Under-the-Hill Saloon – Natchez, Mississippi - Gastro Obscura

The Natchez, Mississippi, of the 1800s is hardly discernible in the quaint river-town it is today. The port town at one time had a nasty reputation for boozing, brawling, and prostitution, a rest stop as it was for rivermen of flexible moral codes. In fact, one traveler wrote in 1816 that it was “without a single exception the most licentious spot that I ever saw.” Perhaps the only modicum of decency to be said of its history is Mark Twain’s alleged patronage. The centerpiece of the vice-riddled outpost was the Under-the-Hill Saloon, today the last living remnant of “Nasty Natchez.”

The bar is named for the section of town in which it resides. Natchez’s well-heeled denizens lived atop a set of sheer bluffs uphill from the river, while the settlement “Under-the-Hill,” along the riverbanks, featured stunning views of the majestic Mississippi. Today, visitors can take in the scene from an old rocking chair on the saloon’s front porch.

The inside of the 200-year-old bar is a confluence of original brick, black-and-white photographs, and rusted historical memorabilia basking in the glow of neon bar signs. The dark wooden furniture and backbar convey its age while the ceiling tells of a curious tradition. Customers fold a quarter and a thumbtack into a dollar bill and chuck it into the ceiling with enough force to stick into the wood, so that every July, the bar owners have hundreds of dollars with which to put on a 4th of July cookout. 

A sunny back-room boasts a frenzy of potted plants and an elephant carved from a single piece of wood, while upstairs, visitors can stay in the Mark Twain Guest House, where the famed author is said to have slept while he was just another riverman named Samuel Clemens. Who knows, roughing it at the Under-the-Hill could be the spark you need to write the next Huckleberry Finn.

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March 26, 2020

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