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Travel stories, tips and advice for those wanting to take a step beyond
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Alaska’s Red Onion Saloon is a fascinating step back into a hot bit of history.

Sweet Bea Hind and the Red Onion Saloon 

 “My name is Sweet Bea,” drawled the babe in the red bustier. “Sweet Bea Hind.”  With a swish of that behind, she started up the wooden stairs, “Come on up. It’s $5 for fifteen minutes…same as 1898…but the services have changed a little!”

"The price hasn't changed at the Red Onion Saloon brothel in Alaska, but the services have!

"The price hasn't changed at the Red Onion Saloon brothel in Alaska, but the services have!

In its heyday, the Red Onion Saloon and brothel in Skagway, Alaska had a staff of ten working under the entrepreneurial eye of Madam Diamond Lil.  Known as the ‘Madam that Had’em’, Lil was pricey – $100 an hour or $1,000 a night. An alluring “alabaster goddess”, Lil had diamonds mounted between her front teeth, stood six feet tall and weighed more than 250lbs. Perhaps her clients paid by the pound! 

The Red Onion’s system was efficient and profitable. Each of Lil’s ladies was represented by a china doll, whose hair and clothing matched the live one upstairs. Customers pointed to their choice, then climbed the wooden stairs, while the bartender placed the doll face down. After 15 minutes, a bouncer removed the client, and the doll went back up, ready and waiting.

With 15,000 miners passing through on their way to the Dawson Creek Gold Rush, and just 300 working girls in the area, business was brisk. Each 10’ x 10’ room was equipped with a hole in the floor for payment deposit. Money rolled down the tubes and right into the cash box behind the bar. Diamond Lil took 50 percent, the bouncer got 25 and the working girl kept the rest. In high season, they made $5 an hour and were the wealthiest women in town.

Visitors to the Red Onion are welcome to climb the stairs, just as the customers must have long ago, and marvel at the tiny bedrooms used by the entrepreneurial ladies, each of whom was able to choose her own paint and wallpaper – important for those who spent so many hours in the workplace!  On display are not only some fascinating old photos but also some still very glamorous gowns and accessories worn by Lil and her ladies. It’s a flashback to the days of fast fortunes and faster ladies. 

The brothel museum above the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway is a fascinating little surprise…just one of the ‘must-sees’ on a recent Alaskan adventure that knocked the socks off every member of the family. It’s well worth the $5 admission, even if the services have been significantly reduced!  If you like, you can round off your tour with a quick meal in the bar and slide a red satin garter around your sleeve to prove you’ve had the Red Onion experience.

And what happened to to the notorious Madam Diamond Lil?  Sadly, for all her hard-headed business sense, Lil let love to be her downfall.  According to Sweet Bea, poor Lil allowed her heart to be captured by a fast-talking con man who ruined her business, lured her away from Alaska, took all her money, and left her to end her days, working as a night cleaner.   

Posted in Culture and People 7 years, 2 months ago at 10:51 pm.


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