Saloons, pubs and hotels played a major role in shaping the West. While saloons generally weren’t the largest buildings in a town, they were the most frequented establishments. Besides being used for the obvious imbibing and sleeping, they were sites of judicial and social meetings. Judge Roy Bean held court in his saloon; a Hayes, Kansas, saloon served as the first church in town; and a judge in Socorro, New Mexico, conducted weddings as well as trials in his pub. Saloons also served practical needs as places for communication, social expression and a sense of belonging.
For many people, hotels were a welcome respite from precarious trail and train travel, with their much-anticipated amenities including beds off the ground, water basins in the room and windows to keep out the dust and cold.
Walk into an Old West hotel or saloon and let history embrace you. The walls whisper of famous and not-so-famous folks. Step in and relive the past.
Belly up to the bar at Express St. James in Cimarron to share space with history’s characters—the Earp brothers, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley. Bullet holes in the saloon’s ceiling confirm the rowdiness. Considered one of the most elegant 1880s hotels west of the Mississippi, it still retains its charm. Guests are welcome to stay in Jesse’s room, dine downstairs or hoist a cold one at the saloon’s 1890s bar.
Located in picturesque south-central New Mexico, Concho Hills Guest Ranch offers a feel of Old West heritage. It’s surrounded by two million acres of accessible land, where guests ride horseback or bike to where the movers and shakers of the West rode. Nestled in the foothills of the San Mateo Mountains, this guest ranch overlooks the San Augustine Plains. Who knows? Maybe Billy the Kid passed through here.
The Rancho de la Osa, a dude ranch in Sasabe, in southern Arizona, has stood the test of time. Jesuit missionaries built the ranch house around 1720. During his revolution, Pancho Villa lobbed cannon balls at the main house, one embedding itself in the wall. In the 1940s, political powers met there and drafted the Marshall Plan. Today, visitors can take a trail ride, explore the wildlife refuge or enjoy the canopy of overhead stars. Meticulous care keeps this historical treasure a living museum.
Once the second largest city in California, Columbia met the fate of many gold rush towns. Part of the Columbia State Historic Park, it’s now home to two hotels, Columbia City and the Fallon, both authentically restored country inns. Appointed with Victorian furniture and antiques, the hotels also boast modern amenities.
An original 19th-century bar anchors The Slickfork Saloon in Hamley’s Steakhouse in Pendleton, Oregon. While the restaurant itself is new, the insides are not. An original bank wall from the 1880s, tin ceilings, wine cellar shelving built from original oak barrel staves, and countless Old West artifacts add to the ambiance.
Cleveland Pharmacist Henry H. Strater invested his family’s fortune to build the Strater Hotel in 1887. This Durango icon is enhanced by a 19th-century bar, the Diamond Belle Saloon. Cowboys, who rode their horses inside, now park their trucks outside and gather here to lift a few. Writer Louis L’Amour always stayed in Room 222, directly over the saloon. He claimed the music and frivolity from below added flavor to his work.
For 125 years the six-story Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs has greeted presidents, including Teddy Roosevelt, dignitaries and celebrities. Today, visitors can soak in the adjacent Glenwood Hot Springs or enjoy the outdoors with onsite ski, raft and bike shops. The rooms are decorated with Italian wallpaper and eye-catching artwork.
Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange, opened in 1893, catered to everyone from gamblers to presidents. A German-made white oak bar and back bar, brought here in 1857, complete the second-floor Victorian lounge. Old West memorabilia line the walls. Visitors can dine, drink and learn about Colorado’s history all in one place.
In 1883, the Grand Imperial Hotel was completed in Silverton and immediately became the largest single standing structure south of Denver. The lodge quickly became the pinnacle of luxury in the San Juan mining district. The centerpiece of the inn is the Grand Imperial Saloon, where stamped tin ceilings hover over a cherry and tiger maple bar brought in by train in 1901. New hotel owners have updated the now resplendent rooms with period furnishings.
Opened in 1881, San Antonio’s Buckhorn Saloon and Museum is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders, and it’s rumored Pancho Villa planned the Mexican Revolution here. Many of the original furnishings grace the Buckhorn today, including the hand-crafted cherrywood front and back bars.
The grand bar at the Irma Hotel in Cody was a gift to Buffalo Bill from Queen Victoria. The cherrywood bar is one of the most photographed features in town. The original part of the hotel, built in 1902 is made of river rock and locally quarried sandstone. Buffalo Bill called The Irma, named after his youngest daughter, a “gem.” Today, Old West “gunfights” are staged close to where Buffalo Bill auditioned acts for his Wild West Show.
Stepping through the doors of Buffalo’s Occidental Hotel is like stepping into a time vault. Saloon and lobby ceilings are original stamped tin. Also original is the century-old 25-foot bar where cowboys, sheriffs, desperados and cattle barons gathered. Owen Wister, who spent many hours at the saloon, is said to have based his famous walk-down scene in his novel, The Virginian, on a shoot-out that happened in front of the Occidental.
After Seth Bullock’s store burned in Deadwood in 1894, he and partner Sol Star built the town’s first hotel, The Bullock. The restaurant “Bully” is named after Bullock’s good friend, Teddy Roosevelt. Significant restoration has revealed details like original room colors and décor. Today, it is said the ghost of Deadwood’s first sheriff roams the halls making sure the guests are comfortable.
The Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant
10th Avenue, Denver, CO 80204
303-534-9505 • Buckhorn.com
The Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant is a special place where the rich history of the Old West lives on.
Just imagine Col. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody sipping his signature bourbon and apple juice cocktail at the bar, regaling clientele with tales of Wild West shows and scouting parties.
Imagine the founder and original owner, Henry Zietz, befriending Chief Sitting Bull, who in the rich Indian tradition gave him a new name, “Shorty Scout,” for his diminutive stature and hunting exploits.
Imagine President Theodore Roosevelt ambling across the railroad tracks where the Light Rail now runs, deboarding his Presidential Express in 1905, taking in dinner at the Buckhorn, and then heading with Shorty Scout on hunting expeditions on the Western Slope.
Imagine all that has gone on here since 1893—the generations of families who have shared this special place with the next one, or the couple who celebrated their 50th anniversary at the same table where they became engaged five decades earlier. Here you’ll find Bill Dutton, bellied-up at the same bar that his grandfather, who died 20 years before he was born, enjoyed a whiskey with the other cow punchers of his day.
In those early years the saloons were the boardrooms, and disagreements were often settled in the streets with six-guns. Ranchers, silver barons, railroaders and Denver’s society folks enjoyed the finest beef steaks then just as now.
For Bill, preserving the spirit of the Old West and the history of this National Historic Landmark is quite an honor.
They have scoured Old West cookbooks and researched chuckwagon legends to bring you the finest in Western cuisine and exotic meats—Colorado beef steaks, buffalo, elk, pheasant and quail are their specialties, along with rattlesnake, alligator and Rocky Mountain Oyster appetizers.
After dinner, you’re welcome to retire to the Victorian Lounge upstairs, linger as long as you like, taking in the vast taxidermy collection, Western artifacts and autographed photos of famous visitors—everyone from Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to Hollywood stars Roy Rogers, Bob Hope, John Wayne Gene Autry and Charlton Heston.
So give them a holler at 303-534-9505, dine on the best the West has to offer and relive the rich history of the Buckhorn Exchange Restaurant.
The Hotel Colorado
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
526 Pine St. Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
970-945-6511 • HotelColorado.com
Enter The Hotel Colorado and travel into a time of late-19th-century elegance and charm. Considered the “Marvel of the Age,” it is truly the best historic hotel. The first hotel west of the Mississippi to be electrically lit, it had a courtyard fountain that sprayed upward 100 feet.
The Grand Lobby and Baron’s Restaurant were restored to reflect their original charm. Guests dine beside an interior waterfall or enjoy
beverages near the original grand fireplace. During the summer, guests dine in the scenic courtyard, or warm themselves by fire pits while enjoying stunning views of Mt. Sopris.
For 125 years, timeless secrets of extensive journeys have been held within the hotel’s walls. The Hotel Colorado welcomes guests into oversized rooms and suites, all with high ceilings, spacious closets, and some with balconies and scenic views. Join the list of legendary figures from the past who have stayed here, and experience a chapter of America’s West.
Landmark Lookout Lodge
781 AZ-80, Tombstone, AZ 85638
520-457-2223 • LookoutLodgeAZ.com
The Landmark Lookout Lodge near Tombstone derives its name from the beautiful views of the Dragoon Mountains from its guest rooms . In addition to a seasonal swimming pool, the Lodge features a cooked-to-order breakfast, served at your table and included in the room rate.
The Lodge features whimsical paintings on all its buildings to enhance your Tombstone experience, along with a fire pit around which guests can gather to roast marshmallows provided by the Lodge and trade stories.
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon
17 East Allen Street, Tombstone, AZ 85638
520-457-3107 • BigNoseKates.info
Tombstone’s Big Nose Kate’s Saloon was once the Grand Hotel, originally built in 1881. On October 25, 1881, the night before the Gunfight Behind the OK Corral, the Clantons and the McLaurys were guests here. This was the place to stay!
Nowadays, a number of changes have been made to the structure since it burned down and has been rebuilt. The bar area, housed in the basement of the old hotel, is now located on the main level. In the basement is a gift shop, but the tunnel leading to the mine shafts still exists. The saloon holds the Grand Hotel’s original long bar, the only one that survived the fire of 1882 and is still serving thirsty patrons. Imagine setting your elbows down on the very place that the Earps, Doc Holliday and the Clantons once did!
The Historic Strater Hotel
699 Main Ave, Durango, CO 81301
970-945-6511 • Strater.com
Walk inside the doors of The Strater Hotel in Durango, Colorado, and open a world of living history that becomes part of every visitor’s personal story.
The Strater is a complete experience where guests tour through pristine, interesting halls and stay in rooms restored to their 1887 glory. Every detail—from amazing antique Victorian furniture to meticulous Bradbury wallpapers—holds stories of the Southwest, which begin in 1887 and continue today. A founding member of Historic Hotels of America, The Strater is Durango’s living history museum.
Ninety-three unique storied rooms, the Henry Strater Theatre, The Mahogany Grille, The Office Spiritorium and The Diamond Belle Saloon are all steeped in craftsmanship at every level. Visitors enjoy fabulous food and creative drink, shadow boxes that tell stories of the past and the Strater team’s genuine connection to every guest—all within the iconic brick building in the heart of downtown Durango.
The Diamond Belle (known as “The Belle” by the locals) brings saloon girls and Victorian-era bartenders together with guests as they “Belley-Up” to the historic bar and listen to both talented ragtime pianists and the best of today’s music scene. In the summer, Wild West gunfight reenactments entertain tourists just outside the Belle’s swing doors.
City Hotel & Fallon Hotel California State Historic Park
22768 Main Street, Columbia, CA 95310
209-532-1479 • VisitColumbiaCalifornia.co
Columbia’s old Gold Rush-era business district has been preserved with shops,
restaurants and two historic hotels—the City and the Fallon.
Visitors have a chance to “time-travel” to the 1850s, when gold miners rubbed shoulders with businessmen and other residents in Columbia. They experience a bygone era by watching proprietors in period clothing conduct business in the style of yesterday. There are opportunities to ride a 100-year-old stagecoach, pan for gold and explore the real working businesses of Columbia.
The California State Historic Park was once known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines.” Between the 1850s and 1870s, over one billion dollars’ worth of gold (at today’s value) was mined in the area. For a time, Columbia was the second-largest city in California. Visitors can relax at one of two comfortable hotels, listen to music in historic saloons, including the What Cheer inside the City Hotel, and take in a performance at the Fallon Theater.
Almost River City Saloon
916 2nd Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
916-443-6852 • TheRiverCitySaloon.com
River City Saloon has a long, rich history. It is located in the historic Old Sacramento district, where it was one of the original houses of ill repute owned by Johanna Heigle. Shortly after that, it became Parker French’s Saloon, owned by Mr. Parker French, who was a colorful Sacramento newspaper man.
After years of neglect, new Owners Sean and Erika Derfield remodeled it to its original grandeur and renamed it The River City Saloon. The bar is a 1905 Triple Arch Brunswick and the venue is known to get rowdy at times, but kids are welcome by day as River City still serves Sarsaparilla for just 25 cents. It is also home to one of the best Bloody Marys west of the Mississippi. While you’re there, ask for a basket of peanuts and don’t be afraid to throw the shells on the floor.
Inspired by history and saloons, Melody Groves authored award-winning Hoist a Cold One: Historic Bars of the Southwest. Her novel, Black Range Revenge, debuted in March. When not writing, she plays rhythm guitar with the Jammy Time Band.