We rolled into Prescott, Arizona mid-day in a snow storm, having roller coastered our way via icy roads from the Grand Canyon. The white knuckle ride had fried us – partially because we were not mentally prepared to be pounded by ice pellets in sunny Arizona – and our GPS had steered us wrong (because we’d typed in the wrong address for the tourist office down the street, but no one needs to know that). But that was okay because where the GPS landed us was on Whiskey Row (so named for the saloons that lined it in the late 19th century), right in front of the Palace Saloon. We were tired and hungry and could have used a drink, so the Palace seemed as promising a place as any to start our Prescott visit.
According to their website, the original Palace Saloon opened in September 1877 as the most “upscale” saloon on Whiskey Row. They call themselves the “oldest frontier saloon in Arizona.” How a “frontier saloon” is different from another saloon that might be older is anyone’s guess. The Gunfight at the OK Corral boys – the Earps and Doc Holliday – frequented the Palace while Virgil Earp was Prescott town constable. When a fire wiped out Whiskey Row in 1900, the Palace managed to save its bar 1880 bar by carrying it across the street. They rebuilt and reopened in 1901.
I am an obsessive planner. I read every single piece of information available on a location before we visit. So I was aware that the Palace Saloon was heavily skewed toward the tourist set. We walked through a set of heavy wooden saloon doors and into an explosion of western bordello decor. The staff was wearing vaguely western, steam punk outfits and there was a mannequin dressed as a saloon girl next to a door marked Downtown Dolly. As a history tourist, I have a high tolerance for cheesy. But really.
I judged too hastily. Well, not too hastily, because there is a judgement to be made about their decor. But. We had excellent meals: simple and fresh. I had a tomato basil soup that was particularly yummy. We liked it so much that, after a bad experience elsewhere that evening, we went back to the Palace for a sure thing the next night.
And they redeemed themselves by having well-labeled, historic artifacts in exhibit cases all around the room. That’s a 1904 McClellan cavalry saddle, below.
We didn’t have drinks that first afternoon, but later that night, we bellied up to another bar for some mead. Yup: mead.
I hadn’t had mead for at least 30 years. The last time was at a medieval themed dinner at Ruthin Castle in Wales. This time, it was at a place in Prescott called Superstition Meadery. It’s across the street from the courthouse, a block from the Palace, in the basement of a kitchenware shop.
We went in with visions of knights in armor and found, instead, a sleek modern wine bar. The base for mead is honey (Arizona honey, in the mead at Superstition), water and yeast. Into that, they incorporate herbs, spices, and fruits. We settled in at the bar for a tasting and were given a menu with a list of about 20 different flavored meads. There’s a nominal cost – about $2 each for a one ounce pour — and it’s a fun process of choose, pour, drink. The bartender was full of information about mead — clearly his was a labor of love. Mr. HT and I had six different flavors in total. Mr. HT is a single malt scotch drinker and I’m a dry wine drinker, so the sweetness did nothing for either of us. But we enjoyed the experience and would recommend it, even for non-sweet wine drinkers.