Mistaken identity, but rich history
by Ray Newton
Little did a British actress, who performed internationally during the Victorian on into the Edwardian era, know that her name would grace one of the most famous saloons in Arizona and the Southwest.
What’s more, it is purely by accident, not design; and it’s only recently that the popular Whiskey Row watering hole known as the Jersey Lilly Saloon is called what it is.
The new owners say they have no plans to change the name.
“We like what we are, and we’ll continue that tradition, even though we’re making some changes,” said Susan Roberts, one of the three co-owners. “Our biggest change—expanding the floor space on the second floor so that customers have even more room to enjoy themselves.”
She estimates they’ve spent more than $100,000 in renovations.
Roberts said when she and her son, Josh Makrauer, and their partner, Andre DeFreitas, bought the saloon three months ago, they made the conscious decision to continue building on past success.
That success has a long history—150 years, in fact. Located smack in the center of Whiskey Row, the second-floor saloon is the only bar with a balcony that looks out toward Courthouse Plaza. But it was among the many bars and brothels that served miners, ranchers and military during Frontier and Pioneer days, before the turn of the century. When it was rebuilt after the notorious Whiskey Row Fire of July 14, 1900, its appeal continued, even though it then had several different names.
Current name is fairly recent
A reality is the current name happened when local businessman Marlin Kuykendall bought what he called, “…an abandoned dump almost 30 years ago.”
“I spent thousands in rebuilding the place,” Kuykendall said. “While doing that, we found dozens of dusty old posters and photographs, many of lovely women from the Victorian era.”
Kuykendall said one picture was of an especially beautiful woman. A man offered him $300 cash for it, thinking it was of Emilie Charlotte LeBreton, born in 1853 in the British community of Jersey. She was later known by her stage name of Jersey Lilly Langtry. She became famous in the United States when Judge Roy Bean named his saloon in Langtry, Texas, after her. She had no connection with Prescott.
“I had no idea who was in the picture, but I thought he must know something I didn’t. I turned him down, but I named the saloon The Jersey Lilly. The name stuck. But honestly, I don’t know if that picture was really her, “ Kuykendall said with a chuckle.
Expansion continues—support for courthouse lighting is emphasized
Roberts and her partners are more than satisfied with business these past few months.
“Of course, we’re in the middle of busy season right now. We’re getting a lot of tourists and new people as well as our regulars. But we’ve expanded, too—already added 600 square feet and a new back bar. And this past week, we punched a hole in the rear wall to expand some more,” she said.
Roberts emphasized the Jersey Lilly would remain a leader in fundraising for the annual Christmas Courthouse Lighting and related events.
“Last year, former owner Tommy Meredith and his wife raised more than $32,000 through an auction. We want to meet or exceed that this year. It’s scheduled for Nov. 2,” Roberts said. “What most people don’t know is the Courthouse Lighting is not paid for by the city or the county. Instead, it’s private money that makes it possible for Prescott to sustain its image as ‘Arizona’s Christmas City.’”
She added, “Be assured, we’re here as a permanent part of the new ‘Downtown Entertainment District.’”