Red Dead Redemption 2’s saloons are the hubs of their towns. Whether you want a full belly, a quick drink, a place to stay the night or even a haircut, you’ll find a saloon to meet your needs. I’ve spent tens of hours in them over the course of my playthrough, downing whiskey and flirting with the locals. Here’s a review of every saloon in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Note: The last portion of this piece contains location spoilers for later in Red Dead Redemption 2, but I’ll flag that up again before we get there. Feel free to leave your own saloon reviews in the comments!
Ambiance and clientele: A no-frills place with dirty tables, patchy walls and rowdy drinkers. There’s one guy in a racoon hat whose only job seems to be to start fights (don’t test him), which puts everyone permanently on edge. It’s not the place for a quiet pint, but if you want a party, it’s the place to go, especially when the ranch- and stable-hands arrive after work to blow off steam.
Food and drink: Simple, honest food for an empty stomach. The beef stew is dark and rich, and you get a lot of it for your $3. The more expensive lamb’s fry also looks tasty. I like the simple wooden bar set to the side, where you can chat with a friendly barman while drinking whiskey.
Amenities and activities: The best thing about Smithfields is the barber, where pocket change will get you a trim and a shave before an evening on the town. He’s even open until the early hours, just in case you want to clean up mid-party. It’s a wonder that so many patrons look as scruffy as they do.
You can’t stay the night here, but you can stumble to the hotel just across the street, which is convenient. Grab a bath to rid yourself of the stale booze smell before you head out in the morning.
Ambiance and clientele: The Keane’s Saloon makes a terrible first impression, with old men sizing you up on the porch before you enter. But for how down-and-out the customers look, Keane’s is remarkably clean; the floorboards look like they’re scrubbed daily. Candles are set out on every table, which is a nice touch—although one of those tables is blood-stained thanks to a regular game of Five Finger Fillet. (Avoid it if you want to eat.)
Despite appearances, you’ll find good conversation at Keane’s, including with the writer Theodore Levin, who will give you some leads on some old gunslingers. (Correction 12/28 10:53am— A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Theodore Levin as Jim Calloway, who is the subject of Levin’s book.)
Food and drink: A chalkboard menu outside promises oatmeal, pork and beans, squirrel boil and pickled eggs, but the middle two are crossed out. The eggs must have gone missing too, because the $3 oatmeal is your only option. It’s watery and is really only a stomach-filler for when you’re desperate (and even then, you can walk 30 seconds down the road to Smithfields for a much better meal).
You can at least grab a local beer: a big New Hanover Brewing Company keg sits on the end of the bar. It’s easy drinking.
Amenities and activities: It’s one of the few places to play Five Finger Fillet, which is fun and, once you get the hang of it, an easy way to make some money.
Ambiance and clientele: The Old Light Saloon reminds me of a cosy British pub—the stone walls and low, beamed ceiling could come straight from the Cotswolds. In the evening it’s dark, lit by candles and dim, hooded lights, which makes it feel even more cozy. The central fireplace is flanked by quirky chairs made from bits of logs—a clear fire hazard, but I can forgive that for how much they add to the ambiance.
You can tell the place hasn’t been properly looked after, however. The tables are chipped and the curtain rails are wonky, while bits of newspaper are trodden into the wooden floor. The town of Van Horn is too small to fill it, so there’s not much good company, but be sure to talk to Miss Marjorie at the bar. She’s a fascinating woman with some...interesting friends.
Food and drink: No-nonsense grub that’s rich and filling. The $3 fish stew is a sure bet, while the $5 lamb’s heart is for the more adventurous. They’ll both keep you fuelled for the journey down the coast to larger towns. Beer and whiskey are both on offer.
Amenities and activities: You can’t stay the night (though there’s a hotel in town for that), but you can spend a bit of money on blackjack. The table is battered, but as long as the odds are fair, I don’t care.
Ambiance and clientele: The Rhodes Parlor House has everything you’d want in a saloon: diner-style booths at the front for eating, a tireless pianist, old men who will share gossip about robberies, a barman who greets you heartily every time you enter, a constant stream of regulars no matter the time of day, and even the occasional fight, usually started by local Lemoyne Raiders.
Its high ceiling and a commanding central staircase give it an air of grandeur, and the neutral color of the decor is calm and welcoming, but it’s the outdoor spaces that keep me coming back. The front of the second floor has a balcony that looks over the dusty plains, but the real jewel is at the rear of the building. There you’ll find a seating deck with candlelit tables and a perfect view of the sunset. It’s the ideal spot to end a relaxing evening.
Food and drink: You can’t sample the imported wine promised in the posters, but a whiskey or a beer from the friendly bartender will do. The food is solid: the fried catfish is light and flaky, and while the cracked wheat and milk ($3) looks a bit like prison slop, I appreciate having a proper breakfast option when I’m staying the night.
Amenities and activities: You can take a hot bath by a fire and pay a dollar to stay at a room behind the bar. It’s small but well-furnished, and it’s sparkling clean. You can also play blackjack upstairs for $4—the table is always active, and it’s a good place to gossip with the locals.
Ambiance and clientele: From the ornate oyster shell lights to the stained-glass window overlooking the staircase, La Bastille exudes old-world charm. It’s sophisticated from top to bottom: Look down and you’ll see a polished, pattern wooden floor; up and you’ll see an intricate gold ceiling.
Posh men and women will bid you bonjour as they clink glasses of champagne, nibble on tea sandwiches from tiered plates and make small talk about local politics. They’re dripping in wealth, and while it’s nice to be in prestigious company for once, they can be a snooty bunch. This attitude is typified by socialite Lillian Powell, who you’ll find reclining on a sofa, complaining about how boring Saint Denis is and whining at the barman for not serving her fast enough.
Food and drink: You pay for the privilege of drinking among the rich and famous: a whiskey is a whole dollar, double what you’ll pay anywhere else. At $3 the lobster bisque is a good deal, while for $5 you get a perfectly pink prime rib with gorgeous, creamy dauphinoise potatoes.
Amenities and activities: Upstairs, La Bastille is basically a luxury hotel, with high ceilings and thick rugs. You can pay for a bath—which comes with a fancy bottle of cognac—and stay in a plush room, sleeping in a canopied bed with overhanging gold tassels.
From your room you can step right onto a shared balcony, which has tables and chairs under umbrellas to shade you from the sun and which overlooks a handsome square with a fountain in the middle. It’s the kind of place that’s perfect to sit with a morning coffee and the paper.
You can also play poker downstairs: the $5 buy-in reflects the grand surroundings.
Ambiance and clientele: Doyle’s is the place locals go when they can’t afford La Bastille. Expect a chipped tiled floor, low ceilings and not enough chairs to go around, which means I often see people sitting on upturned boxes. The lone table in the second room has a bright spotlight overhead, as if anyone sitting there faces interrogation. Even more worrying is the rat infestation, which I had to clear out for the owner.
However, Doyle’s is friendlier than La Bastille. I’ve heard more flirting here than in any other saloon, and you get the feeling that everyone in the back room might begin dancing to the upbeat piano music any minute. It’s usually empty during the day, which makes for good conversation with whoever is leaning on the bar—Charles Châtenay, a funny French artist I met my first time there, is worth getting to know.
Food and drink: No food to speak of, but beer and whiskey—Old Waghorn Bourbon—flows freely.
Amenities and activities: Nothing, unfortunately. Doyle’s has enough regulars to support an active poker table, so maybe the owners will invest some money into it now the rats have cleared out.
Ambiance and clientele: At first, I thought The Blackwater Saloon was a real dive: The tables are stained, and on them lie cigar stubs and uncleared plates crusted with old food. The carpet looks like it’s been trodden on by a thousand people plus their horses—it’s hard to know when the muddy boot prints end and the decorative pattern beneath begins.
But it has touches of big-town class. Its entrance is covered by a merry green and white awning, and ornamental vases sit in the corners of its rooms. Upstairs, there are pleasant varnished tables—much cleaner than downstairs—set around a cozy fireplace, and the exposed brick walls lend a rustic feel. If I’d brought a book, I’d sit it a wooden chair up here to read.
The Blackwater’s contrast reflects its patrons. Since it’s the only place in town, you’ll find a mixture of scruffy drunks and rich folk in bowler hats who have come to gamble their money away. It’s a peaceful place, even when the pianist is hammering away at the keys, which makes it one of my favorite haunts to while away an evening.
Food and drink: Drinks are nothing special, but the food is worth travelling for. $5 might seem expensive for a chicken breast, but it’s juicy and plump, and the mash soaks up a rich gravy. For desert, I’ll often grab a peach cobbler: The batter crumb on top is oh-so flaky, and a generous dollop of cream brings it all together. To die for.
Amenities and activities: It’s the only saloon I’ve come across that has both poker and blackjack. If you’re bored of one you can just move on to the other, and both tables are always busy. Buy-in is $5 each, which is steep, but it’s worth it to be able to flit between the two. You can also stay the night in a spacious room and take a bath to wash away the stench of farm work.
Ambiance and clientele: “Warning: Cholera” reads the sign outside, which tells you everything you need to know about the Armadillo Saloon. A couple of drunks ornament the porch; inside, upturned stools lie in puddles of water while old rags stew on tables. The place looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in years.
I’ve only ever seen two people in here other than the barman. One of them seems permanently passed out against a wall, or maybe dead.
Food and drink: No food to speak of (thank god), but when I first entered, the barman assured me the beer and whiskey were “about the only things left that are safe to drink in this town.” When I was mid-swig of a beer, he chimed in again: “I should warn you – I’m sick, but so is pretty much everyone else around here.” I didn’t finish my drink.
Amenities and activities: None—and if there were any, I wouldn’t hang around long enough to try them.
Ambiance and clientele: The cavernous ceilings make the Tumbleweed Saloon feel strangely empty. Its patrons don’t add any life: most of them are quietly slumped in their chairs, snoozing after having one too many. It’s not as filthy as Armadillo’s saloon, but it still needs a good scrub, and flies buzz around some of the tables.
Having said that, the people are friendly when they’re awake, the piano player is talented, and it’s worth coming in the morning or early evening to see the shafts of sunlight beaming across the bar. Top marks for window placement.
Food and drink: The barman will tell you there “ain’t no bad decisions” on the menu, and he’s not lying. For $3 you get a big bowl of spicy chilli, while for $5 you can eat three thick slices of roast beef with corn and glazed carrots. Both will fill you up for the long journey back to more civilized towns.
Amenities and activities: The Tumbleweed has perhaps the best poker setup of any saloon I’ve been to. A dedicated card room hides upstairs, behind a thick door that blocks out the bar noise. The room even has its own drinks station (although nobody to serve you, sadly). It’s only $2 to play, which is good if you’re short on cash. If you need a break you can step outside onto a walkway that overlooks the town center, where a lone trader hawks fresh meat and hide.
Samuel Horti is a freelance writer, Brit in Canada. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.