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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Sunday, September 29, 2019

#3598 - Mello-Dee Club, Arco, ID - 8/20/2018

Mello-Dee Club and Steak House, Arco, ID
For approximately two hours on July 17, 1955, technicians at the Department of Energy Idaho National Laboratory switched the electronic grid of the city of Arco, Idaho, to be sourced from the Argonne National Laboratory's BORAX-III nuclear reactor, making the city the first in the world to be powered by nuclear generated electricity. Five and half years later, the same NRTS site would be the location of the US's first nuclear reactor fatalities, as three workers perished when a control rod was withdrawn faster than it should have, resulting the SL-1 core melting and a fatal steam explosion. It may seem an odd history for a small city in south-eastern Idaho that had originally been known as "Root Hog" and was somehow later renamed after a German radio technology pioneer. But the city features prominent reminders of the former event, as well as celebrating it each July with an Atomic Days event.

1955 was also the year that Harvey Helderman was persuaded to purchase the Mello-Dee Club bar and dance hall, which had just been constructed two years prior, probably by the Nuff brothers. Harvey and his wife Betty ran the club for many years before it was taken over by their son Roy. Roy had just retired before I visited the place in August of 2018, but still seemed to come by every day. Roy said that before he purchased the Mello-Dee, his father had owned "a cowboy bar" in Nampa. Roy and his wife had sold the adjoined restaurant portion in 2013, which then became Big Sexy's Burgers and Things and later Burger By Number.

The Mello-Dee no longer features the formalwear dances that one can see in the photos on the wall (Roy pointed out himself as a boy in one), and it doesn't generally have host a huge number of patrons. Arco is the largest city in Butte County, but the population hovers around 1,000 people. It does however still host live music and times, and the sort of social events one sees bars still providing many smaller communities, such as potluck dinners for holidays, memorials for locals who have passed away, and celebrations of Roy's birthday.

Both the decor and the drinks are now familiar neighborhood dive standards. But like the city itself, the bar hints at many untold stories of a sometimes dramatic and romantic past.

Mello-Dee Club, Arco, ID token (via
Mello-Dee Club, Arco, ID token (via

Mello-Dee Club sign, Arco, ID

175 Sunset Dr, Arco, ID 83213 - (208) 527-3125
Est. ? - Building constructed: 1953?
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: facebook 
Reviews: yelp - waymarking  

#3867 - The Handlebar, Boise, ID - 9/24/2019

The Handlebar, Boise, ID
I never made it to this space back in its alt rock glory days, when the Crazy Horse and Red Room clubs hosted bands like the Melvins, the Misfits, Greenday, Mudhoney, Black Flag, Korn, the Flaming Lips, 2 Live Crew and the first Boise show by Built to Spill. The Handlebar is a world away from that -- a mellow, light-hearted, craft beer haven where the bikers are the pedaling kind. There are discounts for bringing your dog in, and the live music acts that do perform here appear to be more mellow as well.

The bicycling theme is more than just a decorative motif -- there are bike racks, a bike repair station, and tools available for bike repairs. On days like the one I visited it is a breezy, light space, with the back garage door open and sun glinting off the front patio and interior repurposed wood walls. There are several shelves of board games, jenga, and a ping pong table, as well as regular events like bike polo and tricycle races. But the main draw, besides the people and garage hangout vibe, is the choice from 25 interesting craft beers and and 5 wines on tap.

1519 W Main St, Boise, ID 83702 - (208) 344-0068               
Est. June 27, 2017 - Building constructed: 1925
Previous bars in this location: The Crazy Horse, J.D. and Friends, Terrapin Station, Red Room
Web site: facebook
Articles ranked: idahostatesmanboiseweekly - 1035kissfmboise - yelp - edibleidaho - untappd - liteonline 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

#2822 - Bootleggers Cove, Tieton, WA - 7/12/2015

Update: Bootleggers Cove closed in 2016

Bootleggers Cove, Tieton, WA

"Tieton (the name is Yakama for “roaring water,” after the nearby river) was once a bustling agricultural town where Washington’s fruit growers stored their produce before shipping it off to destinations across the continent. As the industry began its decline in the 1970s, the town’s center cleared out, leaving its warehouses and storefronts abandoned. The area was repopulated and culturally transformed by a growing Latino community, which has long been a presence on the region’s farms, but Tieton’s town center became a different kind of cultural outpost after art book publisher Ed Marquand saw the possibility in its aging structures and empty streets while on a bike ride there in 2005." (

Tieton, Washington
The bar pickings in Tieton ("Tie-uh-tun"), population just over a thousand, are few, and in 2015 the first and only choice was Bootleggers Cove. The Cove bar looked like a lazy buddy's unfinished basement hangout, with various signs and posters on the faux wood paneled walls, a mixture of padded chairs, pinball machine and darts. All this is accessed by walking into the cafe in front and through a space that seems to have been unceremoniously smashed through a concrete wall.

County tax records date to the current structure to 1925, but local historians date the Tieton State Bank here from 1919 to 1936, noting that the bank was briefly in another location while the current building was being constructed. The space hosted a blacksmith shop before the bank, and a meat market after. It became the Blue Moon Cafe in 1943, then the Tieton Cafe from 1948 to 2013. Bootleggers Cove cafe started across the street, moved into this building in November 2014 and added a lounge. Alas it would remain here only a few months after my visit, and since May 2016 the space has hosted Fernando's Mexican Food.

902 Wisconsin Ave, Tieton, WA 98947 - (509) 673-0033
Est. 2014 - Building constructed: 1925
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: facebook
Reviews: yelp - tripadvisor   

Monday, September 16, 2019

#3854 - Elk Saloon, Bovill, ID - 9/2/2019

Elk Saloon, Bovill, ID
Bars have been a big part of the history of Bovill, Idaho since at least the early 1900s, when more than any other community in Latah county, the town was able to avoid the efforts of the Potlatch Lumber Company to ban liquor sales in its 14 lumber camps, various company towns, and within 5 miles of any railroad. The legal saloons closed in 1910 with the passage of a "local option" that enforced prohibition 6 years earlier than federal prohibition. But Bovill's association with drinking would boom again in the 1950s with the introduction of the "Bovill Run," a traditional drinking event that took students from the Univerisity of Idaho and Washington State University on a trek across northern Idaho in cars, busses, and U-Haul trailers from Moscow Idaho to Bovill and back again, stopping at between 6 and 20 bars along the way. At what was previously the Elk Tavern, female Bovill runners would hang bras from the Wagon Wheel "bra chandelier." (Bar Hopping as Praxis _ Polito et. al.)

All that said, when Baileys Tavern closed around the end of 2012, Bovill found itself without a bar -- and for that matter, without any retail business. So when some folks with local connections decided to revive the old Elk Tavern as the Elk Saloon in 2014, it was not to make a profit, but rather to "bring the town back," one step in revitalizing the old lumber town. The owners "expect the business to cover its expenses, but they don't need to it to make a profit since they have other moneymaking operations." (Lewiston Tribune)

The building holding the reopened Elk Saloon was constructed on Main Street in 1914-1915, after a major fire had consumed much of the town. It first served as a bank (today the cooler lives behind the vault door) and became a bar in the 1940s. This first bar may have been "Dave's Tavern," a name that can still be just made out in the old sign above the front door. It was the Elk Tavern for many years, and today's much cleaned up version features some dramatic elk taxidermy on the walls, along with a poster containing the names of participants in past Bovill Runs.

The Bovill runs peaked in the 1970s and continue today, but the day-to-day life of the Elk Saloon seems considerably more sedate, which is not to say they do not have a range of interesting characters, live music, potlucks on the back patio, elk bugling contests, and participation in events of Bovill's own, like "Wapiti Days" and "Bovill Days." And you don't need a U-Haul packed with college kids to make a fine road trip stop for a cold beer.

Elk Saloon building 1915, University of Idaho photo
Elk Tavern bra chandelier, Howard Averill photo via
"Bar Hopping as Praxis" - Daniel J. Polito et. al.
Bovill, Idaho
The Bovill Run, Polito et. al.
114 Main St, Bovill, Idaho 83806 - (208) 826-3557
Est. Aug 15, 2014 - Building constructed: 1914
Previous bars in this location: Dave's Tavern, Elk Tavern
Web site: facebook
Articles: bar hopping as praxis (Boville Run) - lmtribune (re-opening) - yelp  

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Historical Note: Doc Hamilton's Barbecue Pit

Warning: Offensive image included

Doc Hamilton's Barbecue Pit, Seattle, WA
I recently acquired the original art for the prohibition era cartoon by Seattle Times artist Stuart Pratt, included here. Of course what immediately leaps out to you is the anachronistic racism. But what really drew my attention was the subject: one John Henry "Doc" Hamilton.

Doc Hamilton ran what may have been the most famous and elegant of Seattle speakeasies during prohibition, what some people compare to Harlem's Cotton Club. He moved to Seattle from West Point, Mississippi and served in France with the famous 92nd (Buffalo) Division during World War I. From 1926 to 1931, Doc Hamilton's Barbecue Pit was located at 908 12th Avenue, the current location of The Chieftain Irish Pub, across the street from Seattle University. Below is a description from Paul De Barros's invaluable Jackson Street After Hours:
Racist Seattle Times cartoon of Doc Hamilton
c.1931 (collection of the author)
"Limousines lined the curb out front, while Seattle's social elect, including the mayor, ducked in and out of the club.  Downstairs was the action -- roulette and an all-night dice game.  Should there be a raid, the Barbecue Pit was prepared.  A complete alarm system of bells, bars, and pulleys, snaked through the building.  A button convenient to the cashier at the lunch counter was wired to a buzzer at the triple-barred doors of the cabaret basement."
John Henry "Doc" Hamilton
(Photo via

A bit more, from Brad Holden's highly readable Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners and Graft in the Queen City:

"Guests would pull up to the front and be greeted by a well-dressed doorman who would escort them to their table. Once inside, Doc Hamilton would walk around and personally introduce himself to all visitors. The Barbecue Pit was always well-stocked with top-shelf booze, courtesy of [Roy] Olmstead's bootlegging operation, and offered a variety of delicious barbecued meats. It also served as one of the top venues for local jazz bands, so it was regarded by many as one of the city's best music spots.... Hamilton's speakeasy soon became the favorite watering hole of Seattle's business and political elite, with many important meetings held inside. The status of his clientele certainly helped keep his business from being shut down, and the Pit remained one of the city's top speakeasies throughout most of prohibition."

John Henry "Doc" Hamilton
(Photo via
Like most of the more successful/notorious speakeasies in Seattle, Doc's places, including The Pit, alternated between police raids and police protection resulting from payoffs under the long-running, unofficial Seattle "Tolerence Policy," as fickle political winds blew. But whereas most arrestees were released to resume business hour, Doc was eventually given a 5-year sentence, most likely the event captured in this cartoon (which replaces Hamilton's obvious business sophistication with some blackface style jargon). A description from

"Doc Hamilton was able to keep his illegal business running not only because of the status of his patrons but also by payments to local law enforcement officers. The payoffs, however, only provided protection for a while. The Barbecue Pit was raided often. For some time the police would simply jail Hamilton for a night and make him pay a fine.  However, when King County Sheriff Harry Lewis raided Hamilton’s suburban club, the bootlegger was sentenced to five years in a federal prison. Hamilton’s sentence was surprisingly severe, considering that no white prohibition club owners faced comparable consequences. 
Doc Hamilton was pardoned on September 8th of 1933, after only 10 months in prison. However, after losing his clubs and his regal, European style home in Madison Valley, he was never able to reestablish his former success.  John Henry “Doc” Hamilton died alone in the Mar Hotel in Seattle’s Chinatown in 1942."

The bar currently in the location evinces few hints of glory days of Doc and The Pit. The rollicking jazz and speakeasy scene here and largely south of Yesler have been largely forgotten. But an increasing number of books, walking tours, historical presentations by institutions like MOHAI, and articles appear to be reinvigorating interest in the era and its institutions. De Barros's "Jackson Street," out of print but available used at places like Amazon, remains the indispensable guide to Seattle's nearly forgotten jazz era.

908 12th Ave, Seattle, WA
Est. 1926 - Closed 1931 - Building constructed: 1926
Subsequent bars in this location: The 908 Club, Habibi, The Chieftain
Articles: - mohaiminute (video) - 12thaveseattle - capitolhillseattle 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

#3833 - Pair-A-Dice, Marsing, ID - 7/27/2019

Pair-A-Dice Cafe and Lounge, Marsing, Idaho
It's a pretty sure bet that you're in a small town when your address is 2. That's the case for the Pair-A-Dice Cafe and Lounge in Marsing, Idaho, on the western bank of the Snake River. The town itself is barely a half a square mile, but the surrounding population has continued to grow over the past several decades, and one can see how this could be a hopping place on weekend evenings, when DJs and bands are playing or country line dancing is in session.

I wasn't going to see any of that on the dusty, hot morning when I rolled in, but being the only customer in the place afforded me time to chat with bartender Gerry, 72, who  has led an interesting life and has tales to tell. Jerry's been diagnosed with stage four cancer, and he says he keeps outliving his doctor's predictions of six months. His wife died earlier from cancer.

Gerry, bartender at Pair-A-Dice Cafe and Lounge, Marsing, Idaho
Back in the mid 60s Gerry was running back / full back for the Washington Huskies (I think this is him). He says he had some NFL scouts looking at him before an injury senior year. He still has attachments to Seattle football and maintains Seahawks season tickets, although he rarely makes the games himself. Last time he was in Seattle during the season was to for a celebration of life for his nephew, and he missed the game then as well because his nephew was more important.

Gerry worked for years with a restaurant chain as a cook and later as an inspector. Last year Gerry had a place in Paradise, California, which he lost in the tragic Camp Fire -- the deadliest U.S. fire in 100 years. He was homeless living in his truck for two and half months after that, but when people came around distributing gift cards, he gave his away to people who needed them even more. Gerry has a little investment, sold some wood that could be salvaged from his property, has a pension and social security, and keeps on working. He says he'll probably need to quit the job before long, but here's a toast to Gerry defying doctor's predictions for as long as he can.

2 Main St, Marsing, ID 83639 - (208) 896-4182
Previous bars in this location: Caba's
Web site: facebook
Reviews: restaurantguru 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#2900 - Pioneer Saloon, Goodsprings, NV - 11/29/2015,,, Bucket List Bars -- sometimes I could know a bar I wanted to visit just by the sites that write about it. But there was never any doubt that the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nevada was going to be high on my to-do list. There was little chance I'd miss this one -- despite being the only surviving business in a tiny ghost town, with 20% of its income now coming from its use in movies, the bar has its own PR agent. And once you see a few pictures, you have to go.

It's welcoming and fairly large, but somehow doesn't feel too touristy. We had a pleasant chat with Noel Scheckells, the current owner, whose sons run the bar and kitchen, and also with patron Jim, who is a session musician and told us he played drums on Patsy Cline's "Crazy," Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" album, "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," various Carpenters tunes and many others.

Of course it has ghosts, of course it has a great antique Brunswick back bar, and of course it has bullets in the wall (which may have come from a dealer shooting a cheating card player or may have come from former owner Don Hedrick's appreciation for a good story). It also features chicken shit bingo, barbecues where you can cook your own food, an expansive patio, and a 100-year-old urinal.

I like the history of the place compiled on this excellent page about Nevada's Brunswick bars:

"Built in 1913, the Pioneer Saloon, one of the nation's oldest stamped-metal tin buildings, is up for sale. The $1.35 million asking price includes two other buildings, all of the bar's antique fixtures and, of course, its colorful ghost stories and history. "I am asking a lot for the place because I want the new owners to be committed to it living on," said Don Hedrick, whose family has owned the saloon -- the last remaining commercial business in Goodsprings -- for 40 years. Hedrick has managed the business on State Route 161, seven miles west of Jean, since his father, Don, died in 1996. (The Saloon was turned over to its new owner, who was also a long time patron of the Pioneer Saloon, in December 2006. Less than a year later on October 17th, 2007 the long time, loved, and respected, former owner Don Hedrick Jr. passed away.)

The Pioneer Saloon was built by George Arthur Fayle, who had served as a Clark County Commission chairman and owned the Fayle Hotel in Goodsprings. The saloon has changed little since indoor toilets were installed in the 1930s. The interior and exterior walls are of stamped tin
and manufactured by Sears and Roebuck. It is thought to be one of the last, if not the last of its kind in the United States. The legendary cherry wood bar installed in 1913 was manufactured by the Brunswick Company in Maine in the 1860's. It was shipped in three sections around Cape Horn to San Francisco. Two of the sections were lost and the third became a fixture in a bar in Rhyolite, now a Nye County ghost town, before it was shipped to the Pioneer.

The saloon gained international attention in 1942 when screen legend Clark Gable hung out there for days afterhis wife, actress Carole Lombard, was killed in a plane crash at nearby Mount Potosi. No one is sure whether Lombard's ghost still wanders into the saloon looking for Gable. But some patrons among today's eclectic crowd of primarily townsfolk, bikers and tourists swear they share bar stools with spirits. The back room of the Pioneeris a mini-museum, filled with memorabilia of Gable and Lombard, historic framed newspaper front pages and old bottles. In the bar area, the original pot-bellied stove stills heats the building. Over the years, the Pioneer Saloon's charm has made it a popular spot for filmmakers. The town of Goodsprings was originally know as Good's Spring after its founder Joseph Good. Joseph Good settled in the area in the 1860's mainly because of the rich under ground spring. Many of the Cottonwood trees found in Goodsprings were originally planted by Mr. Good.

Goodsprings, Nevada became a booming Mining town in the early 1900s when the Yellow Pine Mine was established as well as the Fayle Hotel, the General Mercantile and yes the World Famous Pioneer Saloon. Next to the Pioneer Saloon is the Goodsprings General Store. This was at one time the Goodsprings Cafe and it is said that George Fayle built the Goodsprings Cafe first and lived in it while he built the Pioneer Saloon. Later in 1915 across from the Pioneer Saloon Mr. Fayle built a General Store and Icehouse. The store burned down in 1966 but the icehouse and a storage room still stand to this day." 

310 NV-161, Goodsprings, NV 89019 - (702) 874-9362                                             
Est. 1913
Web site: - facebook
Articles ranked: bluerevelation - reviewjournal - bucketlistbars video - culturetrip - daytrippen - roadsideamerica - huffpo - kensphotogallery - travelnevada - yelp - tripadvisor - atlasobscura - mydigimagvegasoffroadtours  

#3387 - Finca La Roja, Vinales, Cuba - 11/3/2017

After a few excellent days in Havanna, Trista and I and the other six friends on our Cuba trip piled into a huge, classic "taxi colectivo" and rode for three hours to Vinales in the province of Pinar del Rio, the westernmost and most rural province of Cuba and source of the finest tobacco in the world. Just outside of Vinales we spotted the "Finca la Roya" ("red farm") bar and restaurant, which seemed impossibly romantic, with its thatched roofed barns and homes amidst the rolling, lush landscape, limestone "mogote" mounds in distance, and a man plowing the rich red soil behind to oxen. We would be back.

So after settling down in our "casa particular" and spending the first evening in the town of Vinales, the following day we rented scooters and headed out for parts unknown, but not most definitely to include tracking back to Finca la Roya for a cocktail and lunch. We were the only customers and the open patio gave us some great views of the valley and, much to Trista's happiness, a menagerie of chickens, ducks, dogs and more critters.

The drinks and food were pretty good, but our favorite part of the visit was the setting and the family, including when 3rd generation tobacco farmer Don Alfredo, who spoke no English, led us down into the barn and demonstrated his artisan cigar rolling skills. But then again this is one of the places where nothing I could write could possibly add much meaningful description to the pictures.

Dan Afredo, rolling a cigar for us (Trista photo)

KM 24 Carretera a Vinales, Vinales 22400, Cuba - +53 48 69539