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. It sits on Whiskey Row, in the heart of downtown Prescott (Prescott, Arizona: “Everybody’s Hometown”.) and is considered to be the most historic bar in AZ, eventually earning a place on the National Register of Historical Places. They’ve kept the inside 1880’s western-inspired, requiring all staff to dress in old, western-style period clothing, plus relics of its Wild West past are placed throughout in glass display cases. They even left the ring buttons used to call the “madams”, aka Ladies of the Night, keeping them untouched and found throughout the restaurant. They also left the upstairs rooms/doors where the brothel was located and where the madams would go to “entertain” 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 only 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, plus the infamous Big Nose Kate (The Grave of Big Nose Kate: A Wild West Icon.), who frequently made the Palace her “place of business”. 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, the Palace saw a lot of death during this time period, mainly due to the alcohol. Aside from the outlaws killing one another, women were regularly targeted. One famous death was that of prostitute Jennie Clark, who was beaten to death by her boyfriend inside the saloon following a fight. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang, but that was commuted to life in prison by the governor, and then the next governor set him free. The Palace is said to be haunted and these deaths have greatly contributed to that 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 very cool? The bar currently inside the Palace is the original bar, i.e. the bar that was inside the Palace before it burned down in 1900. When the fire was racing towards the Palace, the patrons literally picked up the 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 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.
However, there’s more to the Palace than Wild West shenanigans, drinking, and Steve McQueen. The food is actually very good. Every time I’ve eaten here it’s been phenomenal. We came for Thanksgiving one year and had a traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and stuffing, and it was legitimately one of the best Thanksgiving meals I’ve ever had. A favorite of mine is the appetizer tacos (please see picture above), which are excellent and also a fan favorite of many.
Overall, while it can be a bit pricey, the Palace Restaurant and Saloon is considered to be an extremely popular spot amongst locals and visitors alike. It’s historic, fun, might be a little haunted, the food is excellent 🤌🏼, and you genuinely feel transported back to the Wild West. Definitely check out this awesome place if you’re ever in the Prescott area!