Officially the oldest bar and business still operating within the state of Arizona, the Palace Restaurant and Saloon does everything in its power to firmly hold onto its Wild West roots. Obviously considered to be one of the most historic bars in the state, it was eventually put on the National Register of Historical Places. It sits on Whiskey Row, right in the heart of downtown, and ironically across from the courthouse. They have kept the inside as 1880’s western-inspired as possible, requiring all of the staff to dress in old, western-style period clothing, plus relics of its Wild West past are littered throughout in glass display cases. The current owners wanted to preserve the essence of this place so much, that they left the ring buttons used to call the “madams”, aka Ladies of the Night, untouched and sprinkled throughout the restaurant. They also left the upstairs rooms/doors where the brothel was located and where these ladies would go to “entertain” their guests.
Located at 120 S. Montezuma Street, it was established in 1877, and was only in operation for 23 years before a devastating fire in 1900 destroyed it and half the town. Rebuilt just one year later, in 1901, it has been chugging along ever since. Like other places in town, the Palace saw its fair share of Wild West shenanigans. Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were all frequent patrons, as well as, the infamous Big Nose Kate. She was a Hungarian born prostitute who frequently made the Palace her, uhhum, place of business. She also happened to be the common law wife of Doc Holliday. Both Wyatt Earp and Holliday killed men in or around the Palace, with the former shooting two men behind the saloon and the latter stabbing a man to death inside during a knife fight.
Unfortunately, during this time period death was as common in or around the Palace as was the drinking. Aside from the outlaws offing each other, women were regularly beaten and murdered. One famous death was that of sometimes prostitute Jennie Clark, who was beaten to death by her boyfriend inside the saloon following a fight between them. He was tried, convicted, and sentence to hang, but that was commuted to life in prison by a governor and then the next governor set him free (gotta love the early 1900s). These deaths have obviously naturally greatly contributed to the Palace’s haunted reputation.
During Prohibition, the saloon “shutdown”, but continued to operate as a speakeasy from the basement. The basement itself has a much darker side/history, as aside from being used as an illegal speakeasy, it was also used as an opium den, underground jail, and illegal gambling room.
Something extremely cool? To this day, the bar that stands inside the Palace is the original 1900 bar. That’s right, the bar that was inside the Palace before it burned down. When the great fire that hit that same year raced towards the Palace, the patrons literally picked up the – I’m assuming extremely heavy – wooden bar (all of it; the front bar, the back bar, and the under bar) and carried it into the middle of the street. Once the bar was safely in the street, they sat down and continued their drinking as the fire blazed behind them, taking out the Palace and the rest of Whiskey Row.
Another Palace (and Prescott) claim to fame is that the movie Junior Bonner starring Steve McQueen was shot in and around the town, with scenes filmed inside the Palace. Filmed in 1972, it depicts the story of a veteran rodeo rider returning to his hometown of Prescott for a rodeo competition, while also reuniting with his estranged parents and brother. The town itself holds onto this little nugget of fame pretty tightly, but the Palace reps the hardest.
However, there’s more to the Palace than just Wild West debauchery, alcohol, and Steve McQueen. The food is actually really good. I’ve eaten here twice, once during Thanksgiving 2021, and again for my moms birthday. Both times it was phenomenal. For Thanksgiving, we ate a traditional meal (turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and stuffing), and it was legitimately one of the best Thanksgiving meals I’ve ever had. They also have these little tacos as an appetizer, which are great and a fan favorite.
Overall, the Palace Restaurant and Saloon is considered to be a very popular spot amongst locals and visitors alike. It’s historic, fun, maybe a little haunted, the food is excellent, and you genuinely feel transported back in time. Definitely check out this awesome place if you’re ever in town/the Prescott area!