Written by Julie Tremaine, SF Gate | Reference Source
When Jim Buell built Zaca Creek in the early 1960s, it was the kind of place where you could ride your horse right up to the door and hitch it up while you went inside to tie one on. In Buellton, a town named after Buell’s family, the place was what the Santa Barbara Independent called a “beloved steakhouse and raucous saloon.” There are as many stories of bar fights and legendary blowouts as there are fondly remembered spins around the dance floor. It was also the kind of establishment that, with its enormous dining hall and capacity for hundreds of guests, became unsustainable as modern restaurants have trended smaller and smaller, and the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley evolved into the wine destination it is today. It closed for good in 2001.
When married couple Chelsea Rushing and Stephen Villa decided to revive the restaurant, the bullet holes they left in the wall were only one of the ways they preserved the spirit of the old place. “From the very beginning, we realized what a huge part of the community it had been,” Rushing says. “From the second construction started, people were showing up.” There was even a community-created Facebook group called the Reopening of Zaca Creek. The people who were coming, they recount, shared stories of having their first drinks at the tavern when they turned 21, or of getting married there in the 1980s. “It was something that was really deeply rooted in the entire valley,” Rushing adds, “not just Buellton, but the whole community.”