If I had to live my life over, I’d live over a saloon.W. C. Fields
Occasionally, you come across something that doesn’t sound like a great idea but ends up surprising you. I am not a touristy kind of traveler for the most part, and I have driven past the giant ball of yarn many times and never had the desire to stop and gap at its wooly wonder. But when you see a sign that says “$5 for Fifteen minutes (Just like in 1898),” it causes you to stop and ponder.
And dish out the $5, hey even I have an asking price.
It was a Tuesday in Skagway, Alaska, at the Red Onion Saloon and I was there for some refreshments when the sign caught my attention.
The Red Onion Saloon is a restaurant and bar, off of 2nd and Broadway, and its claim to fame is that it is the oldest brothel and saloon in Alaska.
A brothel boasts $5 for fifteen minutes – kind of kinky, sketchy.
I did what any morally sound person would do; I took a shot of liquid courage, walked up to the bar, slapped $5 on the counter, and said sign me up!
Before you click away thinking that this is going to become X rated – what it meant was a 15-minute tour through the history of the brothel and the upstairs rooms. Yes, there are working girls up there, but most of them have a bachelor’s in history and are interested in the gold rush less than golden past.
The Red Onion hasn’t been a brothel in many ages, but it did find its niche in as one of a kind tourist trap, saloon, and a great place to meet after exploring Skagway. This place will send you back to the era of miners when Alaska was more frontier and less civilized.
There is the average food and drink, but it is the tour that most people come for.
The building creaks and groans, and the smell of wood and alcohol floats in the air. Between the piano playing and the saloon girls serving drinks to overfed Americans, you wonder if you had taken the DeLorean back to 1885.
The tour starts on the staircase, and you get a little about the history of the building and the Red Onion Saloon. Then you head upstairs to see the rooms the working girls rented to conduct their business.
There are about 10 ‘cribs’ up there, small rooms that the girls would have used for business. These rooms were big enough for a bed and not much else. The girls lived and worked in these chambers.
Our tour guide showed us the walls, which had many different layers of wallpaper. She explained that each room would have been decorated by the girls. Only the finest wallpaper, pillows, and boa for these girls – The tour guide’s words, not mine.
Included in the tour was two of the Red Onion’s one-of-a-kind unique object. One was a doll, and the other was a silver nightgown dress from the turn of the century.
Our tour guide explained that the dolls were originally behind the bar. The dolls were painted to look like the ladies who worked upstairs. Suppose you were a lonely miner looking for some love. You would pay the bartender your $5, and the bartender would put the doll down, showing that she was unavailable because she was conducting business. You would head upstairs for your 15 minutes. Once you came back downstairs, the bartender would stand the doll up again, signaling she was open for business.
Upstairs among the antiques are also paintings of the ladies, done by different artists. Some of them are a little risqué.
At the end of the tour (which was exactly 15 minutes), the tour guide brought us downstairs again, to the whoop of the crowd.
I will have to admit; that it was very entertaining and somewhat embarrassing, but totally worth the $5.
So next time you are in Skagway or just passing through, stop at the Red Onion Saloon for some good old fashion moral corruption and a Shady Lady (it’s the pizza!).