ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: Whiskey Row, Prescott Arizona

by David Daugherty on March 25, 2014

On-Off_CLASSIC-1024x415This was the visit I was looking forward to for a long time. I had told a few friends that I was going to go around the country to photograph my favorite bars and taverns while in the process of writing a book on the subject. An old friend, Dallas Horn immediately brought up Whiskey Row.

He told me a little about the Palace Restaurant and Saloon, simply saying, “You have to go there guy! The history of the Row is amazing!” Boy was he right! As you’ll see in this and ensuing posts that there is a wealth of history and experience to be had in precott in general, Whiskey Row in particular. This is all coming from one day there. I assure you there will be more to come.

Whiskey Row 1900

Whiskey Row 1900

I had only been to Prescott once before and had never visited Whiskey Row. What a shame! I’m still kicking myself for not having done this sooner. I lived in the greater Phoenix area from 1979-1983 and then again from 1986-1998. Both of my sons, Nicholas and Anthony were born there. Prescott is just a little less than 2 hours north of Phoenix. I love Arizona, one of the most diverse of the states in every way. You can go from desert to high country pines in just a couple hours drive. It’s just spectacular! So this was truly a treat for me. My pal Bryan “The Hippie” Dunn came along on this trip, and I don’t know who was looking forward to this more. Before we left Phoenix, Bryan explained to me that he wanted me to enjoy myself and totally experience Whiskey Row, so he’d serve as my wingman. He was my designated driver and carried all of my equipment, lugging my camera and equipment around all day, something to be much appreciated, as it’s not easy drinking and working at the same time. MVP!

Prescott was founded in 1864 and incorporated into Arizona in 1881. The 100 block of South Montezuma Street,  a one block strip is known as Whiskey Row because of the enormous amount of saloons that were once there. There’s a myriad of stories that make up the rich history of this town. Ranches, saloons, gambling,  brothels and opium dens set the stage. I’m told Whiskey Row used to be situated some blocks west of where it is today. It was moved to South Montezuma Street because people who had been drinking and gambling all night on the “Row”, had to, in order to get home, walk across a foot bridge that crossed Granite Creek. Folks who had a little too much to drink were falling into the creek and drowning. A bit of a  civic nuisance, it would seem, hence the move.

The Palace Today

The Palace Today

Historical markers that line Whiskey Row, also appearing on the buildings and establishments themselves, guide you through with many interesting notes,  including one that tells us some of the bars back then brewed their own beer ,and drinks were only 12 ½ ¢. In the late 1800’s, Whiskey Row was home to over 40 bars and saloons and it was “rumored” that there was an underground tunnel from the courthouse to the saloons so lawmakers wouldn’t be seen going into these establishments during the day. I write it this way as a government official in Prescott adamantly  denied this, describing what was the appearance of such tunnels as, well… you know how Air Force describes giant glowing UFOs as “swamp gas?” That’s what this conversation was like.

The Palace is one of the oldest of the saloons on, not only  Whiskey Row, but Arizona, opening in September of 1877. During that time, The Row was frequented by cowboys, farmers, ranchers and gamblers. It was definitely not a “family friendly” place. Most of the saloons were street level, the brothels were upstairs and the opium dens were in the back. These places were wild with gambling and saloon girls all around. Some of Whiskey Row’s storied clientele include Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. In most recent history Bruce Springsteen, Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings have enjoyed performing on the “Row”.

The Palace Back Bar

The Palace Back Bar

A fire on July 14, 1900 destroyed Whiskey Row along with the historical bars. Amazingly, rubble was cleared and rebuilding commenced by Fall of 1900 and was finished by 1905. These new constructions were built to match the look and style of the original structures. There are two back bars and front bars that survived, which we’ll get to as we tour some of the saloons themselves. These bars were manufactured by the Brunswick Company in Chicago and Boston. How they ended up in Arizona was not by means of an easy process. After they were built and hand-carved, the bars were placed on a ship on Boston’s Atlantic Coast or, if coming out of Chicago, carried to and then down the Mississippi. They ultimately sailed around the horn, up the coast of Mexico and were either dropped off at the Port of San Francisco or continued on to sail up the Colorado River. From there, the bars were put on a mule train and stage-coached across the desert and assembled in the saloons. Can you imagine the enormity of all this?

Sitting at an elevation of 5300 feet, Prescott is only 96 miles northwest of Phoenix and 90 miles southwest of Flagstaff. If you wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, it’s only 95 miles away.  It boasts a mild 4 season climate. When we were there, it was 86 degrees and dry while Phoenix was hitting 112 degrees. The average winter temperature is 50 degrees while summer is 85. Notably, Prescott is also known as “Arizona’s Christmas City” and is also home of the worlds oldest, continuously running rodeo. When Arizona became a territory in 1864, Prescott served as the original  capital city until 1889 when it was moved to Tucson. Pretty portable honor, as today, Phoenix is the capital city of Arizona.

Whiskey Row Today

Whiskey Row Today

Today, Whiskey Row is a great place to visit and, it goes without saying, a highly popular destination for lthe locals as well. While in the saloons, you can feel the history. Most of the ceilings are made of decorative pressed tin and even though the bars are newer, you can sit down at one of these vintage bars and  imagine what it may have been like back in the late 1800’s on Whiskey Row. I hope that everyone who reads this has an opportunity to visit Prescott and spend some time on Whiskey Row. Trust me, you’ll be glad that you did. I have great memories of that one day sitting at all the bars that you are about to read about, and am very much looking forward to going back… far sooner than later, to be sure.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula Smith March 26, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Love your post. So glad we moved here from Sonoma County California in 1996. Whiskey Row is amazing and I always tell my clients, if you are only in Prescott one day and can only have one meal, you have to eat (or drink) at The Palace. It is the best image of Prescott!
I love living in Prescott!

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Bradley G Courtney November 27, 2016 at 2:47 am

Hey David –Enjoyed your article. I encourage you to look at the recent book, Prescott’s Original Whiskey Row. This book rectifies much of the long and oft-told history of Whiskey Row. See http://www.whiskeyrowbooks.com/store.html

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