Most upvoted comment
In Western movies when someone enters a saloon and orders a beer or whiskey they never ask for a price and there never is a pricelist. They just drop some coins. How much WAS a beer / whiskey during the late 19th century?(r/AskHistorians)
Thanks for /u/Searocksandtress for summoning me. The link (edit: along with the link provided by /u/theislander1066) provided offers some answers; if you have additional questions, please let me know.
Your question about never asking “for a price and there never is a pricelist” brings to mind a story told by William Wright (aka Dan DeQuille) in his “The Big Bonanza” (1876). Wright (a close friend of Mark Twain) describes a patron who walked into a bar for a whiskey, drank it, and then put down a “short bit” – that is, a dime. The bartender said something along the line of “Hey mister, this is a two-bit saloon. What are you thinking paying me a single-bit for that whiskey.”
The man replied, “Well it was my understanding that this was a two-bit establishment, but after drinking your awful whiskey, I concluded I was wrong and so I only paid one bit.” In short, the expected price to be paid was well known in a community and made clear by the appearance of the saloon.
edit: a lot of the questions in this thread are discussed in the following two sources: See Kelly Dixon’s book, Boomtown Saloons and my book, Virginia City. I was the historian and administrator of the granting agency for four saloon excavations from 1993 to 2000 (Kelly Dixon excavated two of the saloons). Insights provided throughout the thread draw on that experience and encapsulated in these two sources.