Originally Published: November 13, 2016 6 a.m.
Years of neglect and alteration had turned a Whiskey Row saloon into more of an unkempt dive bar than an Old Western relic.
Prescott history was in danger of being lost, but a few people saw potential in the saloon’s bones.
In October 1996, Dave Michelson and some investors decided to purchase The Palace Saloon.
As soon as they took ownership of the business, they began a four-month renovation of the interior space.
“The place was a mess,” Michelson said.
Even the wooden bar, the finely crafted antique that was saved from being burned in the great downtown Prescott fire of 1900, had been altered.
“Over the years they added to it and it went all the way into the dining room,” Michelson said. “It was all particle board and ugly, so I ripped all of that out.”
The primary idea behind the renovation was to return the historic space as much to its original form after it was rebuilt following the fire.
Referencing old photos of the building, Michelson and his partners were able to uncover some long-forgotten aspects of the building, including windows at the rear of the restaurant.
“They were sheet-rocked over and bricked in the back, so I took the chance that they were still there and I took all of that out and, sure enough, they were still there,” Michelson said.
A significant aspect of the renovation was to turn what had always been just a saloon into a saloon and restaurant.
“We try to keep the feeling of The Palace Saloon and make it a restaurant as well without losing the feeling,” Michelson said.
This includes requiring the staff to wear authentic 1880s garb and have a basic understanding of the key historical facts about the venue.
Though the restaurant serves wine, beer and spirits, it has been more of a steakhouse than anything for the last two decades.
The man behind much of the menu is the business’s executive chef, Patrick Day.
“[Patrick] was the number one salesman for Sysco foods in the nation at one point,” Michelson said.
Three years ago, Michelson gladly relinquished management of the business to Scott Stanford.
“It takes a lot of the weight off of me,” said Michelson, who is 68 years old now.
While Stanford has maintained the historical focus, he’s been pushing to keep the Palace fresh and relevant by hosting more special events, bringing in more live entertainment and mixing up the menu.
“Like anybody, if you don’t change, you get old and people forget about you,” Stanford said.
According to their tabulations, the strategy is paying off.
“We’ve had our busiest year in 20 years because we’re stepping up on that level,” Stanford said.