Old West Saloons: Rare Photos Reveal the Vibrant Culture of Cowboy Saloons in the 19th CenturyThe saloons of the Wild West evoke images of gunfights, heavy drinking, and dangerous outlaws.

These remarkable photographs provide tangible evidence that the Old West watering holes truly lived up to their notorious historical reputation.

Captured in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these images from states like Montana to Texas offer a glimpse into life inside these iconic establishments.

Saloons, a hallmark of the Wild West, were typically among the first buildings to appear in frontier towns. They attracted cowboys, miners, fur trappers, and gamblers alike.

Quickly gaining notoriety as hubs of vice, saloons often housed brothels and opium dens. Street brawls were not uncommon, with conflicts frequently spilling out from the saloons.

Interestingly, women who were not parlor girls or dancers were typically not allowed entry into these establishments.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Cowboys enjoy drinks at the Equity Bar in Old Tascosa, Texas, 1907.

A Western saloon was a special kind of bar found in the Old West, where all sorts of people would gather, including fur trappers, cowboys, soldiers, lumberjacks, businessmen, lawmen, outlaws, miners, and gamblers.

These places were also called “watering troughs, bughouses, shebangs, cantinas, grogshops, and gin mills”.

The very first saloon opened up in Brown’s Hole, Wyoming, back in 1822, mainly to serve the fur trappers.

By 1880, saloons were really taking off. In Leavenworth, Kansas, for example, there were about 150 saloons and four places selling liquor wholesale.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Men gather outside the Sweetwater Saloon in Texas.

The look of a saloon could vary a lot depending on where and when it was.

As towns grew bigger, the saloons got fancier. Bartenders took pride in how they looked and how they poured drinks.

But in the early days, especially in remote areas, saloons were pretty basic.

They had minimal furniture and weren’t fancy at all. Sometimes, the only way to stay warm in winter was a single wood-burning stove.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Several men, and a dog named Peggie, stand in John Powell’s Saloon in Plainfield, Illinois. Photo from the 1910s.

One of the things that really stood out about saloons were the “batwing” doors at the entrance.

These doors were on special hinges that let them swing both ways, and they went from your chest down to your knees.

In some parts of the American West, people even sold liquor out of wagons.

Saloons were often built using whatever materials were around, like sod from the ground, or they might even be made from the hull of an old ship, or dug into the side of a hill.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A photo of the “Shamrock Saloon” in Hazen, Nevada, 1905.

Saloons were not just places to drink; they were entertainment hubs too. They had dancing girls, who sometimes also worked as prostitutes.

You could also find games like Faro, poker, brag, three-card monte, and dice.

As saloons got more popular, they started adding more games like billiards, darts, and even bowling. Some saloons went all out, with piano players, can-can dancers, and even little theater shows.

When a new town started, the first saloons were often just tents or shacks selling homemade whiskey made from things like “raw alcohol, burnt sugar, and chewing tobacco”.

Back then, beer was usually served at room temperature because there was no way to keep it cold.

It wasn’t until 1880 when Adolphus Busch introduced refrigeration and pasteurization for beer with his Budweiser brand. Some saloons would keep their beer in kegs on racks inside the saloon.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The interior of the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas.

Plenty of saloons had ‘unofficial’ areas, like opium dens and brothels, drawing rural girls with promises of high wages and easy work. However, some saloons aimed to maintain a ‘respectable’ image and banned these activities.

Regulars at saloons often developed calluses on their elbows from leaning on the bar so much.

These places weren’t very welcoming to minorities – by law, Indians were excluded, and a Chinese man could risk his life by entering.

Soldiers weren’t usually welcomed in Western saloons. They were seen as representing the state and were often blamed for spreading venereal diseases to the saloon girls.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Northern saloon in Tonopah, Nevada, around 1902, co-founded by the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Women outside of the Klondyke Dance Hall and Saloon in Seattle, Washington, 1909.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Crystal Palace Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona, 1885.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The White Elephant in Fort Worth, Texas, stood among over 60 Wild West saloons in the city by the late 19th century.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Clancy’s Saloon in Skagway, Alaska. Circa 1897.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A saloon in Wyoming in the late 1800s.

Wild West Saloon Photos

At an unspecified saloon, possibly in Wyoming, patrons are seen apparently compelling a man to “dance” by pointing their guns at his feet.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Unique furniture fills the Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon in Table Bluff, California, 1889.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Cowboy Bar in Jackson, Wyoming, 1908.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The exterior of Abe Warner’s Cobweb Palace in San Francisco, California.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The interior of Cobweb Palace, known for its eccentric owner Abe Warner, who allowed spiders to spin countless webs throughout the establishment.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Saloons, among the largest and newest buildings in Wild West towns, often served multiple purposes. The Judge Roy Bean Saloon, depicted in 1900, doubled as a “Hall of Justice,” where men gathered to witness the trial of a horse thief.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A Wild West saloon, circa 1890.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Circle City Saloon in Nome, Alaska, 1902.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Men pose in a Wild West saloon. Unknown date and location.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Men playing Faro at the Orient Saloon in Bisbee, Arizona, 1903.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Saloons and wagons line the streets of this frontier town. Unknown date and location.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A saloon in Pierre, South Dakota. 1890-1900.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Toll Gate Saloon in Black Hawk, Colorado, 1897.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Men standing in front of a saloon called “Table Rock.” 1890-1900.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Dewar’s Saloon in Zortman, Montana, 1905.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Park Saloon/Tripp and Melloy in Gardiner, Montana.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The interior of a saloon in Castle Dale, Utah, where one of the patrons apparently decided to pose with a horse.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Mueller Saloon in Ripon, Wisconsin, 1894.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Bob Saloon in Miles City, Montana, circa 1880.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A patron cradles a rifle outside Jacksons Bar in Idaho, late 19th century.

Wild West Saloon Photos

J. W. Swart’s saloon in Charleston, South Carolina.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Billy Reese Saloon in Gunnison, south Colorado.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Members of the notorious Hash Knife Cowboys pose for a picture at the Fashion Saloon in Winslow, north eastern Arizona. The cowboys were initially hired to help the Aztec Land & Cattle Company look after the more than 33,000 cattle they had acquired. However, the outfit soon gained an unsavory reputation.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A man pulls a gun at the White Dog Saloon in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1898.

Wild West Saloon Photos

A saloon in Helena, Montana, circa 1890 – complete with a horse and rider.

Wild West Saloon Photos

Gamblers play Faro in an Arizona saloon, 1895.

Wild West Saloon Photos

The Combination Saloon in Utah, late 19th century.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Pinterest / Flickr / Library of Congress).