Few places embody the history and spirit of the American West as much as saloons, which have been practically mythologized thanks to classic western films. Such an iconic structure still stands in Emigrant, Mont., near Yellowstone National Park, where an early 20th century saloon was recently (and thoughtfully) restored to its former glory by the team at Atlanta-based Peace Design.
The Old Saloon first opened in 1902 to service the rail line passing through the Paradise Valley en route to Yellowstone National Park. Located at the halfway point from Livingston to Yellowstone, the Old Saloon became a perfect pitstop for the weary traveler—a tradition that continues today thanks to the bar’s new owners, one of whom is William Peace, the founder and principal of the firm of his namesake, along with his friends, Larry Pearson, Chris Lohss, and Brett Evje.
“I have a good friend who is in the restaurant business, as well as an architect friend of mine and a contractor, and the four of us had always loved this place called the Old Saloon,” Peace recalled. “It was on the market and we were afraid somebody was going to buy it, so the four of us purchased it—we actually own the property and the business.”
Given its historic significance and importance to the local community, Peace and his partners were determined to preserve the Old Saloon’s character and remain as true to its roots as possible. “It was a saloon of great notoriety for many, many years and has been consistently open since 1902,” he said. “It was really important to us that there was this [sense of] authenticity. We made it feel fresh and cleaner, yet we [didn’t want] the locals who felt that it was such a special place in the valley to walk in and say, ‘You guys took something great and ruined it’—and we’ve all seen that happen. So, we were very sensitive, whether it was to the archi-tectural materials—tiles that we used, light fixtures, metal ceiling tiles that would have been authentic of the time period—[or other] things like that to be refitted in an appropriate way.”
The task at hand proved to be a challenge in that the building was in poor condition and had to be stripped down to its foun-dations. Outdated electrical and HVAC systems had to be replaced, while the interiors were restored as near to original as possible using items such as reclaimed wood, historically accurate wallcoverings, and appropriate light fixtures that were either antiques or represented the look the design team wanted, Peace explained. They also rebuilt and refinished the vintage bar inside, which was originally purchased in St. Louis and hauled by steamboat up the Missouri River in 1907.
The new owners are poised to add their stories to the long lineage of ownership and their successful efforts to restore the Old Saloon will help ensure this one-of-a-kind establishment lasts another 100 years.