Red Onion Saloon – Skagway, Alaska - Gastro Obscura
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Skagway, Alaska

Red Onion Saloon

Originally a brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush, this bar once used dolls to denote when ladies were working. 

Established in 1898 as a bordello for lonely miners during the Klondike Gold Rush, the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway, Alaska, preserves the town’s seamy history by operating a brothel museum on site. The ground floor saloon remains a bar and restaurant, but the establishment’s days of providing additional services are long gone.

In the 1900s, the Red Onion was a popular dance hall, and the space still hosts live music events and drag shows today. There are plenty of items on display throughout the restaurant. Racy, old-timey portraits of alluring women adorn the walls and visitors can enjoy a glass of beer underneath a rather extensive display of bedpans.

Upstairs, the museum showcases the 10 original rooms where the saloon’s madam and her girls would entertain their clients. Each room had several doors in case a quick exit was necessary. Customers chose women by picking from one of the 10 dolls placed at the bar, each representing one of the working ladies upstairs. When a doll was chosen, it was laid down on the bar, indicating the woman was at work. When her client came back downstairs, the doll would be seated upright, to let potential customers know she was available.

Legend has it that Lydia, a former madam at the saloon, haunts the place today. The smell of perfume down the hallways or particularly cold spots near the upstairs rooms are considered signs of her ghostly presence.

Know Before You Go

Red Onion Saloon is open seasonally from mid-April until late September, 10:00 a.m. to close (at least 10:00 p.m.). You can enjoy a breakfast Chardonnay and pizza if you do one of the brothel tours.

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