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The Bird Cage Theater: America’s “Wickedest” Gambling Establishment

Life during the Gold Rush has been immortalized in endless films, TV shows and books, but there’s nothing like seeing the real thing up close. During my last trip to Arizona, a friend decided to treat me to a tour of Tombstone, AZ, considered one of the Old West’s most historic town.  On our trip around this amazing place, we stopped in to the world-famous Bird Cage Theater, which was dubbed “America’s wickedest night club” by the New York Times in its heyday at the turn of the 20th Century. During the town’s boom years (1880’s), the Bird Cage was a theater, poker room, bar and a place to meet ‘ladies of the night’ – all rolled into one.  The Bird Cage shut its doors in 1889, but was reopened in 1934 as an historical monument, with all the original furnishings and paraphernalia left virtually untouched.

What obviously caught my eye during our visit was the amazing poker room ‘out back’, which is probably the poker room that was left in its most original state in American history. Even the positioning of the chairs are said to be the exact same as they were when the Bird Cage closed in 1889. One of the tables in this basement room is said to have hosted one of the longest poker games in history – 8 years, 5 months and 3 days – with most of the most famous personalities in Old West history stopping by at one time or another to play a hand or two in the theater that was opened 24/7,  year round.

My host told me that no less than 16 gunfights took part within the building when it was opened in the 1880’s and you can still see a couple of bullet holes above the piano if you look close enough. The piano, by the way, was ordered from Europe and has stood in the same spot in Tombstone since 1881 when it arrived in the town by rail.  Even if you’re not a history buff, a visit to the Bird Cage is a must-do if you’re in this part of the world. It certainly brings home the way people lived and played back then. Highly recommended!

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