For seven decades, True West has celebrated the historic saloon in fact and fiction.

When True West’s founder Joe Small published his first issue of the magazine in Austin, Texas, in the summer of 1953, the Western United States was at the beginning of its decade of greatest growth. 

New suburbs, jobs and a low cost-of-living fueled the growth. And so did the automobile, air-conditioning and television. Americans were mobile, and the vast Western states and their national parks, beaches and wide open spaces beckoned the auto-crazy nation to travel West. 

At the same time, Western movies, TV shows, paperbacks, comics and magazines such as True West were feeding interest in the Old West. And at the center in almost every Western—in every category—was a saloon with dance hall girls!  

Now, flash forward seven decades. As tourists crisscross the West today—from small towns to ghost towns, big cities to living history centers—historic saloons are among the most popular Old West attractions.

The first saloon story in Small’s new magazine was in the first issue: “The Man Who Beat Hardin” by Raymond Schuessler with a Frank Smart illustration of a gunfight—in a saloon, of course! 

The first saloon cover was in August 1955—and it was actually an illustration of a cowboy bar in a then-long-abandoned ghost town (near right).  In the mid-1950s ghost towns across the West were becoming popular destinations for visitors. The second saloon cover of True West, in December 1957 (above, near right), was also an illustration, this time of a saloon dance floor filled with colorful cowboys and dance hall girls drinking and celebrating the season. Sixty-six years later, the cover featuring Brummett Echohawk’s Cowboys’ Christmas Ball is still the only one to feature dancers in 70 years of True West issues. 

In honor of the historic saloon and its popularity in the West, past and present, we looked back at the watering holes, gamblers and dance hall girls featured on True West’s covers and have compiled our first ever bucket-list of the oldest and best historic Western bars still operating, that you need to visit before you die!

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