The new Heritage Barkeep revives the short-barrel SAA legacy in a feisty .22 LR six-shooter
by Rob Reaser
Modern handgun aficionados understandably gravitate towards the high-speed, high-volume semi-autos for most personal defense and competitive shooting needs. Whether polymer-frame striker-fired pistols or the rough-and-tumble 1911-pattern hammer-fired brutes, semi-autos carry the day in nearly all corners.
Sometimes, though, it is refreshing to take a step back and engage with the handguns that got us here—specifically, those classically-styled firearms patterned after the Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolvers.
If you’ve never pulled the trigger on an SSA-style revolver or are used only to wrapping your hands around a squarish pistol grip, you’re missing out. These “guns that won the West” are not only steeped in American history and crafted with the elegant lines and contours of firearms made in that bygone era, their exquisite balance and surprising ergonomics have prompted many a modern handgun fan to turn with a grin and say, “I gotta have one!”
While few among us have the scratch to purchase an original Colt Single Action Army revolver, we can certainly afford the several variants currently offered by a small handful of manufacturers dedicated to keeping this iconic 19th century handgun kicking up dust in the 21st century. Chief among them is Heritage Manufacturing of Bainbridge, Georgia.
Heritage has a long-established reputation for hewing to the spirit of Old West revolvers through the company’s expansive line of Rough Rider single-action handguns and their recently introduced Rancher Carbine—a fun and functional spin on the single-action platform. The latest model to roll out of the Heritage gun works is the Barkeep seen here.
Although the original Colt SSA models generally sported standard barrel lengths of 4.75, 5.5, and 7.5 inches, there were historical precedents for revolvers with more diminutive barrels. Colt produced several sub-four-inch barrel models of the venerable Peacemaker around the turn of the 18th/19th centuries due to civilian and law enforcement demand for more compact, faster-drawing variants of the SAA. These were later referred to (unofficially) as the Sheriff’s Model and the Shopkeeper.
In the vein of the old-school Shopkeeper, Heritage has introduced the Barkeep. As with Colt’s original snubbies, the Barkeep is an ejector-less revolver in the Single Action Army pattern with a 2-inch barrel. We recently spent some quality time with the Barkeep, and it has only reaffirmed our admiration for the ubiquitous Western handgun.
The Heritage Barkeep comes with a six-shot cylinder chambered in .22 LR. As with many of Heritage’s Rough Rider-based rimfire models, the Barkeep can also be used with an optional .22 WMR cylinder.
Removing the cylinder to swap for the .22 WMR version or for cleaning is easy and tool-less. Simply push in on the base pin lock, pull the base pin, and remove the cylinder.
Loading the Barkeep is a straightforward process. Pulling the hammer to the second notch or the “half-cock” position frees the cylinder to rotate. From there, the cartridges are loaded into the cylinder. The “over-cam” action on the loading gate proved somewhat weak on our test model, causing the gate to close with a light touch. Keep your support hand clear of the gate during the loading process or it will snap closed before you have finished loading. Similarly, the loading gate is easy enough to flick open with a finger, unlike some SAA clones we’ve shot that had overtly stiff loading gate action. Shooters with beefy fingers will appreciate the easy of opening.
As with all Heritage revolvers, the Barkeep utilizes a hammer block safety system. When engaged, the rotating block prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin. Pulling down on the lever (as seen in the above photo) rotates the block out of the way, allowing the hammer to strike the firing pin upon trigger release. The lever is designed for easy reach of the thumb so the safety can be disengaged single handedly when you’re ready to fire and just as easily moved back to the safe position. A red dot on the frame indicates the safety condition. I tried firing the Barkeep with the safety engaged and it worked as expected.
The abbreviated profile of the Barkeep negates the use of an integrated ejector rod, just as with the original Colt Shopkeeper and Sheriff’s Model. To remove the spent cases, Heritage includes with the Barkeep a custom manual ejector rod. It’s a stylish piece with a turned wood handle that fits right in with the Western motif.
When it’s time to eject empty cases, pull the hammer back to the second notch to allow the cylinder free clockwise rotation, open the load gate, and use the rod to push the cases out the back of the cylinder.
The sighting system for the Barkeep is as basic as it gets, with a top strap groove serving as the rear sight. Up front is the classic blade design. I found the depth of the groove to be a hair shallow for my eyes, but for a such a short sight radius handgun, the dimensions are what you want for a precise sight picture. The sight alignment also proved dead-on.
Speaking of dead-on, I was surprised at the Barkeep’s accuracy. At 10 yards, the Barkeep punched holes with Federal 40-grain that belied its short barrel length and tight sight radius. Given that this is a firearm designed for close encounters, the Barkeep exceeded my expectations in the point-of-impact department.
As for handling, the Barkeep balances beautifully and the grip is exceedingly comfortable. The 2-inch barrel effectively keeps the weight back toward the shooter so there is not that nose-heavy bias common to SAA revolvers with the 5.5- to 7.5-inch barrel lengths. Although fast draws aren’t on my menu, no doubt the Barkeep will prove efficient for those shooters looking to slap leather.
The Heritage Barkeep is offered in two distinct models for its debut. Our test model takes the fancy turn with its black oxide frame and cylinder finish and custom gray pearl grips. For a more gritty, Western flair, the Barkeep also comes with custom scroll wood grips and a simulated case-hardened frame finish. Pricing is $189.39 for the gray pearl grip model and $180.30 for the scroll wood model.
Single-action revolvers may no longer lead the defensive or hunting handgun categories, but for sheer fun, classic styling, and a step back to our American heritage when times were simpler and firearms were certainly more elegant, the new Barkeep delivers a winning hand.
Heritage Mfg. Barkeep Specifications
- Caliber: 22 LR
- Capacity: 6 rds
- Twist Rate: 1:10 RH
- Firing System: Hammer
- Action Type: SAO
- Safety: Manual safety
- Front Sights: Fixed
- Rear Sight: Notch at rear
- Grip: Custom Scroll Wood or Custom Pearl Gray
- Cylinder Material: Alloy steel
- Cylinders Included: 1
- Cylinder Finish: Black oxide
- Frame Finish: Simulated case-hardened or black oxide
- Overall Length: 7.95 in.
- Overall Width: 1.50 in.
- Overall Height: 4.86 in.
- MSRP: $180.30 (wood grip), $189.30 (pearl grip)