“Are they European?” I ask the bartender after he served a young couple cold beer. “Yeah”, he said with a smile “You can tell by their shoes.”
The woman next to them has a sleeveless denim jacket on with a patch across the back saying Scottie’s Wife. We sit together along with a few other people on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon listening to a band play southern rock songs.
The floor consists of 14 inch wide wooden planks worn down by countless leather soles. The walls are dark wood covered with river related photos and artifacts with money, foreign and domestic, pinned to the ceiling. There is not a tv screen in the place. The bartender, Archie, tells me this is the oldest bar on the Mississippi river. It’s been a bar for 180 years. The Saloon Under the Hill feels like the oldest bar on the river.
A high bluff rises behind the small row of buildings sitting next the river. On top of that hill is Natchez proper. It’s still full of antebellum mansions, built when Natchez was a wealthy town. All from cotton and slaves. Natchez was also the home of the second largest slave market in the US just behind New Orleans. I would like to see the homes but I just don’t have the time. Instead I have a second beer.
I left Little Joy at the end of a long boat ramp right across from the Saloon. I go out twice to check but it is very safe there. Apparently it hasn’t always been so. In the 1830’s and 40s under-the-hill was the most notorious port on the river. Taverns, gambling halls and brothels were populated by ‘cutthroats, thieves and prostitutes’ as described by many travelers at the time. It’s not as fun now.
The bartender asks where I started without ever asking me what I was doing. He also told me we get around 50 to 100 of you guys stopping in every year. I thought wow it could not be that many. I have only seen two other people doing it. He shakes my hand as I head out to get in some more miles before sunset.