Vintage Images of American Taverns, Bars, and Saloons

Source: DusanBartolovic / iStock via Getty Images

Old photos of bars provide a unique glimpse into the past, showcasing the social and cultural norms of a bygone era and capturing changes in design, fashion, lifestyle, and even beverage preference. 

 To curate an album of images of bars, saloons, and taverns around America throughout the years, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the catalogs of Getty Images, Picryl, Wikimedia Commons, and the Library of Congress. Images selected were between the years of 1861 to 1979. (These are the oldest bars in America.)

These photos show how life in the United States has changed over the years. Some portray simple watering holes in rugged outpost towns on the American frontier, others show lavish establishments with well-dressed patrons and well-stocked bars. (Also check out photos from American life in the 19th century)

A few of these bars have managed to survive to this day but most have shut down or been transformed for another use. Certain parts of the country feature more prominently, with in New Orleans and New York, both places that are famous for their nightlife, appearing more than once. (These are the states with the most bars per person.)

 

These images show that while much has changed over the years, people still gather in bars to relax and socialize. 

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Saloon Arrest In Denver
> Year: 1872

The engraving appeared in Detective John W. Cook’s memoir about his time fighting crime in rugged Colorado in the 1800s. It depicts Cook and his partner, Detective Smith, arresting fugitive Bill White in a crowded saloon in Denver

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Columbian Hotel bar
> Year: 1880

The bar in a lavish hotel in Trinidad, Colorado, built in 1879, featuring bas-relief friezes of country scenes, both gas and electric lamps, carved and lathe-turned wood detailing, and taxidermy pheasants. In the 1800s, the most luxurious bars were often in hotels.

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

A stand selling beer and ice cream
> Year: 1885

A stereoscopic image of customers by a small outdoor bar with a sign reading “Lager Beer and Ice Cream Saloon” near the Augusta Arsenal in Augusta, Georgia. h

Source: Public Domain courtesy the Sonoma County Library via Wikimedia Commons

The bar at the Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon
> Year: 1889

A few rugged men pose at this hotel saloon in the town of Table Bluff in California’s Humboldt County. The unique chairs were made by the famous local hunter and “mountain man”: Seth Kinman, who once played a tune for Abraham Lincoln on a fiddle he made from a mule’s skull.

Source: Public Domain via Digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library; From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California / Wikimedia Commons

A Southern California tavern
> Year: Circa 1890

The bartender raises a glass in a toast to the camera at this tavern somewhere in Southern California – possibly San Juan Capistrano.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The Arcade Saloon
> Year: 1898

Several men stand outside the Arcade Saloon in Eldora, Colorado. At the time, Eldora was a mining town; now it’s a getaway for skiing and other outdoor activities.

Source: Public Domain / Beverly Bennett Dobbs / Wikimedia Commons

Drinking at the Road House Saloon
> Year: 1906

Several mustached men crowd around a table at this saloon in Bluff City, Alaska. Bluff City was established as a mining camp in 1900 during the Nome gold rush on the Seward Peninsula.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress

Perley McBride’s shop
> Year: 1906

A bartender poses behind the bar, surrounded by an array of bottles, location unknown.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House
> Year: 1906

The historic bar at this famous institution on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, opened in 1806. A tap on the bar dispensed absinthe, the anise-flavored spirit that was banned in the U.S. for its supposed mind-altering effects in 1912, becoming legal again only in 2007.

Source: Public Domain / Maple, G. / Library of Congress

“Making a tenderfoot dance”
> Year: 1907

Cowboys in an unnamed saloon, location unknown, aim guns at another man’s feet, suggesting the old Western tradition of shooting at a newcomer’s feet to make him “dance.”

Source: Public Domain / Theodor Horydczak Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The Carlton Hotel Club Bar
> Year: 1920

The Carlton Hotel’s art deco-style club bar. The hotel, located in Washington, D.C., just two blocks from the White House, still exists, now branded as a St. Regis.

Source: Public Domain / Theodor Horydczak Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The bar at the Almas Temple
> Year: Circa 1920

A view of the bar at the Almas Temple, longtime home of the Washington D.C. chapter of the Scottish Rite Temple. Modeled off the castles of Moorish kings in 13th-century Granada, the building still exists today.

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

Man and cat at a bar
> Year: 1937

An unhappy-looking man spends his Saturday night with his kitten at an unnamed bar in Craigville, Minnesota .

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

Saturday night in Craigville
> Year: 1937

Another shot of a bar in Craigville, Minnesota, shows a few men talking while one holds a box of R.G. Dun cigars. Today, the boxes are vintage collectibles and can be found for sale on eBay.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

Crab boil night
> Year: 1938

A bar filled with people in Raceland, Louisiana, on crab boil night. Seafood boils remain popular throughout the state.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

Drinking in Pilottown
> Year: 1938

A group of men enjoy beers at a little bar in Pllottown, Louisiana. In the background is a poster for Falstaff beer, a major brewery for much of the 20th century.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

A saloon on Decatur Street
> Year: 1938

A well-stocked bar in New Orleans’s French Quarter, as a man in all white gets a beer from the bartender.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

A bar in Pottsville
> Year: Circa 1938

Two bartenders watch as their picture is taken in the bar at the Necho Allen Hotel in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Pottsville was a coal mining town, and one of the bar areas in the hotel was called the Coal Mine Tap Room.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection

The private Seagram’s bar
> Year: 1939

The Seagram’s Distillers Corporation rented a floor in New York City’s iconic Chrysler Building and created an office that included this private executive bar designed by architect Morris Lapidus.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

A brewery bar
> Year: 1940

The bar at the Carson Brewery in Carson City, Nevada, the state capital. A picture of a bar in Nevada’s capital shows a group of people standing around enjoying themselves. A few of the men are covered in grime, perhaps after a day’s work.

Source: FPG / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Bill’s Gay Nineties
> Year: 1940

Bill’s Gay Nineties was a New York City bar that started out as a speakeasy in the 1920s. Over the years it transformed into a restaurant and piano bar and eventually closed in 2012. In this 1940 photo, the barman is wearing a fake mustache.

Source: Public Domain /. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives

Drinking in Norfolk
> Year: 1941

Several men enjoy beers one night at a bar in Norfolk, Virginia. Behind the men are racks filled with magazines.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

At the crossroads
> Year: 1944

Frenchie’s, a combination beer garden, juke joint, barbecue place, and gas station at a crossroads in Melrose, Louisiana.

Source: Public Domain / Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Tavern on the Green
> Year: 1944

A bar at New York City’s iconic Tavern on the Green in Central Park, originally built in the 1880s as a place to house the sheep that grazed in New York’s Central Park. It was transformed into a restaurant and bar in 1934 and is still open today.

Source: FPG / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Sammy’s Bowery Follies
> Year: 1945

A woman plays the violin during New Year’s Eve celebrations at this Lower East Side Manhattan bar. Sammy’s stayed open until 1971, a year after its founder passed away.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

The “21” Club
> Year: 1945

The famous jockeys, wearing the racing silks of stables owned by wealthy customers, outside the “21” Club in New York City. Opened in 1930 as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, it was designed with secret doors and cellars to hide alcohol. The establishment lasted until 2020, when it closed as a result of the pandemic.

Source: Berni Schoenfield / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Paddock Lounge listening
> Year: 1950

Patrons watch live music in this French Quarter bar in New Orleans. The Paddock Lounge was opened in 1925 by racehorse owner Steve Valenti and played a major role in the 1950s in the revival of New Orleans jazz.

Source: Raymond Kleboe / Picture Post via Getty Images

A New York bar scene
> Year: 1951

A man stands drinking at an unnamed bar in Manhattan. Some historians refer to the 1950s as a golden age of entertainment and nightlife in New York.

Source: Graphic House / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Taxidermy in California
> Year: 1954

Two men marvel at the decorations in Foster’s Bighorn in Rio Vista, California. The establishment is filled with stuffed animal heads owned by hunter William Foster. The restaurant and bar, which still exists today, has over 300 stuffed hunting trophies on its walls.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Anthony Angel Collection

Outside the bar
> Year: 1957

A man sprawls on the sidewalk outside the Blue Moon café and bar, probably in New York City.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

La Casa de los Marinos
> Year: Circa 1966

This was a notorious dance club and bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress

Blues bar
> Year: 1977

A band performs at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago, a popular blues venue where the Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters recorded a live album in 1981.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress

After the barbecue
> Year: 1978

People drinking beer at Zabala’s Bar in Paradise Valley, Nevada, after enjoying a barbecue.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress

In Paradise
> Year: 1978

Patrons at a combination bar, diner, and store in Paradise Valley, Nevada.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress

Bar Interior, Paradise Valley Bar and Store
> Year: 1979

Locals at the Paradise Valley Bar and Store.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

The Club Moderne
> Year: 1979

This historic art deco-style bar in Anaconda, Montana, was chosen as America’s favorite historic bar by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2016.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies

Drinking in the tepee
> Year: 1979

No longer open, Geronimo’s Castle Bar once served the small town of Bowie, Arizona. Bowie is near the area where the Apache leader Geronimo fought a war in the 1800s against the encroaching U.S. government and was eventually defeated and imprisoned.

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