rating: 0+x

When the gun smoke settles we'll sing a victory tune
And we'll all meet back at the local saloon
We'll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing, "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."

(from) Beer for my horses Toby Keith

Basic Information

A Saloon is The Wild West version of what would be the tavern in a fantasy RPG or a bar in the modern day…. but there's something a little more rough-and-tumble to it than that. Most saloons in fiction are clearly a little shady. They may be the social (or even cultural) center of the community, but odds are good they're also a brothel and/or the sort of place where people get shot for dealing from the bottom of the deck.

Every saloon needs a Saloon Owner to call the shots. This may be a Miss Kitty-type if the saloon is a bordello. If the saloon is a little hole-in-the-wall that barely scrapes by, the owner may also be The Bartender, but a well-off saloon probably has more hierarchy than that.

Other employees probably include a few saloon girls (who may be legit dance-hall girls or Prostitutes, and may match the tropes of Soiled Dove, The Vamp or Two Bit Whore). There's probably either The Piano Player on the staff, or maybe one of them fancy new-fangled Player Pianos in the corner. If the town is a dangerous place, there's bound to be some hired muscle - perhaps a retired outlaw working as a bouncer.

Some saloons are also casinos, or at least tolerate a little "friendly" poker or faro (card game) at a poorly-lit table near the back. Three-Card Monte, Three-Card Brag, and various dice games (like craps) were also common. Expect to see The Gambler trying to make some money off other Western Characters. The games may be rigged, or there could be a confidence game afoot to catch the unwary, with a house accomplice or shill playing along.

A common visual motif and business structure for a saloon is one large lower-floor common room with a long bar at one end and tables scattered about. A large staircase in that main room leads up to an internal balcony or loft and a series of doors on the upper floor to private rooms (either rented as hotel rooms, or used by the prostitutes). It's common for that upper floor to also have an external balcony where the gals can call down to the streets and entice men to come inside (perhaps leading to a badger game or honeypot trap). Logically, there's probably some sort of back room or root cellar to store stock and maybe a kitchen if the establishment also makes food, but TV shows and movies rarely show such rear areas1

Hollywood tradition dictates that every saloon stocks sarsparilla and whiskey, but beer and home-brewed rotgut were pretty common as well.

The front entrance usually has "batwing" or "saloon doors" that only cover knee- to chest-height and swing back and forth all cool like after somebody gets punched or thrown out. That's a little impractical if you're planning to have a closing time for your establishment, as you can't lock anyone out. So that's probably a feature best saved for saloons that double as inns or bordellos, so you have patrons coming and going at all hours. Conveniently, there's probably no mandatory last call on the rugged frontier - the drunk who is still present in the morning, passed out on the table where he was left the night before, is a common staple.

The other things likely to be found outside the front of the saloon will be a hitching rail - the frontier equivalent of a parking lot - and a horse trough, for the convenience of all horses (…and mules) that aren't drinking beer. The horse trough is also a convenient place to dump drunks.

The saloon is traditionally convenient for transport - if the railroad runs through town, the saloon is usually close to the halt, otherwise it's usually the main stop for the stagecoach. Given the scale of your stereotypical Western town, this is probably one of the town's dominant buildings.

For those that like a little bite to their Western, there may be the issue of whether "injuns" are allowed in the saloon or not.


Game and Story Use

  • Lots of hot-headed customers and breakable bottles, make this the #1 classic location for a bar brawl.
  • Could be a great home base or recurring locale for The Western Posse, especially if they have dubious morals.
    • (In fact, I'm about to launch a campaign where the PCs are the dodgy crew of just such an establishment. At character creation, I had the players fill in details about the business, and about the much more vile competition just down the boardwalk from their saloon.)
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License