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The city of Prescott, Arizona began as a mining camp next to Granite Creek in the mid 1800's. The population at this settlement grew to a substantial number and by the late 1860's 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 character soon follow and Prescott soon 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 that settled in the Arizona Territory. Like many 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 1800's and the Whiskey Row section of town was legendary. Whiskey Row covered one square block downtown and at one point there was over 40 saloons packed into this small area. Whiskey Row was as lawless and wild as the old west could be!
The original Whiskey Row buildings were constructed with wood timber. 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 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. Many of the old saloons operated as basement speakeasies.
After prohibition, Prescott came into the modern age. Prescott was a sizable city and the reckless lawlessness was pretty much turned toward the tame side. Prescott eventually turned into a peaceful community with plenty of local commerce. Whiskey Row was a landmark attraction by this time, but many of the old original saloons were shuttered forever. The old saloons that survived, practically guaranteed that Whiskey Row would live on well into the future.
With the advent of western tourism in the 1950's, 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 1960's Steve McQueen film "Junior Bonner" was filmed in the Palace Saloon and this helped to draw more tourists to the area. Several more westerns and scenes from Billy Jack were filmed on Whiskey Row too.
Yavapai College opened its doors in Prescott in the 1960's and the local higher education crowd definitely benefited Whiskey Row. In face many Arizona college and university students from other cities make pilgrimages to Whiskey Row for an old west style drinking binge.
In modern times, Car Clubs and Harley Biker Rally organizers revere Whiskey Row as one of the ultimate wild west destinations. Tourists 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 earlier this year. 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!
Sure enough when I got 2 days off, I pointed my 392 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.
The Whiskey Row venture kicked off with a beer at the Birdcage Saloon. After feeling relaxed, I walked around Prescott and took plenty of pictures. There was something about the old Birdcage that kept calling me back to Whiskey Row for more. So, I decided to just go with it! I had a nice western style Ponderosa Prime Melt with a beer and a shot of bourbon for dinner at the Palace Saloon. Looking at the old memorabilia in this saloon was like stepping back in time. Soon I was totally captivated by the old west feel of Whiskey Row.
After the Palace, it was off to the next saloon to get some serious whiskey drinking done. I stepped through the swinging doors at Matt's Saloon and was greeted by a lovely barmaid named Raven. Being served whiskey all night from a Raven kind of starts to sound like an Edgar Allen Poe story, so I will let it go at that. All I can say is that the early days of Prescott in the late 1800's start to come back to life after drinking a few shots of hooch at a saloon on Whiskey Row late at night.
After sleeping off the Whiskey Row all-nighter experience, I hit the road back to the Grand Canyon just after sunrise. Any direction that one travels out of Prescott is guaranteed to sober up the worst hangover. The mountain roads leading to Jerome Ghost Town are steep and twisty enough to make a person swear off whiskey forever. All I can say is that I arrived back at the Grand Canyon in one piece and Whiskey Row was still calling my name. Whiskey Row is one of those places that you can leave, but the good memories will always keep bringing you back!
In years past, a Las Vegas destination is what I usually suggest for a New Year's Eve celebration destination. This year a change was due. For those who seek one of the biggest wild west style New Year's Eve parties of them all, Whiskey Row is calling your name! While chatting with a few locals at the Palace and Matt's Saloon, I heard all about the wild New Years celebration from last year and that was enough to give credence to mentioning this great party destination for December 31st. Whiskey Row definitely is the place to be on New Year's Eve!
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 place. 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 and getting the number of a local taxi company before the whiskey flows is highly suggested, especially on New Year's Eve.
If you are a fan of the old wild west, then Prescott and Whiskey Row belong on the lifetime travel bucket list. All it takes is one sip of rye on Whiskey Row to step back in time. Whiskey Row has a lot of history to tell and plenty of good memories to bring home!