Belly up to the bar: Arizona’s best historic saloons

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Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.

George Washington Carver



Roger Naylor, Special for The Republic 10:44 a.m. MST May 30, 2014

Saloons were the foundation of frontier society. They often were the first businesses that opened in new towns and mining camps.

Drinking establishments typically began in tents or wooden shacks, then became more elaborate as the town grew. Saloons served as meeting places, clearinghouses for information and impromptu town halls. They also were the entertainment districts and online dating sites of their day.

Arizona has a longstanding love affair with the saloon. Cities have designated entire blocks as Whiskey Row (Prescott), Saloon Row (Williams) and Brewery Gulch (Bisbee).

In Holbrook, Bucket of Blood Street commemorates the former hooch house once called the Cottage Saloon. In 1886, a shootout over a card game left two men dead on the floor. Spectators commented that it looked like a bucket of blood had been spilled. The name stuck. The Bucket of Blood Saloon closed in the 1930s but the building still stands on the street that bears its name.

Belly up to the bar in a few of Arizona’s best saloons.

Belly up to the bar

Palace Restaurant & Saloon

Dozens of saloons stood shoulder to shoulder on Whiskey Row in Prescott’s early days. The Palace has been there since 1877, making it Arizona’s oldest bar.

In 1900, when fire swept Whiskey Row, Palace customers carried the ornate 1880s Brunswick bar across the street to safety. Then they continued to toss back the sauce. Thus making the Palace the site of possibly the greatest drinking story ever. The Palace was rebuilt the following year and continued to anchor Whiskey Row. During Prohibition, a speakeasy operated in the basement.

When movie crews rolled into town, they couldn’t resist filming here. “Junior Bonner,” starring Steve McQueen; “Billy Jack,” starring Tom Laughlin; and “Wanda Nevada,” with Peter Fonda, all have scenes shot in the bar.

The Palace was restored in 1996 to reflect its historical character. Hardwood floors, swinging doors, oak wainscoting and leaded-glass windows are part of the time-capsule feel.

Details: 120 S. Montezuma St., Prescott. 928-541-1996,

Sultana Bar

The neon sign out front proclaims the Sultana as “World Famous.” Given its long history and location, that’s probably accurate.

Opened in 1912 in a concrete-block building in downtown Williams, the Sultana is a favorite stop for Route 66 and Grand Canyon travelers. Plenty of taverns have animal heads mounted on walls, but the Sultana ups the ante with whole stuffed critters, including the prowling cougar and rearing black bear above the bar. A cavernous place with pool tables and a bowling machine, the Sultana also has a good barbecue joint attached to the back.

The bar sits atop a maze of old tunnels that fan out beneath the street. Built by railroad workers, the tunnels later were used to transport and store booze during Prohibition. City-hall meetings have been held in the bar and, in its 100-year existence, the Sultana hosted city-hall meetings and gained notoriety when the first Williams police chief reportedly was shot and killed in the alley behind the building.

It was named one of the best bars in America by Gourmet magazine in 2009.

Details: 301 W. Route 66, Williams. 928-635-2021.

Drift Inn Saloon

When you feel like you’ve stepped back in time after pushing through the doors, that’s the sign of a great saloon. The high ceilings of pressed tin, wooden floors and big murals transport you to another era.

Built in 1902, the Drift, as it is affectionately known, retains plenty of historical character. When owners Eileen Townsend and Lisa Brazil took over in 1998, they stripped away layers of linoleum, carpet and rotting wood to reveal the graceful bones of the original structure.

In addition to the bottled spirits, it’s rumored that a few free-range ones haunt the place, especially the upstairs area that once served as a bustling brothel.

The menu includes plenty of finger foods plus brawny burgers cooked on the flattop. Two pool tables, shuffleboard, a big-screen television and nightly events keep the locals drifting in.

Details: 636 N. Broad St., Globe. 928-425-9573,

Paul and Jerry’s Saloon

Boomtowns often consisted of hastily constructed wooden buildings crowded together, so devastating fires were a fact of life. Paul and Jerry’s Saloon was built in 1899 to replace the original structure destroyed in a fire. It operated as the Senate Saloon, with a Chinese restaurant downstairs. During Prohibition it was converted to a billiard parlor.

Paul Vojnic bought the business in 1939 and later bought the building from the Jerome Historical Society. The society was formed after the mines closed in order to save old structures in a town that was losing population fast. Vojnic changed the name to Paul and Jerry’s, and now it’s thought to be the oldest family-owned bar in Arizona.

Details: 206 Main St., Jerome. 928-634-2603.

Spirit Room

Back before karaoke, customers went to bars to hear people who actually knew how to sing. They were called bands, and not only did they sing but they played instruments and generally put on a performance.

The Spirit Room in Jerome is something of a throwback because live music is still the thing that defines it. There’s an acoustic night Tuesdays, open mike Wednesdays and bands from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

There usually is a performance Friday or Saturday nights as well, but those rocking weekend afternoons have become legendary. Only 100 people can squeeze into the Spirit Room and seating is scarce, but when things get righteously thumping who wants a chair anyway? The small wooden dance floor is scuffed as dark and shiny as if it were made from black onyx.

Details: 166 Main St., Jerome. 928-634-8809,

Bird Cage Theatre

You can’t order a drink at the Bird Cage in Tombstone, but it’s an incredible glimpse at Western history. The combination theater, saloon, gambling hall and brothel was sealed up in 1889 and left undisturbed, so much inside is still original. Today, the building is an intriguing museum.

Wander through at your own pace, studying the dusty artifacts and sticking your fingers in some of the 120 or so bullet holes that aerate the building. There are nightly ghost tours, one family-friendly and the other a little more adult. Call for reservations.

Details: 535 E. Allen St., Tombstone. $8-$10. 800-457-3423,

Crystal Palace Saloon

The Crystal Palace opened in Tombstone in 1882 on the site of the former Golden Eagle Brewing Co., one of the city’s first saloons, which burned down that same year. Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp had an office on the second floor and gunman “Buckskin” Frank Leslie worked there awhile as night watchman. The Crystal Palace became known for fine dining and was frequented by some of the city’s most notorious characters.

Of course, Prohibition took its toll. Over the years the building went through several incarnations, being used as a theater, warehouse and bus depot before being restored to its former glory in 1964 and reopening under its old name. Long famous for serving “good whiskey and tolerable water,” the Crystal Palace has an extensive menu of burgers, steaks, ribs, salads and more.

Details: 436 E. Allen St., Tombstone. 520-457-3611,

Stock Exchange Saloon and Grill

In 1905, the Muheim Building housed the Brewery Saloon in the thriving city of Bisbee. Years later, Prohibition forced John Muheim to shutter his saloon and find another tenant to occupy the sprawling space. A brokerage firm on the second floor relocated its offices, a stock board and ticker-tape machine were installed and the New York Stock Exchange in Arizona opened for business in 1914. It was the only big board in the state.

The Stock Exchange closed in 1961. In 1982 the pendulum swung back when a saloon reopened. Bulls and bears were replaced with beers and burgers. The saloon sits at the entrance of Brewery Gulch. The menu includes barbecue, burgers and sandwiches with meat from family farms. The big board is still part of the decor.

Details: 15 Brewery Ave., Bisbee. 520-432-1333,

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Vanishing Arizona

There are places where you can glimpse vestiges of the past, of Arizona’s history and prehistory. Some of the saloons in this story overcame fires and Prohibition to serve customers today. One is no longer a watering hole but a museum.

Each month this year, Explore Arizona will show you such places and share their significance in the fabric of our state.

More to explore

For a slideshow of these saloons plus previous stories in this series, go to


Roger Naylor is a freelance writer who covers Arizona travel and outdoor recreation.

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