Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rock Ridge Saloon

Welcome to Rock Ridge.

To recap the idea behind the Rock Ridge series, not everyone is going to be able to live off of the land after a major catastrophe. There will be those who are not suited to raising their own food, but will have other skills that they can use to make a living. I am using the fictional town of Rock Ridge (ca. 1870) as an example of the skills and services that may be in demand after TSHTF. It doesn't have to be “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”; people lived comfortably in small towns and villages for centuries before the invention of electric lighting and automobiles.

The basic idea behind the operation of a bar, saloon, public house, or tavern is that people like to get out and socialize. When living quarters are tight and entertainment options are few, going to the bar is a proven way to “get out”. This usually involves alcohol as a social lubricant. People like to drink, gossip, listen to music, and gamble despite all of the experiments to convince them that these are bad things. With luck, after TSHTF people will be willing to leave each other alone in their choices of entertainment and the neighborhood bar or pub will make a comeback. Having a place where people can exchange ideas, relax after a long day trying to stay alive, or just get drunk enough to dull the pain of living would be a good step towards establishing a town.

Layout/ Services
Depending on the size of the town, the saloon would offer a variety of services, each of which would influence the floor plan.The saloon in Rock Ridge is a building by itself, but many small taverns and pubs are in the cellars or basements of other businesses.

Of course, you'll need a bar:  the raised counter that the bartender stands behind and the customers come to to order their drinks. The bar provides a separation between the employees and the customers, making it easier to keep the customers from helping themselves to the stock. It also provides a surface on which to serve the drinks, and stools give the customers a place to park while enjoying their libations.

The main room would be filled with tables and chairs of whatever design fits best. Most saloons and bars will work best with round tables big enough for four to six people to sit around so they can play cards or converse without having to raise their voices, whereas a public house or tavern may work better with long tables and benches to allow larger groups a comfortable place to gather.

Rock Ridge is big enough to attract traveling entertainers, so the bar has a stage and the backstage fittings (curtains, scenery, and simple props) needed for the shows. The changing rooms would be big enough to provide a place for the stars to sleep while they are in town. The crew would have to find accommodations in a local hotel or boarding house.

If the saloon is doing well, the owner may hire a musician to provide background music. The Wild West stereotype is that of a piano sitting in one corner, but in other times and places they might have any assortment of stringed or woodwind instruments:  wandering violin players working for tips, mariachi bands with guitars and mandolins, or even just a storyteller/singer. The phrase “singing for your supper” has a historical basis to it.

“Pub food” might be available. Rough fare, simple food, this is not a restaurant so the menu is going to be limited and cheap. Stews, bread and cheese, and other food that is easy to prepare and serve would be the staples.

Most small-town bars would brew their own beer if the ingredients were available from local farmers. Water, barley, hops, and yeast are all it takes to make beer, and since there was typically only one bar in town, the patrons would drink whatever was on tap. Rice and corn (maize) are often used to increase the sugar available to the yeast if barley is scarce.

Whiskey was usually shipped in from a larger town, since the distillation of liquor takes a bit more equipment and training to get right. Forget the aged single malt Scotch; most of the whiskey found in a bar 200 years ago was watered-down moonshine. Ice wasn't available, so whiskey was served neat, at room temperature.

Regional drinks
  • Rum is fermented and distilled from sugar cane and ships well, so it might be available in your area. 
  • Hard cider is fermented apple juice, so if apples will grow in your area you'll be able to have hard cider. 
  • Vodka was originally made from potatoes, but can be made from any source of starch. 
  • In Europe, wine is a part of life and is served with meals. Grapes are a pain to grow in most areas, but wine can be made from any fruit that will grow in your area.
In America the Temperance movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's conducted a crusade against alcohol in all forms, eventually leading to Prohibition and all of the taxes and laws that survived it. After TSHTF, most of those laws will probably be ignored, since there will be no shortage of other things to worry about.

Other services
Many bars were co-located with brothels. Deadwood and Lead, both in South Dakota, have preserved some of the old architecture of the frontier days and incorporated it into the casinos that took over the town a couple of decades ago, and there was plenty of evidence of brothels in those mining towns. In an area where the men outnumber the women due to the industry that the town supports, brothels will pop up. Human nature almost guarantees that men will pay for sex and that some women will oblige them by offering it for sale.

Gambling was a popular pastime (and still is in the states that allow it), and the offerings could vary from a friendly game of poker among friends to a full casino with roulette tables and professional gamblers. Cards, dice, and games of chance are timeless ways to wager small sums and waste time.

Information: if you've ever tended bar you know how much private information people will pass on once they've had a few drinks. Add in the opportunities to observe other townspeople on a regular basis and the bartender can quickly be one of the main sources of gossip.

Who should look into opening or running a saloon?
If you don't mind putting up with drunks and can find a source of alcohol to stock a bar, you might be able to keep food on the table by running a saloon. You'll probably have to manage a few employees and keep a good set of books to track your “cash” flow, and the hours can be long. Depending on the customers you have coming in, a bouncer may be a good idea to have on hand, and a couple of servers tending the tables will keep the customers from having to go to the bar for another round.

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