Saloon Doors



The first thing I found out when I began researching saloon doors was simply no one is certain about their origin, but they’ve been around forever, particularly in the Old West. In the frontier days the delicate louvered design with a gentle curved top and bottom was usually the most attractive door on Main Street and provided a welcome to the patrons.  

The door was split in the middle so no one had to decide which side to open. The swing was designed to push from either side without having to stop and think about whether to push or pull when coming in or going out of the saloon.

They were designed with spring-loaded, two-way hinges which assured the doors would always re-close after use thus eliminating the age-old call all of us mamas know … “Were you honyocks born in a barn? Close the dang door!” The sides of each half were longer than the center so that heavy hinges always kept the doors in total control and required little maintenance but oiling occasionally. No latches, knobs nor locks were used as most  Old West saloons never closed.  This meant no keys to lose or lock maintenance eliminating security problems.

The double-acting hinges were most ingenious, as the always-closed doors kept the customers inside hidden from the public, as we as saving their irate wives from having a conniption fit searching for the head of the household who was out spending their paycheck. At the same time the door position also protected the outside innocents and holier-than-thou passing by from observing the horrible goings-on inside the den of inequity.

The door height and length were also carefully designed to prevent peeping overhead or forcing one to kneel down to peep under to see the festivities. These same openings provided ventilation to draw in fresh air at the bottom and let the billowing smoke escape from the top.

Saloon owners were happy with the door design as it satisfied their critics about keeping their temptations hidden yet allowed the laughter, music, other tantalizing sounds and odors to waft out into the street fulling advertising the entire range of sins available inside and totally without cost I might add. Many seated the saloon band near the front door where they played loudly enhancing the advertising effort even more.

The typical saloon door had a tender more gentle side as the free-working springs allowed the bouncers and bartenders to throw a trouble-maker through the opening without having to open the doors first. This free-working improvement seldom injured the victims head as he crashed through into the street.

This ingenious contraption was so famous worldwide that many saloons didn’t need signs to denote their business. All who passed by knew instantly the purpose of the building. Dare I suggest that some religious entities with their huge heavy locked doors (except during services) take notice?

I found a lot of opinions on why doors were made like they were.  I’ll share some.

***  To see who was coming in too, but not the law. They could tell who was approaching the door by the boots and hat that they wore. If it was a know “bad guy” or someone who someone else was looking out for approaching the door surprising them would be more difficult.

***  People of the Old West were amazingly very moral about some things. An establishment without a door would haveseemed crude to them. Swinging doors allowed the respectability of a “fine establishment” coupled with the ability to see just who was coming in.

***  Another factor was the weather. Most saloons, in cold winter areas, had regular doors that were used when appropriate. Doors, even swinging ones, also cut down on dust kicked up from unpaved roads. (No one likes dusty in their red-eye.)

***  I think that the shutter style saloon doors that we know are the stuff of Hollywood to a certain extent, but they are also practical because the doors would make practical high traffic doors in the day when hinges needed to be highly maintained. I think many establishments would use this style door because it’s simple hinging and allows you to not knock someone silly when you come barging in to get your shot of whisky.

***  Let’s also not forget that the women folk would most likely not go into saloons so being able to see in was an advantage (probably more than being able to see out) although I doubt that it had anything to do with the use of the doors.

***  Additionally it would have been very impractical to install a door with glass in it in a saloon because that glass would likely be broken a few times a week. Glass was expensive and hard to come by because shipping was difficult. It isn’t very sensible to have a door that is constantly being opened and closed without glass because you can really knock into someone.

***  The doors were big enough that ladies and children could not see inside, but it allowed for a constant stream of traffic both directions. Also allowed a breeze to carry in fresh air in and stale air out. Otherwise there would have been a constantly slamming door. I am sure in the winter there was a blanket or outer door used to limit drafts.

I’d love your opinion on why you think saloon doors were made the way they were.


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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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19 thoughts on “Saloon Doors”

  1. Hi Phyliss! What a fun post! More than a few of my heroes have gone through those batwing doors, for all different reasons. The one in this month’s release (The Outlaw’s Return) does just what you describe–he stands outside and looks in. The doors are perfect for that.

    They’re a perfect design for a saloon, especially the way they swing open and closed when someone goes flyin’ through ’em. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Vicky and Winnie. You are so right about taking everyday things for granted and the fun of learning how they came about. I love that part of my research. Vicky, my new story for “A Texas Valentine” has my heroine trying to see inside of a saloon with other ladies in the town’s women’s society to see what the men are doing at a meeting. I’ve gotten more than one idea on how to do a scene from posts at P&P. As a matter of fact, most of my research on women’s organizations came from a post by Pat Potter a while back. Thanks for dropping by on this very cold day! Hugs, P

  3. What a fun and interesting post. I have to say I never wondered why they where split in half,but it does make sense. As,I have not saloon doors, but split doors in my laundry room and it does make for easiler entering.Don’t have to decide which door to open. “A Texas Valentine” sounds like my kind of story. Have a wonderful, happy and blessed day/week!

  4. What ingenious reasons for this style of door, Phyliss; such an interesting post. I love the batwing door and understand how easy it would be to see hat/boots and know just whatsacomin’

    Enjoyed this so much! Thanks, oxoxoxox

  5. Thanks, April. Most folks think of the ol’ fashioned batwing doors of yesteryear, but they are also used in cafes to separate the cooking area from the rest. The doors make it easier for servers to get in and out just like the the famous saloon doors. We’ll have our valentine’s story out for 2012. So far, it’s been fun to write. And, you have a wonderful week, too!

    Tanya, you’re the best! You all stay warm where ever you are. I’m in the Texas Panhandle and it’s 2 degrees and 30 below wind chill factor, but very little snow, thank goodness. Hugs, P

  6. Phyliss, what an interesting blog. You always find the neatest tidbits. I’d never given much thought about saloon doors before but I can that whoever first installed them had an ingenious idea.

    Stay warm up there. We’re freezing out booties off down where I am. I don’t intend to venture out today. I’ve got to get rid of this crud. The good thing is that I can read my galleys.

  7. Phyliss, what a fun post. I never thought much about bat-wing doors, though they appear in pretty near all my books. Maybe they were designed to swing back and forth to keep the traffic flow. A man having too much to drink probably needed a little slap on the back to get him out the door.

  8. Phyliss,
    What a COOL subject to write about! Very interesting. I like the thought of not having to decide which door to open, or whether to push or pull–seeing as how anyone leaving the saloon might not be able to make even the simplest of decisions. LOL The storm has hit here in OK City. Hope you all steered clear of the brunt of it.

    Cheryl P.

  9. Great tidbit of information; something so simple and yet so symbolic of the wild west. How many scenes in old western movies have utilized those swinging doors as dramatic entrances or exits? And great point about the music and laughter drifting out into the street; very enticing yet their view was obstructed. Great information; thanks for researching and posting!

  10. I enjoyed reading this post… love the bits of info… my fav was knowing who was coming by their hat & boots! 😀

  11. Linda, thanks for dropping by. Hope you get to feeling better and don’t let the snowbunnies getca.

    Margaret, too funny about the drunk, but I bet you are right. A comment I found was just one person’s opinion, and obviously they’d never been in this part of the country, because he said that he thought swingin’ doors were the result of the imagination of some artist in Hollywood to make cowboy scenes more fun. Or something like that. I wanted to say, “duh, dude … come to Texas” look at all the old photographs!!!!

    You two, be safe. Hugs, P

  12. Thanks, Nat. It was fun to do the research, but more fun when I realized I can use it in the story I’m working on! You are so right about the dramantic entrances, and some serious exits, in the old westerns! Have a great day, and stay warm. Hugs, P

  13. I ;ove the ideas you have spoken of when it comes to the swinging doors. Makes me think in some ways to the entrances of many places today. You walk up to the door and it opens for you. Of course you have to go out a different door but again it just opens for you. Not quite swinging doors but close.

  14. Connie, love your post. Made me laugh. I can’t count the times I’ve tried to enter an “exit” and the doors have nearly knocked me down! Made me think of another type of door. In my neck of the woods, the ol’ rotating doors aren’t around very many places. I love them! Like to see how fast I could make them go around, in my younger days when I was a little better on my feet! Thanks for commenting. Hugs, P

  15. The impression I always got from the saloon style door was “we don’t have anything to hide.” The doors were closed, so they afforded some amount if privacy, but weren’t really shutting the premises off from whomever may walk by.

    Thanks for an interesting post. Love that last set of doors.

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