The city of Prescott, Arizona began as a mining camp next to Granite Creek in the mid 1800s. The population at this camp grew to a substantial number and by the late 1860s the settlement of Prescott took shape as a small town. Prescott soon became the first capitol of the Arizona Territory, thus making this town a center of commerce. The Arizona Territory was an unruly and dangerous place to be during the gold rush years, so it is easy to imagine that Prescott was a definitive wild west town. Prescott attracted merchants and purveyors that catered to prospectors, loggers and ranchers. Where the money flows, unsavory characters soon follow and Prescott became a haven for those who preferred making a quick buck the easy way.
Prescott basically was ruled by six gun justice in the early days, till a U.S. Army fort was posted nearby. A few brave marshals and sheriffs eventually brought a semblance of law and order to this region, but for the most part, every criminal vice known to mankind was part of everyday life in Prescott. This town was a hub for gambling, prostitution and wild saloons that preyed upon pioneers, ranchers and prospectors. Just like with many other wild towns of the old west, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday were very much involved with the vice dealings in Prescott.
Where gold fever strikes, the whiskey flows like a river! Prescott became a haven for wild west saloons back in the late 1800s and the Whiskey Row section of town was legendary. Whiskey Row covered one square block downtown and at one point there were over 40 saloons packed into this small area. Whiskey Row truly was as lawless and wild as the old west could be, so this definitely was the best spot in Arizona to bend an elbow!
The original Whiskey Row buildings were constructed with wood timber and a massive fire burnt Whiskey Row down to the ground in the year 1900. Because Whiskey Row was so profitable, it did not take long for the entire area to be rebuilt with brick and mortar buildings that would withstand the test of time. The newly rebuilt Whiskey Row was designed to be a little classier than the rustic original version and this helped to draw men of stature with money to spend. Ranchers, cowboys and mining industry workers all considered Whiskey Row to be the number one local destination when rolling through Prescott. The saloons were filled with card sharks and the old Faro Table took many a good man down.
The whiskey flowed freely up to and during the prohibition years as many of the old Prescott saloons operated as basement speakeasies. After prohibition, this town came into the modern age. Prescott became a sizable city with plenty of commerce and the reckless lawlessness was a thing of the past. Whiskey Row was a landmark attraction by this time, but many of the old original saloons were shuttered forever. The saloons that did survive practically guaranteed that Whiskey Row would live on well into the future.
With the advent of western tourism during the Route 66 era, Whiskey Row evolved into a prime attraction. Visitors could walk into saloons and sit where famous characters of the old west sipped on whiskey and beer all day. The 1960s Steve McQueen film “Junior Bonner” was filmed in the Palace Saloon and this helped to draw more tourists to the area. Several other classic westerns were filmed in the old saloons and scenes from the legendary movie Billy Jack were filmed on Whiskey Row too.
Yavapai College opened its doors in Prescott in the 1960s and Whiskey Row definitely benefitted from the local higher education clientele. In fact, the local college started a tradition, because many Arizona college students from other cities make pilgrimages to Whiskey Row for an old west style spring break drinking binge.
In modern times, car clubs and biker rally organizers revere Whiskey Row as one of the ultimate wild west destinations. Tourists also flock to Whiskey Row by the thousands each week. Workers in nearby cities look upon Whiskey Row as salvation from keeping one’s nose to the grindstone. The first time that I heard about Whiskey Row was while I was working at the Grand Canyon during the peak tourist season. I had been cooking for endless weeks with little time off and just the thought of a place like Whiskey Row sure sounded like paradise!
When I finally got 2 days off from the Grand Canyon job, I pointed my old 392 Hemi Challenger straight for Prescott. I figured that I would have dinner and two drinks, then photograph the scenic sights on Whiskey Row. As it turned out, Whiskey Row was much more inviting and conducive to whiskey drinking than I imagined. I ended up pulling an all nighter while doing a saloon crawl, so the original mild mannered travel plan was null and void. Soon I was totally captivated by the old west feel of Whiskey Row!
Of course there is far more to Prescott than just Whiskey Row. Prescott is one of the most picturesque towns in the west and it it easy to fall in love with this comfortable place in the mountains. Prescott offers old fashioned western style steakhouses, a couple of Yavapai Tribal Casinos, great shopping and plenty of hotels that offer all amenities. If doing an all nighter on Whiskey Row is on the agenda, then booking a hotel room ahead of time and getting the number of a local taxi company before the whiskey flows is highly suggested, especially on New Year’s Eve.
If you happen to be a fan of the old wild west, then historic Whiskey Row definitely belongs on the lifetime travel bucket list. All it takes is one sip of hooch on Whiskey Row to step back in time to the old wild west. Whiskey Row certainly has a lot of stories to tell and there will be plenty of good memories to bring back home!
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