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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

Saturday, August 17, 2019

#3128 - Daphnes Bar, Edmonds, WA - 12/22/2016

It's hard to believe that I haven't posted about this lovely bar before now, but in the meantime it has only strengthened its position as probably my favorite bar in the greater Seattle area. As anyone who has ever been there will know, this is largely due to the tiny, intimate space, partially to the reliably fine cocktails produced, and in no small part due to the rollicking character of its star bartender Desmond "Dez" van Rensburg.

There is no pining about the "Seattle Freeze" in Daphnes. If you're one of the dozen or so people to get a seat in the tiny 250' square former barber shop tucked within the 1923 Edmonds Theater building, you're not only elbow to elbow with other patrons, you are quickly pulled into the conversation, likely introduced to the others, and perhaps given a nickname (I was "Big Dog"). At times it can feel like tiny local joint off a side street in Paris, and at other times like you are joining a rickety traveling carnival. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the cocktail menu always features a few of my favorites (Old Pal, Negroni, Corpse Reviver #2, Sazerac) and anything you order is well made.

If you're visiting or living in Seattle, it's easy to overlook Daphnes, some 15 to 20 miles or so out of town -- and that's fine with me as it keeps the frequently full space from being completely overrun. And I am certainly not beyond choosing a route home on our road trips that includes the Edmonds ferry, simply because it affords a stop there.

Daphnes was opened in 2006 by Brian Taylor and Louise Favier, who have also owned other restaurants in western Washington (Jack Murphy's, Daphnes Fairhaven) and in New York (Pencil Factory Bar). They moved back to New York in the summer of 2013, and sold all Washington businesses except Daphnes Edmonds. I fervently hope that the bar, and Dez, continue on for many, many years.

415 1/2 Main St, Edmonds, WA 98020                                             
Est. 2006 - Building constructed: 1923
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: facebook
Reviews: heraldnet - komonews - heraldnet - seattlerealestatehelp - yelp - tripadvisor - culturetrip - myedmondsnews  

#3801 - Croke Park (Whitey's), Boston, MA - 6/24/2019

Danny and Danny at Whitey's / Croke Park, Boston MA

In preparing for a visit to Boston I'd read about at least three bars that were touted as the best dive bar in the city, and at Croke Park, AKA Whitey's, in Southie, I finally believed it.

The first "testimonial" cited on the bar's own web site begins this way:

"I don’t want to say this is the worst bar in the world because I’ve never been to places like Bangladesh, Rwanda, or Haiti. But I can say with 100% certainty that this place is, by far, the worst bar in Boston. I’ve been to crackhouses where I’ve felt safer. Also, that had less crack. Seriously, at no point did I feel like I wasn’t about to be stabbed by the locals."

I was not there at a time of day where I would enjoy that sort of scene, but it still impressed me as a welcome dive, with the sort of character accrued over time, and a few characters who provided lively conversation. In particular I met two fellows named Danny, both locals, both born in Ireland, and one of them the owner of the bar. Owner Danny had a very different worldview from mine, but that didn't stop us from having a quite enjoyable -- and fairly long -- bar conversation. Indeed, I went well beyond my planned one drink when customer Danny kept buying another round because he wanted to see the conversation continue.

As expected from a classic dive, the bartenders deliver generous pours for an inexpensive price, and while the exterior features a surprisingly fresh coat of paint, inside the walls are covered with the names of doodles of patrons over the years. I don't know if they like this or not, but Esquire named it one of the top bars in the country. If you like true dive bars with a rugged personality this is a must stop when you are in the area.

268 W Broadway, Boston, MA 02127 - (617) 606-5971                              
Web site:
Articles: onlyinyourstateesquire - yelp - timeout - bostonherald - roadtrippers - universalhubuniversalhub - lonelyplaneteater - nytimes

#3041 - M T Saddle, Shoup, ID - 8/20/2016

Note: After a long time with blog posts lagging behind bar visits, I've recently gone about 9 months without posting a blog entry, and I am now 1,154 bars behind. I do plan to resume blog posts, but since I don't know when (or if) I will catch up on all bars, I'm going to take a different approach. Rather than always posting in the order I visited bars, I will now be posting which ever I feel like doing next, which should enable me to catch up on at least the most interesting (at least to me) bars. The order and dates I actually visited the bar will still be reflected in the titles.

First hint of the M.T. Saddle Saloon
With that said, I had to resume these posts with what may now be my very favorite bar,  the M-T Saddle Saloon, near, Shoup, Idaho. I was not sure we'd actually reach this one, as it is 13 miles down a single lane dirt road along a river, and my car is the furthest thing from an offroad vehicle. There were a few hints of this on the internet from hikers and hunters, including a photo from just the year before my trip, so we were optimistic as we turned off Highway 93 and headed west along the Salmon River. 18 miles later we arrived in the old mining town of Shoup, which actually had human residents and an active business the past few years, but that all ended when the Shoup Store, with its antique gas pumps and beer guzzling salmon sculpture, closed down last November. From Shoup the pavement ends, but the one-lane dirt road is fairly wide and in good shape. While not seeing any humans, we passed deer and ospreys, yellow cliffs and desert bighorn sheep. Approximately 13 miles down the dirt road to seemingly nowhere, we spotted a faded plywood sign for the M-T Saddle, and shortly thereafter, there, almost miraculously, it stood.

The saloon was opened by Mike Tibbits in the mid 70s (his initials forming half of the double entendre of the establishment's name). The presiding bartender was a perfectly grizzled character named "Oly." The taps were inoperable, but the refrigerator was stocked with cold, cheap beer and sodas. The saloon, with a couple other buildings on the lot, was crammed full of dusty photos, paintings, and artifacts. One of the locals told me that Tibbits had a plan to create an entire little ghost town block, but that plan seems to have been abandoned. There are few hints of the bar's existence from outside the lot itself, and we chatted with some semi-locals who had just stumbled upon it that day after deciding to just head down that road to see what's at the end of it. You might imagine their surprise. In my own search for "hidden gems" of bars around the northwest, it will be difficult to top this one.

Bartender Oly

A few road obstacles on the way
3431 Salmon River Rd, Shoup, Idaho                               
Est. 1970s
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: facebook (unofficial)
Other: Idaho State Police Preliminary Order