Saloon in Telluride Colorado photo courtesy of Time Life Books
Colorado saloons were no different than others of the old west. When you think of these gathering places, drinking, gambling and general rowdiness comes to mind.
In the beginning when settlements were first being formed, the first place of business to be established was a saloon.
Whether it was in a tent, shed or building, working men needed someplace to drink and unwind from the labors of the day.
Saloons could be found everywhere in Colorado. From the gold fields to the major towns of the time, this refuge had a little something for everybody.
As a drinking establishment, the Colorado saloons soon added gambling tables. A gambler would ride into town and want to start a game in a saloon.
He needed permission from the owner to start up a game. An honest game. No cheating or card counting.
Usually, the gambler would give the saloon owner a part of his winnings, if he won, to show what a good guy he was. That way he was welcome to start a game whenever he was in town.
One of the most famous gamblers and gunfighters of the west was Bat Masterson. He owned quite a few gambling houses and saloons all over Colorado, from the gold fields in Leadville and Silverton, to Denver and Trinidad.
roulette wheel Telluride saloon photo courtesy of Time Life Books
The architecture of many western saloons were very cheap and dowdy. However, many in prominent towns of the old west were really elaborate.
New names for them were, gaming or gambling parlors, dance halls, entertainment theaters, gentlemen's clubs, etc.
Gambling and drinking were the order of the day at the time, then the ladies arrived and prostitution was the definite winner of the local male attention.
Other forms of entertainment were brought to the saloon. Boxing matches were held in many saloons and tickets were sold so that only a choice few could buy their way to the action.
On top of that, placing bets on who would win or lose, became hot and heavy, with the saloon keeper holding onto the bets and paying out to the winners.
In the more upscale Colorado saloons, the owner would build a stage for entertainment.
Whether it be a pianist, comedian, vocalist or the ever present dancing girls, a saloon was always packed every night by the locals.
A popular entertainer of the old west and especially Colorado was Eddie Foy. He and his group would travel the gold settlements, tent cities and towns, playing to townspeople starved for outstanding performances.
For instance, the Apollo Hall in Denver, opened in 1859 during the first gold rush. The Apollo claimed to be a saloon theater.
It was just a run down frame building with rooms on the second floor and the bar at the street level.
Another interesting variation of a saloon theater was the Mountaineer Hall in the gold camp of Georgia Gulch, not far from Denver.
Their idea of a "stage" were two shelves carved out of a mountainside. Of course the most expensive part of their establishment was the bar.
Very long and with 3 bartenders, beer was sold at 15 cents a glass and hard liquor was "two bits a shot."
Eventually, in every prominent town in Colorado, the saloon theater separated. The saloon or bar was its own building and the theaters or opera houses were built for family entertainment.
Famous entertainers of the period traveled the west and Colorado opera houses were sold out for almost every performance.
Notables such as the above mentioned comedian Eddie Foy, Edwin Booth, world famous Shakespearean actor, Adah Menken, "the most undressed actress" of the stage and songbird/actress Faye Templeton graced Colorado stages.
So you see, the west and Colorado may have started out uncivilized, but at the end of the 1800's, culture took its place in old west history.