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I've been in a couple of actual 'old West' saloons.  They are nothing at all like you see in the movies.  The 'swinging doors' aren't on the street, there's a regular door onto the street.  That takes you into what was called the 'cigar apartment.'  You could buy cigars, packaged tobacco, 'packaged' liquor (bottles), or beer to take out, usually in a bucket you brought with you.  The 'cigar apartment' was the only part of a saloon a 'decent woman' could enter.  If you went through the 'swinging doors' you were in the actual saloon, which was separated from the cigar apartment by a partition, usually at least head high. 

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I would think many saloons simply made use of an existing structure. I do know that many started out as nothing more than a tent or other canvas cover over a couple of boards layed across sawhorses or beer kegs. Some, especially in the southwest may even have been nothing more than under a tree for shade.

Then, of course, as the town grew, if the saloon keeper was prosperous, they would move into a building or have one built.

But I do support your comments. They were, for the most part, far from the large, open, well lit places the movies made them out to be.

A good topic.
Many saloons were very narrow & there was a reason for it. A lot of jurisdictions taxed a building not on sq. footage, but on frontage. A building 12 ft wide & 30 ft deep--360 sq. ft.--paid less taxes than a building 20 ft wide & 15 ft deep--300 sq. ft.

Typical layout for a purpose-built saloon might be 15 or so ft of frontage, as much as 50 ft deep. That would allow a 10X15 cigar apt, which might also contain the office, a 30 ft bar area, which would probably have a 'free lunch' counter (lots of salty stuff), & a couple of private 10x12 rooms for gambling, business dealing, or meeting 'ladies' in the back. It would usually have a basement under the bar area, where beer could be kept cool.
Excellent points, Charley. For the most part, the saloons I've been in are the same - almost hallways.

There's another reason that swinging doors were either inside or nonexistent - dust and wind. It would be almost impossible in some climates to keep a place even moderately clean and habitable with nothing but swinging doors directly from the outside. Another reason is that saloons usually weren't open 24/7. There had to be "real" doors that could be closed and locked.

'Course, those were never issues in Hollywood, were they?

Speaking of which - ever see anyone in a movie saloon ask where the outhouse was? Movie cowboys must have had bladders the size of beer kegs!

Professor of Chipology
I've never seen a horse go in the movies, either--but I've never ridden one that didn't. I've ridden a LOT of horses.
DEAD MAN features a horse 'going'.

The "sinks" were always out back.

In 1872 the Board of Trustees of Arrow Rock declared D.D. Green's stockyard and the privy behind Levy Brothers Store as public nuisances.  The constable informed them of the board's decision and ordered them to clean up.  Knee deep mud in the streets, rows of outhouses behind buildings, odors, stench, grime, piles of manure in the streets and lots of flies, those are experiences that don't get translated into Hollywood movies. I know how I look and smell after spending a couple of few days in the woods. Imagine a cow hand on the trail for weeks or months.

The Saloons here were on the second floor of buildings, above regular stores.  No swinging doors, just regular doors.  I wonder if the swinging door on the front of buildings isn't just a Hollywood invention for added drama when the gunslinger or sheriff steps through with the determined look on their face?    

Actually, the swinging doors did exist, but they separated the 'cigar apartment' where you could buy tobacco, 'packaged liquor' wrapped in brown paper--no paper sacks until much later--or a 'growler' of beer, from the saloon proper. The cigar apartment usually also included the owner/manager's office.

Didn't they also lead into the restaurants/cafe area where ladies and or children might be present?

Seemed like I read that somewhere??

Restaurants were nearly always completely separate from saloons.  You mix liquor & guns, something bad's gonna happen sooner or later.  You didn't want it happening anywhere near where there'd be decent women & kids.  About the only 'food' you'd find in a saloon was the 'free lunch,' which had a lot of very salty stuff.  That would make you thirsty & you'd drink more as a result.  You still find that in bars today--salted nuts, pickled salty sausages, stuff like that--only it's not usually free these days.

I neglected to mention, we don't have second stories anymore after the fire of 1910.

There was one in Agua Prieta Mexico (bordering Douglas, AZ) called the 'Silver Dollar' back in the early '70's that might'a been the closest to a real old west type cantina/saloon I've found. It was built in an alley. 'Had swingin' doors at both ends with a bar along one side. No stools, just a foot rail. Had spittoons tho. The floor was hard packed dirt... 'n prob'ly 'oiled'. What beer there was was fished out of a barrel fulla icewater. If you wanted somethin' to eat... you told the barkeep... who told a kid... a chow runner. He'd disappear 'n come back with whatever... from who knows wherever. There wasn't no menu. Whatever you could think of... that kid would go get. There was a shallow ditch runnin' down the street... 'n it took a 90 deg turn into the bar... in one doorway 'n out the other. Maybe 10" wide 'n 10" deep. This is where you pee'd. Serious! You just turned around from the bar 'n pee'd in the ditch. 'Had a 12 string guitar player... flamenco style. Sometimes a dancer would show up... 'n dance on the bar. If she was wearin' drawers... she wasn't for sale. No drawers... she's yours... if ya had the Pesos. I was 'bout the only Anglo in the joint most often. I amused 'em by 'eatin' the worm' early on... the one in the bottom of the mescal bottle. It's an agave larvae... God knows which one I swallowed (there's 3 types). I don't think a joint like that could exist anymore... not on the border anyway.


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