Stepping into these Western watering holes is stepping back in time.
Coaxing a stranger to dance with shots at his feet. Well-dressed madams and their ladies. Gamblers and con men. Future presidents and lawmen. The legends of Old West saloons are romantic and rough and tumble. Some of those watering holes are living legends. Here are five of our favorites.
Buffalo Bodega (est. 1877)
Deadwood, South Dakota
What does a Wild West town with nearly 20 saloons need? Another saloon! At least that is what Mike Russell decided when he arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, in March 1877. Betting against the odds, two months later Russell opened the Buffalo Bar, reportedly named in honor of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Nearly 150 years later, Russell’s gamble lives on as the Buffalo Bodega and includes a steakhouse and casino.
The Historic Palace Restaurant and Saloon (est. 1877)
More community center than simple watering hole, The Palace, which sits on Prescott, Arizona’s Whiskey Row, posted an employment board, cattle, election results, and served as a trading floor for mineral rights. Although it is considered the oldest saloon in Arizona, The Palace’s current address is across the street from its original location, having moved due to a fire in 1901. Before the razing, The Palace saw many a notable Western figure pass through its doors, among them Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Virgil Earp. The latter was Prescott’s constable for a spell in the 1870s, and Wyatt and his other brother, Morgan, stopped in en route to Tombstone. Catch live Western music, a specter of the past such as the Phantom Cowboy, and other touches of history here before visiting the World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott Frontier Days.
Menger Bar (est. 1877)
Built in 1887 as a replica of London’s House of Lords Pub, the Menger Bar was once the site of more cattle deals than any other address in Texas. It was here that Theodore Roosevelt recruited his legendary Rough Riders before heading off to fight the Spanish-American War. Today, hotel guests and visitors to San Antonio (the Alamo is a stone’s throw away) sip on cocktails in a dark-wooded environment imbued with a rugged frontier Texas feel. Don’t forget to raise a glass to the portrait of Teddy.
El Patio Cantina (est. 1934)
Mesilla, New Mexico
Just outside Las Cruces, one of the hottest cities in the country (it’s home to the Chile Pepper Institute), is Mesilla. The town sits along El Camino Real and the Butterfield Stage Coach routes and became part of the Union with the Gadsden Purchase in 1854. Mesilla is also home to El Patio Cantina, established in 1934 in a building that dates back to 1858, when it housed the Butterfield Overland Mail. It had seen several occupants previously, including the Mesilla Times newspaper founded by former Union Col. Albert Jennings Fountain, one of the town fathers and whose descendants opened and continue to operate El Patio Cantina.
The Stagecoach Inn and Shady Villa Bar (est. 1861)
Originally established in 1861 as the Shady Villa Hotel in Salado, Texas, the Stagecoach Inn and its Shady Villa Bar were re-opened to the public in 2017. In doing so, clientele pass from the 21st century to the 19th century and the historic Chisholm Trail, sharing space with Sam Houston, George Custer, and Charles Goodnight. Mix up a taste of the history at home with the cocktail recipe below, courtesy beverage director Topher White.
Wilbur Jack Rose
1½ ounces Applejack
½ ounce Calvados
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce Grenadine
Apple slice, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a metal tin. Add cubed ice, shake, and double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an apple slice.
Photography: Library of Congress, Rachel Ayotte/Courtesy Menger Bar, Library of Congress. Subscribe to the forthcoming monthly Taste of the West e-newsletter below.