A Desert Hike, a General Store and a Biker Bar
Quick Note: I wrote this two years ago but, for one reason or another, never got around to posting it. With the tragedy that happened overnight at Cook's Corner in Southern California I felt I should post it now. I thought about editing it a bit to address what has happened but decided to leave it as I originally wrote it.
To say I'm shocked and saddened by what has happened is an understatement. One thing I do want people to understand is that, though it is being portrayed as a "biker bar", Cook's is not a place where biker gangs hang out, and the people there last night were, most likely, pretty much like you and me.
While visiting Darling Daughter (DD) and Fiancé this past Labor Day, we took a little road trip that included everything from a short desert hike to a motorcycle bar, with an old general store squeezed between:
O’Neill Regional Park is spread out across 4,500 acres of California’s Trabuco and Live Oak Canyons.
The 81-year-old Trabuco General Store, a step back in time.
Cook’s Corner, our primary motivation for the trip, a bar that professes to be an historical landmark, though I doubt that’s far from official.
In the interest of full disclosure, there may or may not have been a stop at a winery to begin the trip.
For logistics purposes, O’Neill Park is roughly 30 miles southeast of Anaheim. I’m sure you’re familiar with Anaheim. That’s the place where the little theme park with the mouse mascot is located.
Though the O'Neill Park is a desert area. I have to admit my surprise at the tremendous amount of trees and other vegetation. If you turned your back toward the desert it’s easy to imagine you’re in a typical Midwestern state park with an abundance of picnic areas, playgrounds and camping,
Those grounds include nearly 80 campsites for everything from RVs to tents. A little tip, DD tells me you need to reserve spaces far in advance.
By the way and by the by, there are five equestrian campsites, each with horse corrals, for those of you into pony trekking.
There are 23 miles of hiking trails spread out around the park. Walking the short distance from the parking area onto the trail is like walking through a magical door, transporting you from picnic tables and grassy areas surrounded by trees' straight into the California desert with its dusty trail, cactus and bright sun shining down. Bring water, it was a dry 90 degrees when we were there.
We could have easily spent the full day there but the main attraction, Cook’s, was still ahead of us.
More logistics: O’Neill’s Park, Cook’s and the Trabuco General Store are all located on Highway S19. We drove in from the north and actually passed Cook’s on the way to O’Neill Park. The park is 3½ miles south of Cook’s and the General Store is another mile south of the park. I know, that’s a lot of back and forth but hey, we had a plan and nothing was going to detour us from it.
Trabuco General Store
To get a picture of Trabuco General Store, imagine an Old West store near the Mexican border. Which, I guess it kind of is. The Park and General Store are located 130 miles north of Mexico, in what would have been Mexican territory 175 years ago.
The doors to the store, that give you a feeling of an old saloon, are situated at the corner of the building with a covered walkway/porch spreading out both to the left and right.
Immediately inside are a couple of antique barber chairs and a mannequin dressed up as a cowboy. The rough, handmade shelves are full of everything you might need in a pinch. This truly is a general store, catering to locals living in the area as well as park visitors and tourists. You’ll also find a fair number of Mexican products and candies that, showing my ignorance, I have no idea what they are.
Speaking of the locals, the store is a gathering spot for the community and is often the locale for neighborhood fundraisers. Movies have been filmed there and photo shoots are a regular occurrence. John Wayne used to even stop by back in the day.
That brings us to Cook’s. I ran across Cook’s online when searching for things I might want to do or see when visiting DD. When I mentioned it, Fiancé said he’d wanted to go there but wasn’t so sure about what kind of place it really is, hardcore biker bar or something more tame.
Discretion, caution, safety, haven’t always been my strong suit. I have a few stories of wandering into places I shouldn’t have been including, just a handful of years ago, finding myself completely lost, after midnight, in the alleys of Chicago.
I’m also a slow learner so, nothing ventured, nothing gained, Cook’s it is!
I’m told Cook’s truly was a rough place once upon a time, where Hell’s Angels were often known to gather.
The story goes that it was considered neutral territory with members of rival clubs regularly hanging out there simultaneously. The catch was they were never allowed to wear their clubs’ colors so brawls were kept to a minimum.
There’s no need to worry about that today.
Yes, the number of Harleys far outnumbered the vehicle count, but these people were no Hell’s Angels.
Well, maybe, 40 years ago, hard to tell. The average customer age was probably somewhere in the late 30s with many in their 40s and 50s.
Having said that, the feel was still different from most popular “biker” bars I’m familiar with. The majority of ones I see today are populated by Baby Boomers, a lot of them with white collar jobs, just out looking for a good time on a Saturday afternoon.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Heck, except for the Harley, that description perfectly fits me. (Side note, I did have a couple of motorcycles many years ago so I’m intimately familiar with the thrill. Mine were not Harleys though. I had those screamer Japanese models that begin with the letter K.)
For Cook's patrons, motorcycles aren’t something you hop on for a ride for the weekend. For these folks, motorcycles are life. I’m certain it’s the only vehicle many of them own.
I guess what I'm trying to say, and feel like I'm failing to get across, is that Cook's is a great place. It's not a "biker bar" in the sense that you need to be afraid of the Sons of Silence suddenly rolling in and tearing up the place.
DD even talked about coming back and bringing friends along for her birthday.
Cook’s itself is a fairly small building, but the land outside is big with two bars on different levels so there’s never a long wait to quench your thirst.
I mentioned above that Cook’s claims to be an historic landmark. Whether that’s an official designation or not doesn’t really matter.
Cook’s was built in 1884 so that classifies as historic to me. It was built by a merchant named Andrew Jackson Cook who supplied goods for miners and ranchers, converted to a restaurant by his son in 1926 and converted into a bar in the 1930s after the end of Prohibition.
Live bands play the weekends. The one on stage when we were there played lot of 80s rock with a fair mix of current, and even country, songs as well. Their encore to end the show was Son of a Bitch by Nathanial Rateliff. That’s on the short list for the father/daughter dance at DD’s upcoming nuptials.
Bottom line, if you like drinking a few beers and having a good time, put Cook's on your list.
If I lived about 2,000 miles closer, I’m sure there would be many days spent hiking in O’Neill Park ending with some rehydration beers at Cook’s.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.