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Battle Of The Deadwood Saloons

'No law at all in Deadwood.' But there were plenty of bars!

Makin' your way in the world in 1877 took everything you'd got. Sometimes quite literally. Good thing there were a few options for the man about camp looking to take a break from all his worries in Deadwood, though deciding which saloon was most likely to alleviate your worries or, much more likely, multiply them, was always a bit of a crapshoot. (Important: you could only shoot actual craps at the Bella Union, though you'd be wise to keep your eye on Leon.)

Three saloons, each offering their own unique...shall we say, customer experiences for the discerning (or not so) gentleman held down prime real estate off the thoroughfare: Al Swearengen's surprisingly sparkling Gem; the town's more upscale choice, The Bella Union; and the unassuming old local, Nuttall's No. 10. So, hooplehead. You just struck it rich out on your claim. Where you planning on busting that nugget?

In which tavern did everybody know your name?

In a place like Deadwood, it might be preferable that nobody know your name, in any public house. Anyway, it wasn't like The Black Hills Pioneer was running an annual contest for Friendliest Neighborhood Night Spot, and even if it did, none of the places in question would qualify.

Sure, if you looked capable of gambling anything more valuable than the shirt on your back, Cy Tolliver might oil up asking for an introduction as soon as you came through the doors of the Bella Union. Decline to ride out your inevitable losing streak, though, and your name might as well have been "mud."

Nuttall, being something of an elder statesman in the camp, knew his regulars, but was relatively content to stay out of their business and any newcomer's business unless it encroached on the business of the No. 10.

But, Al? He wanted to know your name, pal. And if he wasn't there to ask you in person, Dan was trained to find out. And if Dan was busy behind the bar, you might happen to fall into conversation with a certain hot bagman a few stools over. Your name was going to be known, make absolutely no mistake. It was up to you to decide whether your newfound community was full of friends or foes. (It was foes, you cocksucker.)

Winner: The Gem.

Where were you most likely to get arrested?

Al didn't really go for Bullock performing his duties within the boundaries of The Gem. It was more of a Gaza Strip situation in there, with very little interference necessary from the law. Which is not to say that's a point The Gem's favor -- just that they were more likely to take care of, uh, problems on their own.

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HBO

Plus, the worst of Deadwood's criminals were to be found among the big shots, anyway, and the setting of The Bella Union allowed for a more striking backdrop in which to showcase maximum police brutality.

Winner: The Bella Union.

Which bartender lent the most sympathetic ear?

Surely no one in town had more patience than Tom Nuttall. Where Al would dismiss an annoying customer without hesitation and Cy would bleed one dry of more than just his money, Nuttall gave a drunk a little space to be a drunk. Not that he was immune to their bullshit -- sometimes it was beyond what even he could stand. Think of how many of Steve's racist rants Nuttall gritted through before ejecting that guy into the street.

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HBO

Think of Nuttall's regret about not doing the same to Jack McCall on the afternoon of that fateful dead man's hand. Yes, pity poor Nuttall and, during this contentious election season, be sure to tip your bartenders. Imagine what they have to listen to every night.

Winner: No. 10.

Where could you find the highest quality strange/games of chance?

Slow to adapt to the modern Black Hills gambler, Tom and Al didn't offer much more than poker, but The Bella Union fancied itself a higher order of speakeasy and prided itself on its felted tables of temptations. And, no offense to Trixie, but the ladies of The BU were on another career level. Like, Joanie had even managed to get a promotion to hostess at some point. I'm saying that discerning patrons going for more of a brass (and ass) and fern vibe might look to Cy for these amenities. Of course, someone's got to pay for all that paint and powder, and you know it trickles down to the customer!

That's why Tom doesn't bother running girls, and Al keeps his overhead low by dressing all of his in matching stained bedsheets.

Winner: The Bella Union.

In which establishment were you most likely to die?

Of all the places trouble could pop off, Tom Nuttall's ranks best on safety. Now, could you be annoyed to death by the eternal goings-on of the resident shit-stirrer? Most definitely. Could you get caught in the crossfire between two armed idiots fighting over God knows what? Yes. I'm just saying, if you were desperate for a drink and trying to be smart about it, the No. 10 might be your best bet. Only the dumbest hooplehead would consider himself safe, though. It was the dying place of none less than Wild Bill Hickock, America's greatest gunslinger, after all, and multiple others (who probably had it coming).

The Bella Union, meanwhile, for all its opulence, should never have been entered without a clear exit strategy. This is the place you'd be cheated out of your money and your life -- and, in a town full of sociopaths, featured Deadwood's one true psycho, Cy Tolliver. (Cycho. Why am I only now coming up with this nickname?) Anyway, the place was dangerous. While you might be less likely to get syphilis from his better-dressed girls, you couldn't put it past Cy to kill you in even more unpleasant ways due to his unpredictable, ravaging lust for power. Also, I'm sure he watered down his booze.

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HBO

Suicide-by-Gem was not a far-out plan for anyone looking to end it all, but it's not like Al was going to kill you with no good reason; he always had a reason. Hell, sometimes it might have been for your own good! He didn't even always feel great about doing it. (Sometimes he did, though.) Truthfully, most of the time it wasn't even Al seeing you out the back door to Wu's pig pen. Many, many bar patrons were dispatched, or nearly so, by other customers, road agents, angry whores, cinnamon allergies, gleets, general employee incompetence (fuckin' Johnny) -- you name it. While Doc Cochran was often on hand, The Gem being part of his weekly rounds, there wasn't much he could do in, say, the case of a "twelve-pointing," or some straightforward Swearengen knife work.

Winner: The Gem.

Which place had the highest health rating?

I won't mince words. Nuttall's barkeep Harry Manning was known all the way to Yankton for his habitual flatulence. And, Cy's place? It might have looked pretty good, but just as you might find beneath Cy's multi-layered Cornsilk, below the glitz it was a pit of despair and, probably, disease.

While Jewel might not have gotten her sweeping done as quickly as Al would have liked, his standards were crazy high, and The Gem was downright pristine compared to the competition. And that bar? When stressed and unable to justify stabbing anyone, Swearengen himself brought the pain to its gleaming wood with enough elbow grease to slick back the hair of 100 E.B. Farnums. And Al was stressed a lot. That thing shone like the sun, and Johnny's clean whiskey glasses -- dishwashing being just about the top level of jobs he could manage without ruining everything -- slid down its surface without encountering a single crumb.

Winner: The Gem.

Verdict

It stands to reason that there can be only one, and I'm putting all my bets on Al. As he said, and with my full agreement: "A full fair-mindedness requires [me] also to report that within the Gem, on Deadwood's main thoroughfare, comely whores, decently priced liquor, and the squarest games of chance in the Hills remain unabatedly available at all hours, seven days a week." Say what you like -- though you would not want to be staring like at me -- but I've written what I figure to be about 380,000 words on the brilliance that was Deadwood, and consider myself to be boned up on the subject more than your average head in a box. Anyway, those who doubt me suck cock by choice.

Winner: The Gem.