Sultana Bar – Williams, Arizona - Gastro Obscura

Williams, Arizona

Sultana Bar

Bootleggers ran booze beneath this building before (and after) Route 66 appeared beside it. 

A contoured neon martini, sandwiched by the words “Package Goods,” beckons travelers along Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. Below the glow, the Sultana Bar—situated in a town best known as the gateway to the Grand Canyon—touts itself as “World Famous.” In terms of longevity, they’ve got a point: This dive opened in 1912, 14 years before the historic highway on which it stands.

As an article from the Phoenix New Times elaborates, the Sultana “traces its roots to a time when ranching, logging, and the Santa Fe Railroad were the big games in town.” Desperados originally designed tunnels underneath the bar for drug-running—namely, opium—but were called upon with new purpose when Prohibition created a sudden demand for clandestine booze stockpiles across the United States. Above-ground, guests wandered a less harrowing passageway, which brought them to a theater that screened silent films prior to World War I.

Though visitors can (and should) still access the theater through this passage, the space now operates as a special events hall. Pool tables occupy the center of the main bar, and a modern jukebox sits backed against the wall. Beside the flat screens, a stuffed cougar gazes past the massive American flag hanging from the ceiling. Beer is the overarching theme of all lighting, signage, taps, bottles, and cans. Even the term “package goods” (alcohol sealed and labeled in its original container, as distributed by the manufacturer) refers to the bygone practice of bartenders selling booze for the road.

Even after more than a century, there’s still an inimitable authenticity to the Sultana. Locals still account for the majority of drinkers—don’t be surprised if someone asks where you came from, then offers you a beer.

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