (Petco Park).

Wyatt and Virgil owned (or leased) four saloons and gambling houses in San Diego including the building pictured below which housed Wyatt’s Oyster Bar.

Site of Wyatt Earp’s Oyster Bar
One of four Earp saloons in San Diego

The top floor of the Tivoli was a brothel as were the upper floors of the Oyster Bar. Wife Josie, who was very protective of her husband’s reputation, downplayed that fact by telling the local newspaper that the Earp’s saloons only attracted first-class clientele.

Wyatt and Josie lived at San Diego’s oldest hotel — the Horton Grand — seen below.

Horton Grand Hotel, San Diego, circa 1880’s

Built shortly before the Earp’s arrival, the still-operating hotel recalls the Earp years in its promotional brochures:

In 1885, at the age of 37, famed lawman Wyatt Earp arrived in San Diego, at the urging of his brother Virgil, to investigate reports of a real-estate boom in what was dubbed the “land of the sundown sea.”

Although he has been both glorified and vilified for his role in taming the West, due mainly to his participation in the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Earp was in fact an itinerant adventurer and opportunist who spent much of his life roaming from boom to boom town.

Wyatt Earp spent seven years as a guest of the hotel.

Josie and Wyatt

Josie told a reporter:

“San Diego was a wonderful new place to find out all about. Wyatt and I had some of our most wonderful times together there.”

Wyatt was not so gracious to the hound dog reporters who persisted in asking questions about Tombstone and the O.K. Corral. His usual response was:

“I reckon we could talk about something a little more cheerful than that.”


Copyright © In Pics and Words

4 thoughts on “San Diego’s Oldest Saloon Once Owned by Old West Legend

    1. There was a whole lot more that I wanted to share — like the upper rooms above the Oyster Bar were called the Golden Poppy hotel, run by a fortune teller named Madam Cora.

      The hotel was actually a brothel, but some of the rooms were rented to “respectable citizens” to give the place a sense of class. The stories I omitted were somewhat bawdy. For instance, how Madam Cora solicited her customers.

      Suffice it to say that Wyatt Earp, after his marshalling days, was part gambler, hustler and pimp — often working both sides of the law. He and Josie spent time in Denver and San Francisco before striking a claim during the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska.

      The couple lived out their remaining years in Los Angeles where Wyatt worked in the film industry during the silent era. He was a technical adviser on western films, and appeared once opposite Tom Mix. Wyatt tried very hard to persuade Hollywood to produce a cinematic dramatization of his life. Wyatt and Josie spent the cooler months of the year overseeing their mining operations along the Arizona-California border.

      Anyway, I enjoy combining my love of writing, photography and history so expect to see more of this in the future. Imagine sitting at Wyatt Earp’s bar. It sort of blows my mind. I am so appreciative of the preservationists who save these historic buildings and the fascinating stories they tell.

      Liked by 2 people


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