This article was written by Phin Upham
The saloons of the Old West were a lot like the fabled oases of the deserts of Arabia. Cowboys would be out for weeks at a time, usually with minimal provisions. The food of saloons wasn’t the best. Much of the meat was approach rotten standards, by the taste of Europeans of the time. The coffee often used other substances, like ground acorn or dandelion root, and tasted off or watered down.
It was obvious that this food was meant to fill the belly, not to be a pleasurable experience. The bar was there to drink, the tables were there to eat, and portion sizes were plentiful. Flapjacks were popular during this time. Cheap to produce in bulk, and good tasting when served with flavored syrups.
Table manners were practically non-existent. Men made runs for food, which might have been in short supply depending on the town and the timing of the stage coach line. They had no set schedule for meals either, with one Englishman remarking that breakfast could be served in the middle of the night. It was also common to have pie with meat, which was another turn off for foreigners.
The gold rush changed some of this crudeness. With more money came more respectable saloons offering better quality food at higher prices. There, a successful prospector could dine on a fat steak with a side of finely distilled whiskey. Even oysters became available to saloons as the railroad began to expand.