Whiskey, Ah Whiskey . . .

pat2.jpg “Whiskey, you villain, you’ve been my downfall; you’ve kicked me and cut me, but I love you for all that.” From the song “Jack of Diamonds.”

“Giving up drinking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done if thousands of times.” Mark Twain

What would a western movie do without its friendly – or sometimes unfriendly – saloon?

I could mention any number of pivotal scenes — usually shoot-outs –from favorite movies and then, of course, there’s the ever-present Long Branch from “Gunsmoke.” A saloon, it seems, is essential to a western.

I’ve used saloons in several of my westerns, my favorite being “Notorious.” It’s a battle of the sexes, a duel between the male and female owners of competing saloons in San Francisco. When she tries to have him shanghaied, he decides to even the score by putting her out of business.

“He’d been prepared for a battle of wits. Had even relished it, but his neighbor had declared war, and he could be every bit as underhanded and vicious as she.

He gives away free food, and she gives away free drinks. He hires the world-famous Lotta Crabtree and she gets Can Can dancers. The battle escalates and becomes the talk of San Francisco.

In writing the book, I did a lot of research on saloons. I think what surprised me most was the elaborate entertainment many had – even in small cattle towns. I also found it interesting that Yuppies didn’t invent happy hour. Many saloons gave away free food to lure customers into their premises.

I’m starting a new book and again my heroine owns a saloon/bawdy house, this time in a mining town in the Montana. My hero is a federal judge sent to wipe out lawlessness. He’s a easterner, a scion of a wealthy family. His father is a senator and he is being groomed to take his place.    He soon discovers that his formal experience with the law doesn’t exactly work well in the wild west.

But, as usual, I digress.  Back to researching saloons. Here’s a few new facts.

In the early days in the west, the whiskey served in many saloons was some pretty wicked stuff made with raw alcohol, burnt sugar and a little chewing tobacco. Some barkeeps would cut their cheap whiskey with pepper sauce, turpentine, ammonia, gunpowder, and even a small amount of rat poison. Names given this whiskey included Dead Dan, 6 feet Under, Tarantula Juice and Coffin Varnish for obvious reasons. Some drinks contained peyote and tequila, and the cheap “house specials” was often known as rotgut.

Later as competition increased and transportation improved, many offered established brands of whiskey along with such delicacies as oysters.  I’ve been puzzled over how they shipped oysters, but apparently they were very, veryy popular.

The majority of saloon regulars drank straight liquor – rye or bourbon. If a man ordered something fancy or sipped his drink they were sometimes forced to swallow a fifth of 100 proof at gunpoint. Beer was plentiful but served warm. Patrons had to knock back the beer in a hurry before it got too flat.

One of the most intriguing facts – at least for me – is that many had not only the obligatory piano player but orchestras and even small chamber music groups that played classics.   Never saw that in a western film.  I think I’ll add it to my tale, though.

Eventually, there was every type of saloon that one could imagine. There were gambling saloons, restaurant saloons, billiard saloons, bowling saloons (Yep, I was surprised at that, too) and, of course, the plain old “just drinking” saloons.” Almost all, however, had the long paneled bar, a gleaming foot rail with a row of spittoons spaced along the floor next to the bar. Along the ledge, the saloon patron would find towels hanging so they might wipe the beer suds from their mustaches. 

Some names: the Bull’s Head in Abilene, the Holy Moses in Creede, Colorado and the Arcade Saloon in Eldora Colorado.

Now my immediate problem is finding a name for my saloon. Any suggestions? I’ll send a signed copy of “Notorious” to the person sending the most intriguing name.

+ posts

36 thoughts on “Whiskey, Ah Whiskey . . .”

  1. Last Shot
    Last Chance
    The Junction
    Trail’s End
    Hit N Run
    Wet Wagon
    The Buckboard
    Wet Willys
    Two Fingers
    Long Shot
    The Wagon
    Drop N

  2. Well Pat you have done it again. got my wheels to turning. I remember watching “Gunsmoke” Now I will have to think a minute:

    Stagecoach Stop
    Do Drop Inn
    Trails End
    TameHorse Saloon
    Eagles Eye Saloon
    Hawks Claw Saloon
    Ten Shots Saloon

    Well I hope you can decide on a name. It can get crazy trying to decide how to name something.

    Please contact me so I can do an interview on you Please!!!!!!

    Walk in peace and harmony,

  3. Pat, why not call your saloon Jack of Diamonds since you quoted a line from the song? I think it’d make a great name and one I’ve not heard used recently.

    In the story I just finished writing for our next novella, I called my saloon The Pig and Whistle. That was an actual name I found in a research book. I like naming my saloons almost as much as I love naming my horses. I try to find unusual ones that I haven’t seen used.

    Great blog subject! Like you, I’d never heard of saloons having orchestra music in them so I learned something. I also didn’t know about some of the ingredients used to make the cheap stuff. Boy, that’d grow hair on your chest!

  4. Pat, I loved Notorious. It’s in my ‘favorite’s’ pile (okay mountain) of books. 🙂

    Saloon names…hmmmmmmmmm

    In a gold rush town.

    The Gold Rush
    Trail’s End-I see that one above already, maybe that’s a sign it’s a good one
    End of the Trail
    Jack of Diamonds (name your hero Jack)
    Grub Stake
    Strike It Rich

  5. Belly-Up Bar
    Fire Me Up Saloon
    A Little Taste of Heaven
    Hell’s Belles
    The Last Drop Inn

    That was fun! 🙂

  6. Bottom’s Up Saloon
    Golden Gulp Saloon
    Day’s End Saloon
    Never Give Up Saloon
    Golden Trail Saloon
    Lady Luck Saloon
    Luck of the Line Saloon

    Pat Cochran

  7. Fire in the Hole Saloon
    Firewater Saloon
    Whiskey Pete’s
    Heaven in Montana
    Good Times Saloon
    Lead Belly Bar
    Mustang Saloon
    Wild Horse Saloon
    Kick in the Head Saloon
    Mountain Top Saloon

  8. The Lucky Ace
    Sunset Stop
    Hazy Day Saloon
    Simple Pleasures Saloon
    Light Somewhere Saloon
    Sidewinder Sam’s

  9. Pat, this is a great blog. After all, what would a western be without a drinking establishment?

    How about Montana Gold? Or Montana Lil’s?

    Let us know which one you choose!

  10. Sorry not to get back, but had a doctor’s appointment this morning. Everything’s good. But what terrific suggestions. I’m going to have fun with this.

  11. The Longhorn
    Longhorn Saloon
    (name of the owner; i.e., Bill’s)
    The Drinking Hole
    The Barfly
    Drinks Galore
    Notoriety (with a nod to “Notorious”)
    Infamously Famous
    Quartz Quarts
    Hot Shots Bar
    Shootin’ from the Lip
    Tasty Nugget
    Wet Nugget
    Miners’ Delight
    Straight-Up Saloon
    Big Swigs
    Dale’s Ales (if bar owner named Dale)
    Mosey Up Corral

    Thanks for offering such a great giveaway and thanks for the great “digression” above. It was a good read!

  12. Hi Pat, What a fun post! All I could think of was Whiskey-A-Go-Go! Ooops! Isn’t that a club in Hollywood? You’ve got a zillion great suggestions. I kind of like Jack of Diamonds.

  13. The Last Best Place
    Big Sky Saloon
    Frills and Froth Saloon
    Dew Drop Inn
    The Last Call Saloon

    this is fun!!!

  14. Great blog, Pat. As always, I learned things from you I hadn’t known.

    NOTORIOUS sounds like a wonderful book! Since fillies aren’t eligible to win the contests, I guess I’ll have to find it and buy it.

    Love the saloon name ideas.

  15. Wow, why is it that my mind goes blank when someone wants me to be creative.

    Let’s see……
    Silver Spurs
    The Red Garter
    Saddle Sore, or perhaps Saddle Soap
    Gold Dust

    Looking forward to seeing which one you pick from all these bloggers super suggestions.

  16. Since your owner is a woman and there were a variety of shows that were put on, I thought she would try to stand out and put herself above the competition. I don’t know what her first name is going to be, but let us say it is Lila. The saloon could be named
    Lila’s Cultural Emporium or
    Lila’s House of Entertainment.
    It doesn’t have to sound like a rotgut saloon.
    Thanks for an interesting post. Good luck with the new book.

  17. Maybe….

    Swill & Frill

    The Lonely Cowboy

    Spirit’s Trail Saloon

    Cowboys & Outlaws

    Poker’s Pride

    Six Shooter Saloon

    Jack’s Trail

    Buckskin Jack’s

    Rustlers & Wranglers

    Frontier Jack’s

    deidre_durance at hotmail dot com

  18. The Dirty Dog was my favorite saloon, in Colorado. It wasn’t fancy, but they sure knew how to feed you, and the drinks had no snake heads. They weren’t watered down either. The woman, Bess, who ran it claimed it was named after her huge dog the resembled a wolf, black. He protected her for years, until some drunk shot him. She shot the man in return. Not a good way to keep customers, but I would have done the same.

    It’s pup protected her from then on. Just like it’s daddy! Big and mean if he had to be. He really did resemble a large wolf.

    Anyhow, saloons were the best place to get news, a meeting place. But you really needed to sit at the back of the room, with your back to the wall, so you didn’t get shot.


  19. I’m surprised you didn’t investigate the most famous (or infamous, depending on who you are talking to) in the west!!! It’s still famous, for it’s ghosts!! The patrons refused to leave. Haven’t you seen it on Ghost Hunters???

    The famous;
    The Bird Cage Theatre

    Photo by Frederick D. Nichols, 1937.
    This image available for photographic prints HERE!

    The Bird Cage Theatre today, Kathy Weiser, April, 2007
    This image available for photographic prints HERE!

    The famous Bird Cage Theatre opened its doors on December 25, 1881 and for the next eight years would never close, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Also called the Bird Cage Opera House Saloon, the establishment featured a saloon, gambling parlour, theatre, and a brothel. In no time, the “theatre” gained a reputation as one of the wildest places in Tombstone, so bad that the few self-respecting women in town refused to even walk near the place. The New York Times reported in 1882, that “the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”
    See More Tombstone!

    Tombstone – The Town Too Tough To Die
    Tombstone Historical Text
    Ghosts of Tombstone
    Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman of the American West

    During the years that the theatre was open the wicked little place witnessed a number of gun and knife fights that took some 26 lives, and left 140 bullet holes in the ceilings, walls, and floors, many of which can still be seen today.

    The theatre was called the “Bird Cage” because of its 14 crib style compartments suspended from the ceiling. Here, the painted ladies would pull the drapes and “entertain” their customers at some of the most exorbitant prices ever heard of in the Old West.

    For one of these unfortunate souls, prostitution would not be her worst fate; instead she would succumb to one of the hazards of the business – murder. When “Margarita” was sitting on the lap of a gambler named Billy Milgreen, in flounced one of her co-workers, who went by the name of “Gold Dollar.” Seeing Margarita on the lap of her best customer and “boyfriend,” Gold Dollar stuck a double edge knife into her chest, intending to cut her heart out. Having almost completed the task, she was interrupted by the sounds of the marshal coming and ran out the back door. Covered in blood, she hid the knife somewhere out back. Because the murder weapon couldn’t be found, no murder charges were filed. Amazingly, more than a century later, the stiletto was found behind the Bird Cage Theatre and is now displayed at the museum.

    Within these walls once drank and played the likes of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and members of the Cowboy faction, and Doc Holliday, who dealt faro in the gambling parlor. On one occasion, while Doc was dealing, one of his hated rivals, Johnny Ringo, passed by the table. Doc then murmured, “Care to buck the tiger, Johnny? It’s the gustiest game in town.”

    Upon hearing this, a drunken Ringo wheeled around, removed his bandana and said to Holliday,

    “Care to grab to the other end of this bandanna? This is the deadliest game in town.”

    In those days when two men grabbed the opposite ends of a bandanna, they would then fire at each other at point-blank range, generally with both men winding up dead.

    Undaunted, Doc simply stood smiling, ready to accept the challenge, but ready to use knives, rather than guns.

    Doc Holliday was one of the most deadly shootists
    in the American West.
    This image is available for photographic prints HERE!

    Johnny Ringo was thought to have been killed by either
    Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday.
    This image is available for photographic prints HERE!

    Curly Bill Brocius then interceded, grabbing Ringo and yelling, “Hell, Doc, he’s drunk!”

    Doc, who had also been drinking, like usual, answered, “Brocius, I drink more by 10:00 a.m. than he can all day.” Doc then turned and walked away.

    One of its most famous distinctions was one of the longest running games of poker ever played. Seating seven players plus a dealer, the minimum buy-in was $1,000.00 and was played around the clock for, 8 years 5 months and three days.

    Sitting at this table were some of the countries most famous businessmen, such as Adolph Busch and George Randolph Hearst, as well as history’s famous poker players, including Diamond Jim Brady and Bat Masterson. During that eight year period, more than ten million dollars changed hands, with the house, of course, taking its 10%.

    It was also here, that Wyatt Earp carried on his affair with Josephine Sarah Marcus, who ‘”worked” at the Bird Cage, allegedly as a singer and dancer, though others suspect a “sideline” as “painted lady.”

    In 1889, the Bird Cage closed its doors as a brothel and a saloon forever, left with all of its original contents. For the next three decades it would sit languishing in the desert sun. Amazingly, during this time, its bar, furnishings, fixtures, and drapes were not sold.

    In 1934, the Hunley family reopened the Bird Cage Theatre as a tourist attraction, keeping all of the original fixtures and furnishings in place. Today, the Bird Cage Theatre stands as a museum, still run by the Hunley family, and providing a dusty and accurate picture of the 19th century.

    The hand painted stage, which once featured the likes of Eddy Foy, Lotta Crabtree, Lillie Langtry, Lola Montez, and Lillian Russell still stands, along with the orchestra pit and its massive Grand Piano.

    The gambling parlour continues to feature the actual table where Doc Holliday once dealt faro, and lining the walls are photographs of the many who passed through its doors, as well as original paintings that hung in the establishment. The original bar still stands and on display is Tombstone’s famous horse-drawn hearse called the Black Moriah. The first “vehicle” to ever have curved glass, it is trimmed out with gold and reportedly worth nearly two million dollars. Ruffled-up beds and scattered clothes are authentic, as well as the original faded carpets, drapes, and furniture.

    The Bird Cage Theatre is Tombstone’s most authentic attraction, one of the Old West’s most famous landmarks, and a definite “must stop” while in Tombstone. It also allegedly one of the most haunted places in Tombstone. But that’s another story. See HERE!

    Go do a Google on it. It’s worth a look. In fact, if I had the chance, I’d go there in person. Just for the chance to meet Doc Holiday or Wyatt Earp.


Comments are closed.