Linda Broday Says “Set ’em up, Joe!”

linda-sig.jpgYou can’t pick up a western romance without it having some reference to the saloon. Saloons played a vital role in the western expansion. They filled a very human need. In addition to fulfilling the main role of quenching a man’s thirst, saloons were a place where cowboys could indulge in “cow talk” and where farmers and ranchers commiserated with each other about the weather/dry spells or floods. It was a place to get information on whatever subject you were needing to know about.


saloon2Saloons helped a man forget his loneliness and drown his troubles if only for a few hours. They offered entertainment, comfort, refuge, and refinement. And they were one of few places where a man could escape from his wife.


Saloons were all things to all men. And most times a cowboy didn’t  have to look far to find one.


Silverton, Colorado held the distinction of having the “worst gaming street in Colorado history.” Blair Street boasted 40 saloons and dance halls, 27 gaming saloons, and 18 houses of ill repute. And that was only one street among several in the town. With all the establishments being open 24 hours a day sin ran non-stop.


saloon7Saloons reflected the financial health and customers of a town. In wealthier places they were fancy buildings with ornate furnishings. But on the prairie, watering holes were often sod houses or tents. Usually the mining towns where gold or silver was abundant they were opulent and refined.


Either next to or behind the saloons were liveries where the customers could leave their horses while they quenched their thirst. If they didn’t plan to linger in the saloon long, there were hitching rails in front. In the book, “Saloons of the Old West” by Richard Erdoes he said, “The town’s sheriff could read brands just as easily as a modern cop reads license plates, and he would take care of the “parking problem” if he saw a horse tied to the rack overnight.”


saloon_01_smallMost saloons were built shotgun style–real long but not very wide. That was to accommodate a long bar, many of which were 50 to 60 feet in length. Saloon proprietors often competed to see who could get the longest bar. Erickson’s Saloon in Portland, Oregon was a whopping 684 feet long and probably held the record. Breen’s in San Francisco is made from Brazilian mahogany and measures 72 feet long. It’s supposedly the longest in America today. Denver’s Albany was quite impressive with its 110 ft. counter backed by a flawless mirror of matching length. And it’s a given that saloons almost always had a picture of a naked lady somewhere over the bar.


saloon6A little known fact: The typical establishment had towels hanging at certain intervals along the edge of the counter so men could wipe the foam off their beards and mustaches if they needed to.


Some saloons, the fancier ones, had a barber chair tucked into a corner with a live barber on hand to cut hair and give shaves for those who were inclined to spruce up. It saved time I guess. A cowboy could eat, drink, have his hair cut and get a shave all without leaving the saloon. Pretty amazing to have all those services combined.


Oh, and various saloons also maintained letter boxes so their steady customers could receive their mail in there.


There was no legal drinking age, but normally a bartender wouldn’t serve unless a boy’s voice had changed.


saloon-girlA lot of history was made inside saloons. States were named, capitals founded, political candidates announced, elections held, and trials conducted. The saloon was the place to be evidently.


American Indians were barred from saloons by law. Blacks were tolerated. But another group wasn’t welcome—military soldiers. Soldiers were resented because they policed the early West. Cowpunchers also blamed soldiers, rightly or wrongly, for giving the working girls venereal disease. But I seriously doubt that.


Do you think books and movies accurately portray saloons? Do you have a favorite saloon scene you’d like to share? Or do you have a favorite hero/heroine (books or movies) who was a saloon owner?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

31 thoughts on “Linda Broday Says “Set ’em up, Joe!””

  1. Good morning, Linda. I really enjoyed reading about saloons today, and you taught me about bar towels and mail delivery. Who knew? 🙂

    I do think saloons are portrayed fairly accurately in books and movies. The gyst is the same–they were a place for guys to hang out, just like bars today. Politics and drinking, fights and drinking. Lovin’ and drinking–one size fits all. LOL.

  2. Great blog, Linda. I learned some things I didn’t know. My own favorite saloon scene is in my first Harlequin Historical, WIND RIVER. The hero goes into a ramshackle bar in South Pass City, Wyoming, and is waited on by a red-haired, freckle-faced young barmaid named Martha Jane. I give just enough hints for sharp readers to recognize her as the legendary Calamity, who was really there at the time.

  3. The saloon scene that’s been in my head since I started reading this was in The Shootist. The end, remember, when the bad guys gathered and
    SPOILER ALERT– but seriously, if you haven’t seen The Shootist by now, surely the word has gotten out…….

    John Wayne is looking for a way to NOT die slowly from cancer.
    So he orchestrates a shoot-out in the bar and John Wayne wins, then that cowardly bar tender shoots him, probably to gain the reputation as ‘the man who killed J.B. Books’.
    Then Ron Howard kills the bartender immediately.
    Very tough saloon scene.

  4. I do love those saloon scenes! I’ve written a male saloon owner and a female saloon owner – the woman was the most fun.

    Everyone thought Lily Divine was a prostitute, but of course she wasn’t. A man who later became a famous artist (in real life) painted her nekked and sent her the painting – she deliberately hung it over the bar. She was a rebel! Then I was fortunate enough to do a contemporary about her great-great granddaughter who inherited Lily’s gold mine — and in that story the infamous painting still hangs over the bar.

    Actually had to write that first for a continuity deadline, so the backward order made it challenging.

    Anyway, the two stories are The Bounty Hunter and Million Dollar Makeover.

  5. Hi Pam,

    Glad you enjoyed my post. I love running across things I didn’t know. Until I wrote this blog, I didn’t know about the bar towels or the barber chair and mail slots. I’m sure the barber and the mail was only in select saloons and not very widespread. I’d say they were in the larger towns. But it was really interesting. Gives us a few more details to add to a story sometime.

    Hope you have a great day!

  6. Hi Elizabeth!

    Your book “Wind River” sounds enticing. How neat that you could incorporate Calamity Jane into your story. I love when actual historical events can be woven in and especially when the historical people interact with our characters. I think it’s great.

    Saloons played such a vital part in the settling of the West. Guess it gave the men stamina. LOL

  7. Hi Mary!

    The Shootist was a favorite movie of mine. Had a sad ending though that was hard to watch. I didn’t want John Wayne to die but I knew he had to. Love how he died on his own terms. And it broke my heart when he died in real life. It was like losing a member of my own family.

    LaVeryl Spencer wrote a book (I can’t remember the title off hand) about a hero saloon owner who clashed with the temperance heroine who was bound and determined to run him out of business. It had some very funny memorable scenes. Classic LaVeryl writing.

  8. Hi Cheryl!

    I haven’t read the two books of yours that you mention but I LOVED Jonas Black, the saloon owner in HER MONTANA MAN. Jonas had immense strength of character and stuck to his guns no matter what the consequences. You really portrayed him well and made him the perfect hero for Eliza Jane.

    I can see where heroine saloon owners would be neat to write. I loved Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke. She was a tough lady with loads of character. Lily Devine (love her name) was probably just as strong and determined as Miss Kitty. It’s very cool how you wrote that painting into a contemporary that featured Lily’s great great granddaughter! How interesting. You’re always full of clever ideas.

  9. Yes I think book and movies portray of saloons. I haven’t read the books you were talking about but I think I would really enjoy them. On of my favorite saloon owner was Ms. Kitty on Marshel Dillion. This is how I portray the way a saloon should be.

  10. Great post, Linda! The Spencer book you referred to is THE GAMBLE – loved that book–I think it has one of my favorite openers… the heroine notices these young boys gathering an the walk and goes out to find a group of men trying to get this giant protrait of a mostly nude “saloon maiden” into the new saloon — she’s outraged of course and shouts for the boys to go home before she tells their mothers and then she goes after the saloon owner for creating such an indecent display. He’s puffing on his charoot, openly amused as she squawks, then he picks up the tiny woman and plants her boots in the muddy street then laughs as he goes inside to have a drink with the men arranging his new prized picture.
    What he doesn’t know is that she has a deformed hip and he’s caused her a great deal of pain–when he finds out he feels horrible. But that kind of turmoil sure makes for a crackling start to the book 🙂 A definitel favorite of mine *LOL*

    I was intrigued to discover some saloons of the old west doubled as churches (as did Wyatt Earp’s saloon!) and court houses. I do love saloon scenes and have a saloon/court scene in BRIDE OF SHADOW CANYON–had a ton of fun writing that one 🙂

    Thanks for the fun post and great info!!

  11. Hi Quilt Lady!

    Thanks for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure to see you. Yes, I loved Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. I thought she was so pretty. She has such a great sense of humor and lots of steel. I wanted her to marry Matt Dillon so bad and was disappointed when they didn’t. They clearly loved each other.

    If you haven’t read Cheryl St. John’s newest release HER MONTANA MAN you really need to. Her hero owns a saloon. Jonas Black had character and scruples and a gritty toughness. It was excellent.

  12. Hi Stacey!

    Thank you so much for filling in the title to that LaVeryl Spencer book. You’re right. It was THE GAMBLE. And yes, that opening scene really hooked me. I loved how she didn’t deliberately set out to be in the temperance movement but got kind of rooked into it. And she secretly sewed costumes for the dancing girls. That was a neat twist.

    I’d forgotten about how saloons doubled at times for churches and court houses. Thanks for bringing that up. I wrote a saloon scene in my first book KNIGHT ON THE TEXAS PLAINS. They hold Jessie’s trial in there and her lawyer makes them take down the nude painting over the bar until the trial is over. That was a neat scene to write.

    Good luck on your new WIP! 🙂

  13. Hi. . I love saloon lore. One of my favorite books was Notorious, in which the hero buys a saloon across from one owned by a heroine and they indulge in a competition to destroy the other, no holds barred. It was great fun and I learned a lot about saloons. One interesting fact is that they used free food to lure in drinkers and gamblers, just like happy hours today.

  14. Hi Pat–

    Wow, I’m going to have to read NOTORIOUS! You’ve hooked me. What could be more fun than reading about hero and heroine saloon owners. That would be quite a battle. I’m curious as to who won. I’d be rooting for the girl. You always come up with some awesome stories.

    And thanks for pointing out that saloon owners used to lure in their patrons with free food. I’d forgotten that.

    I have a couple of saloon scenes in my story that’s in the new GIVE ME A COWBOY anthology. They were really fun scenes to write. The heroine causes such a stir when she walks into the saloon and sits down like she belongs there. Sure makes the hero a bit uncomfortable.

  15. Definitely learned some new things today! I read a historical romance that has a woman who receives a saloon from her father… off hand I can not remember the title… I would look for the book, but my 7 month old nephew is cranky and bugging me for attention! Later ladies! 😀

  16. Hi Colleen,

    Thanks for taking a minute to come by. It’s always great to see you. Hope your little nephew gets in a better mood. You must be babysitting.

    I’ve read several stories where the heroine inherits a saloon from her father. I love it when a character is suddenly thrust into a role that they have no choice in. Makes for good reading. Have you by chance read THE GAMBLE by Laveryl Spencer? It’s an excellent story.

  17. What a great post, Linda. I learned lots of things I didn’t even suspect. My husband has an antique barber chair he recently had restored. Maybe it started out in a saloon!


  18. Hi Tanya–

    Glad you liked my blog about saloons. I’m always learning new things when I sat down to write a blog. And it’s little unknown details that really bring a story to life.

    How neat that your hubby has an antique barber chair! If only it could talk. I’d love to know where it’s been and some of the customers who sat in it. Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me, but I love touching old objects and imagining the people they once belonged to. I guess that’s why I write historical romance. History has always held a special place in my heart.

  19. Great blog never knew some of these things.

    I love to see a beautiful bar. The stairs in the one above is absolutely beautiful

  20. Hi Linda! Saloons sure were a mainstay. I love seeing them in movies and reading about them in Westerns. I didn’t know they got mail delivery there! That’s really interesting. I don’t go out to bars much myself, but I do love to look at a sleek and polished beautiful piece of wood. They’re probably all done in veneers now, so I imagine those antique ones were worth a fortune!

    Even thinking about saloons gives me a warm cozy feeling, but then I’m surely romanticizing them in my mind. (like the show Cheers) In reality, some of them were downright scary.

    Thanks for the great pictures!

  21. My favorite saloon was the Long Branch Saloon in the long-lived series, Gunsmoke. Of course, my
    favorite saloon proprietor was Miss Kitty Russell,
    portrayed by Amanda Blake of sultry, sensuous voice!
    All the years of that show I wished that Miss Kitty
    and Marshal Dillon would “get together!” They made
    such a great couple!

    Pat Cochran

  22. Hi Sherry–

    Thanks for stopping by and joining in. It’s kinda been a slow day. I agree that the beautiful polished wood on a bar is just gorgeous. And the staircases in the fancier ones were a sight to behold. I love picturing the men and women arm in arm, going up and down the stairs. I wonder what they talked about. I must be weird. LOL

  23. Hi Kate!

    Yeah, saloons do kinda give you a cozy feeling. It’s like a treat you give yourself. And the polished wood was really beautiful, so sleek and shiny. Glad you enjoyed the blog.

    Hi again, Mary. I don’t know if they used the mirrors expressly for target practice (that’s too funny) or not but I know the gunslinger used the mirrors to see who was coming up behind him. Helped to have eyes in the back of your head. LOL

  24. Hi Pat,

    I agree. Miss Kitty and Matt should’ve gotten hitched. It was very clear they were in love with each other. She did have a sultry voice, didn’t she? As a little girl I thought she was the most beautiful woman.

    Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!

  25. It’s nice to see someone else has a fascination with saloons like myself. LOL I don’t have any scenes that stick out in my mind from books or movies. But the saloon does seem to play an integral part in most westerns. My book Gambling on an Angel the hero is a co-owner of a saloon. I read several books on saloons while writing that story. And something I learned from a visit to a museum, some bars had holes drilled out underneath so when a man stuck his fingers in it, he wouldn’t wobble while having a drinking contest.

  26. Hi Linda,
    Chiming in late here, but I loved your info on saloons. I find it amazing how many a town might have! Sort of like a Starbucks in today’s world, one on every corner. But I didn’t know how long those bars sometimes were. Great pics!

    Sorry, I’m late here. Tuesdays are my out of the house day so I’m always late getting to P and P!

  27. cool blog Linda (sorry Im late in responding-Im up way passed my eyeballs in Girl Scout cookies!)

    I love the saloon scene in Lonesome Dove where Gus gave the bartender “what-for” LOL…. he got his attention for sure!

    Appaloosa had some good saloon scenes as well!

  28. Melissa,

    I can only imagine how inundated you are with the Girl Scout cookies. LOL That’s quite an undertaking. Those cookies sure are good though! Savanna will have a great time selling them.

    I’d forgotten about the saloon scene from Lonesome Dove. That was a very memorable one. I loved Gus! He showed that saloon girl a lot of respect and love. A one of a kind character with a heart of gold.

    Good luck with the cookies!

  29. Hi again, I have read Spencer’s novels, but have not had the pleasure of reading THE GAMBLE. Thanks for the suggestion… will have to look for a copy! As for my nephew, I have him every weekday and he was an angel after his nap! 😀

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