The Bale of Hay Saloon is set virtually in the middle of nowhere in Virginia City, Montana (population: 190). If you look past the modern trappings of cars, paved roads, and people talking on cell phones, Virginia City is as close as it gets to living in Old West.
Getting there is an experience in and of itself. Regardless of the direction you are traveling from, a sojourn along Montana State Route 287 — otherwise known as the Vigilante Trail — is required. Sparely populated and among the hills, it is easy to imagine wagon trains headed along this stretch before it was paved.
The Bale of Hay Saloon is situated along the only main road in town, East Wallace. The town feels like an old west town and the economy is clearly based on that feature. That is a far cry from its founding as a gold boomtown in 1863 when thousands of prospectors moved there to seek their riches.
The saloon was founded that same year to satiate the thirst of the prospectors and the territorial government. The gold was so plentiful in the region that this small town was once the capital of Montana territory.
Not that life was particularly safe in the capitol. Between 1863 and 1864, highway robbers killed around 100 people in the area.
Besides the considerable Old West history of the place, one of the best features of the Bale of Hay Saloon is the large smoking patio outside. Here you’re liable to find engaging locals and other fellow travelers to shoot the breeze with, which places it firmly near the top of our old bar rankings.
UPDATE 2019 — The Bale of Hay Saloon closed its doors in late 2018. It’s currently unknown if this will be a temporary closure until new owners are found or a permanent one.