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Arizona Watering Holes: Unique Saloons & Taverns
Hats Off Books, October 15, 2005
Trim: 5.5 x 8.5
Back in our dusty frontier days, saloons sprang up everywhere, attracting men of all stripes—gunslingers, cattlemen, prospectors, miners, gamblers, politicians. Change came with Prohibition, which created the speakeasies, the fashionable cocktail, and a freer atmosphere that welcomed women. Today, many saloons have become more family oriented, with only the décor reflecting earlier times.
Visitors and longtime residents alike will find Arizona Watering Holes an entertaining guide to these establishments. Most of the saloons described here are just a day trip from Phoenix, so readers who would like to experience them firsthand can easily do so.
The Palace Saloon in Prescott is today the same impressive saloon it was more than one hundred years ago. Patrons enter through the towering massive oak doors with iron and brass fixtures into a small vestibule with an equally impressive set of swinging bar doors into the bar era. There you will find the magnificent highly polished 1880s Brunswick bar and brass foot rail. Two Winchester rifles are displayed on the ornately hand-carved back bar, offering a reminder of the saloons’ participation in early justice.
Along the back wall in the large dining room is an oak- trimmed open stairway and a landing with two doors. A mannequin elegantly dressed as an early saloon gal stands on the landing, beckoning to those below. On the exquisite tin embossed ceiling remain a few bullet holes from the past.
The town of Prescott was built entirely of wood, which accounts for all the fires in its history. The Palace Saloon opened its doors in September 1877 on a dirt road known as “Whiskey Row.” The official name is Montezuma Street, but it soon became known as Whiskey Row because of the many saloons. The historic Palace Saloon was one of the finest saloons and considered the grand saloon and centerpiece of Whiskey Row. It attracted cowboys, gamblers, and saloon girls. It was here that business deals were made and men came in search of work.
In the late 1870s, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, along with Doc Holliday, were patrons of the Palace. Doc Holliday was reported to have been on a winning streak of ten thousand dollars just ten months before the famous gunfight at OK Corral in Tombstone.
An upset lantern caused a fire in 1883 that destroyed most of Whiskey Row, including the Palace Saloon. The new owner rebuilt the Palace with bricks, a stone foundation, and shutters with the intent of making it fireproof. Unfortunately, the Palace was burned again in July of 1900 by another wind-driven fire that commenced its travel down Whiskey Row, consuming the wooden buildings and eventually, the Palace. This time the Palace patrons saved most of the liquor, and they saved the ornate bar by dismantling it. The patrons moved the sections of their beloved bar across the street to the courthouse yard. Legend has it that upon saving the bar, they continued to drink as the fire consumed the Palace. In 1901, the Palace was rebuilt, giving the handsome Brunswick bar a home once again.
Little Egypt was the first famous Oriental dancer in the world. She made front-page news in New York City after her infamous belly dance was raided, although she never actually stripped. In 1910, she performed at the Palace Saloon.
The American Flag with forty-eight stars (Arizona being the forty-eighth state) is still proudly displayed in the Palace.
Arizona went dry in 1919, and the Palace struggled to survive. During that time, there was a speakeasy in the basement for patrons waiting their turn in the brothel upstairs. The saloon continued to deteriorate over time until 1966, when it was restored to its original grandeur.
The saloon girls and card tables are gone, but the ghosts of the past are still lurking, and have been entertained by the various movie stars that have used the Palace in their filming. Steve McQueen starred in Junior Bonne, filmed at the Palace in 1971. The film Billy Jack, starring Tom Laughlin, had a scene in the Palace in 1971. Scenes with Peter Fonda and Brooke Shields for the movie Wanda Nevada were filmed at the Palace.
The Palace Saloon today is considered one of the finest saloons and restaurants in the state of Arizona. The saloon on Whiskey Row is tucked in among quaint shops, boutiques, art galleries, and Indian art.
In the historic Brunswick bar section are framed black and white pictures mounted on the wall, depicting a way of life long gone. Although the dress style has changed and there are no gun belts hanging from men’s waists, the cowboy hat and boots remain popular. The spirits of miners, cowboys, and the pioneer women still seem to be roaming within the walls of the historic Palace Saloon.
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