Even if you haven't been out in the mines, working the rails or rustling cattle all day, these historic Arizona watering holes will still sling you a cold beverage on a hot afternoon—and every one of them has a story to tell.
Where: Prescott (1 hour, 45 minutes north of Phoenix)
The Palace is the king of the lineup on Prescott's Whiskey Row, Arizona's most notorious string of bars. Operating since 1877, The Palace has racked up a strong claim to being the state's oldest bar, as well as hosting its share of famous patrons and wild stories. The best imaginable testament to bar loyalty? Miners and ranchers risked their lives to rescue the heavy, hand-carved bar from a fire in 1900.
Hear the history of The Palace, and get the lowdown on other area bars and local attractions on a walking tour of the area. Prescott Cocktail Tour company takes guests to around four area bars and saloons, including some stops to places located off-the-beaten-path or known mostly only to locals. (Tours available Friday and Saturday only.)
Where: Williams (40 minutes west of Flagstaff)
It proclaims right on the weather-beaten, neon, martini-glass sign out front that the Sultana Bar in Williams is "World Famous." And who are we to argue? Built in 1912, the Sultana began as the watering hole of choice for ranchers, loggers and railroad workers. Then there were the rougher characters like opium-running desperadoes and Prohibition-era bootleggers who hid their illicit stashes in the tunnels under the building.
Where: Jerome (1½ hour south of Flagstaff)
A mere mention of Jerome, Arizona, often conjures up images of the supernatural, based on the city's history as a copper boomtown turned ghost town—and we mean in both senses of the word "ghost." So the aptly named Spirit Room fits right in. Built 1898 beneath the Connor Hotel, this saloon maintains plenty of Old West charm, but fear not: It's primarily haunted by locals dancing to live music, road-tripping bikers and tourists checking out the historic decor.
St. Elmo Bar
Where: Bisbee (1½ hour south of Tucson)
The last copper mines in Bisbee closed up shop nearly 50 years ago—and gambling and brothels are also distant memories. Unfazed, St. Elmo retains the rough-and-tumble mystique that it's earned since 1902, notching it as the oldest continuously operating bar in Arizona. According to local lore, a minecart system under the bar kept patrons well-fueled during Prohibition, although St. Elmo's was nominally a soda shop at the time.
Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge
Zane Grey, author of the 1912 novel Riders of the Purple Sage, among many other Westerns, helped fund the construction of the Monte Vista in 1926. The first speakeasy in Flagstaff, the lounge also ran a profitable bootlegging operation during Prohibition—until officials spoiled the party in 1931 and closed it down for two years. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident ghosts: a dancing couple and a bank robber who died tipping back his final cocktail.
Harold's Cave Creek Corral
Where: Cave Creek (45 minutes northeast of Phoenix)
Opened as the Corral Bar in 1935 to quench the thirst of workers building the Bartlett Dam, this saloon became a lot wilder when colorful local personality Harold Gavagan bought, renamed and started promoting it in 1950. Tall tales abound, from performances by the resident lions and tigers to the owner firing a gun at last call—but there's no disputing Harold's as a unique piece of Cave Creek history.
Crystal Palace Saloon
Where: Tombstone (1 hour, 15 minutes south of Tucson)
Over the years, Tombstone has earned a reputation for cowboy kitsch. In "The Town Too Tough To Die," however, no survivor is more notable or retains more Wild West authenticity than the Crystal Palace Saloon. It's a joint where you might have slugged back a whiskey or played cards with Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp since his office was upstairs—when he wasn't shooting it out with stagecoach robbers on the dusty street outside, that is.
If You Go
Crystal Palace Saloon 436 E Allen St, Tombstone (520) 457-3611
Harold's Cave Creek Corral 6895 E Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek (480) 488-1906
Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge 100 N San Francisco St, Flagstaff (928) 779-6971
The Palace 120 S Montezuma St, Prescott (928) 541-1996
Spirit Room 166 Main St, Jerome (928) 634-8809
St. Elmo Bar 36 Brewery Ave, Bisbee (520) 432-5578
Sultana Bar 301 Historic Route 66, Williams (928) 635-2021
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About the Author
Jake Poinier is a veteran freelance writer, editor, and author whose work has appeared in USAToday, Blue Water Sailing, and Golf Illustrated, among numerous other publications. When he's not at his desk writing for corporate clients and editing books, he can probably be found hiking or fishing along the Mogollon Rim, skiing in the White Mountains, or sailing just about anywhere.