Moss Beach Distillery- A Ghostly Trip to the Sea
Sierra Lodestar 08/12/09
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By the sea, by the sea . . .

By Antoinette May Herndon

A ghost chaser from way back, I’ll go anywhere to track down a spooky story.

“Anywhere” seems specially enticing on these sizzling summer days. Throw in a world class restaurant with a seaside view and the cold chill factor is irresistible. Oh, for those icy fingers up and down my spine!

But just who is the mysterious “blue lady” who returns again and again to haunt the Moss Beach Distillery, her high heels echoing a phantom Charleston eerily into the night?

My inquiring mind demanded to know. Tracking her restless shade would take only a tank of gas. Charles and I were on our way to the coast faster than you can say . . .Boo!

Built on a steep cliff overlooking the sea, the Moss Beach Distillery, our Blue Lady’s watering hole, is a chic restaurant. But it began as a shady speakeasy, built in 1927, when Half Moon Bay was notorious as a supplier of illegal Canadian liquor.

The abundance of secluded coves along the isolated stretch of rugged ocean was an open invitation to rum runners. Bootlegging was dangerous business, murder and hijacking common. But that didn’t stop film stars, socialites and politicians from flocking there.

According to legend, some eighty years ago a beautiful young woman became passionately involved with the bar’s piano player. Their ardent trysts ended when the lady, dressed in her favorite blue, was killed in an automobile accident on her way to meet the piano player.

That’s one story. Another is that the blue lady’s jealous husband stabbed her to death on the beach below the restaurant. Either way, that should have been the end of her . . . but was it?

Over the years, staff and patrons have not only heard the ghost crying but seen her. Managers working late at night hear faucets come on. They investigate and return to find their offices locked from the inside.

Once a young man ran screaming from the restroom after being confronted by a woman in blue—covered with blood.

One night an out-of-towner asked the bartender,

“Who was murdered here? I feel strong vibrations,” she explained, pointing to a corner where the piano once stood.

When John Barber acquired the property in 1990, his attempt to take inventory was blocked—literally. The wine cellar, a windowless room, is built into the side of a hill. Though unlocked, it took three men to force the one door open.

Once inside, the men discovered they’d been pushing against the restaurant’s entire wine supply. Who or what had shoved the cases into position? How was the blocked doorway exited? Some say the blue lady has lots of muscle.

An even stranger tale was reported by Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Belding after attending an impromptu séance with employees at the restaurant. The group felt a cold spot, saw a candle ignite but no ghosts.

Belding and his partner left at 3:30 a.m., heading north on highway 92. Suddenly their car developed a mind of its own—veering right and then left. A white light blazed before them. Belding swerved once again, smashing the car. Miraculously both men survived the crash and went in search of help. When they returned a tow truck was already on the scene.

Later, when Belding picked up his car, the tow truck driver asked about “the lady.” Belding looked blank, but driver persisted. “The pretty girl in the blue dress, looked kind of like a costume. She was standing in the road bleeding and crying.”

Ooh! Scar---ry! As the fog drifts in silently and mysteriously surrounding the Moss Beach Distillery, one easily becomes a believer. The wind howls through the twisted cypress trees outside and one hears mournful whispers. Candlelight casts shadows on the muted walls. But so much for the Blue Lady.

The food—most particularly seafood—is excellent at the Distillery. A spectacular seaside setting makes this a “destination” restaurant, driving prices up. Fortunately, the quality of the cuisine and service are consistently worth it. If you’re thinking splurge, this is the place.

On our recent ghost watch, Charles started the evening with distillery clam chowder, a classic New England soup with

lots of manila clams as well as potatoes, cream and brandy. ($12)

I opted for the house caesar salad—a true caesar with plenty of parmesan, handmade dressing, and loaded with anchovies. $13.

Charles’s main course was eggplant and pistachio goat cheese—a grilled marinated eggplant served with roasted red bell pepper, sautéed white beans, tomatoes spinach, harissa sauce dribbled with cilantro oil. ($30) It was fabulous.

But then so was my choice: panko-crusted halibut—a pan-roasted filet with apricot-pistachio couscous, tempura green beans, beurre blanc with cilantro sauce. ($35)

With or without a resident ghost, the Moss Beach Distillery is a prize winning restaurant. Coastal diners have conferred every “best” award you can think of—including best place to take out of town guests. Isn’t that reason enough to go for a sea change?

While you’re at it: happy haunting!

VITALS: Moss Beach Distillery Restaurant. 140 Beach Way. Moss Beach. Phone: (650). 728-5595. Open daily—lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch. Does not accept checks or American Express cards.

It’s a half-day drive to the coast and, after a scrumptious dinner or lunch at the Distillery, you may not want to go far. What about an overnight at the nearby Oceano Hotel overlooking Pillar Point Harbor Beach? Views are the primary amenity at the Oceano, a new hotel designed with lovers in mind. Appointments are romantic with fireplaces, wet bars, and private sea view balconies. The hotel is adjacent to a quaint seaside shopping lane where guests can enjoy unique restaurants, cafes and boutiques. Other activities include hiking, swimming, whale watching, kayaking and sailing. Oceano Hotel. 280 Capistrano Rd., Half Moon Bay. Phone: 1-888-623-2662.


1) An historic marker recounts the Moss Beach Distillery’s lurid history. 2) The historic Moss Beach Distillery was built in 1927. 3) The dining room of the Moss Beach Distillery 4) The Oceano Hotel is a romantic edition to picturesque Half Moon Bay. 5) Typical room view from the Oceano Hotel.