A Closer Look: The Madonna Inn Bar

The fantastical Madonna Inn is like a 10-year-old girl’s dream come true. Paddocks dotted with horses surround the place. Cookies are served upon arrival. And of course, there’s the unending theme of pink.

Pink booths. Pink walls. Pink bathrobes. Pretty much everything pink.  

But the San Luis Obispo California hotel, built in the 50’s, is also the site of much craftsmanship and entrepreneurial work that can get lost in the sea of fuchsia. 


The original owner of the place, Alex Madonna, was an entrepreneur, a rancher and owner of the highway construction business that made much of Highway 101, the highway that cuts up California right past the Madonna Inn. He made big things and clearly had a passion for moving rocks. Giant boulders are everywhere.

The individually-designed rooms get the most attention, but the hotel bar, dressed floor to ceiling with ornate unfinished wood carvings, is also particularly striking. 

The story goes that Madonna brought in a master bavarian wood carver named Alexander Zeller who lived in the area to work on the hotel. But the woodcarver died suddenly while finishing the massive project. As a tribute Madonna left the bar unfinished. 


Now the outlines of grapes, birds and leaves wait forever to be carved into the bar.

When driving up the coast it’s a strange and fitting place to stop to have a drink and ponder the time and ambition it takes to build something great. And also how sometimes the best projects, sadly, go unfinished.