Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon is an historic bar in Jack London Square. The saloon was constructed out of lumber salvaged from the stern-wheel paddle steamer Umatilla,2 sometime between November 1870, when the abandoned hulk of the Umatilla was obstructing the construction of the first bridge across the estuary to Alameda,3 and probably mid-summer of 1874. By 1883, a man named Johnson operated a saloon in the building, but could not make a success of it. He sold the business to John Michael "Johnny" Heinold for $100, and on June 1, 1884, Johnny opened for business. The saloon has been in business ever since, in its original building and location, not closing for the 1906 earthquake or during Prohibition. The floor is sharply tilted, resulting from pilings underneath shifting in the 1906 earthquake.
An old, often repeated story about the name, First & Last Chance, that "during the 1920s, Alameda was a dry town" is simple make believe. From 1920 to 1933, all of California and the rest of the United States - not just Alameda - was dry. Charmian London was probably closer to the truth when she wrote, "the stamping-ground of the water-front habitués ... bore this two-faced pseudonym by reason of its accommodating relation to comers as well as goers across the drawbridge." 4 There may also have been an early baseball connection: "The horse car ran across old Webster street bridge, and its passengers en route to and from the ‘Greenhood and Moran’ baseball games, near what is now Neptune Beach, all tumbled off at Johnny’s for their ‘first and last’ drink." 5
On January 7, 1975, Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon was designated an Oakland Landmark, under Zoning Case #LM 74-335. On January 1, 1998, the saloon was designated a National Literary Landmark, and on 1 September 2000, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As a schoolboy in the late 1800s, Jack London studied at Heinold’s. In his autobiographical memoir, John Barleycorn, Jack wrote that he sealed the purchase of his first ship, the Razzle Dazzle, with a shot or two at the bar, when he was only 15. Jack later confided in owner John Heinold about his ambition to attend the University of California. Heinold loaned him tuition money, but Jack only lasted a semester at the University. He later returned to Heinold’s where he wrote his notes for The Sea Wolf and Call of the Wild. Heinold’s is referenced 17 times in John Barleycorn.
Heinold’s is popular both with visitors to Jack London Square and with residents. The bar’s interior is small, dark and (as noted) steeply sloped, but its adjacent dog-friendly, smoke-free patio is a favorite on sunny days. A large mural featuring Jack London is painted on the side of the building, and several plaques note its landmark status. The place has a full bar, but no food. If you want to drink on the patio, alas, you must do it from a plastic cup.
Johnny Heinold died in 1933, after the law changed to allow 3.5% beer, but before Prohibition finally ended. His son George Heinold took over, and ran the business until his own death in 1970. George's widow, Marge Heinold, took over just before George's final illness. The owner for the last 31 years has been Carol Bookman, who purchased the business from Marge Heinold in 1984.
Links & References
- Image(s) used by permission of the UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library
- "If Jack London Came Back - ?", Oakland Tribune, 28 May 1922, p. 70, 77; "Famous Oakland Waterfront Saloon Defies Fate," San Francisco Chronicle, 15 Jul 1923, Section 0, p. 3.
- "Oakland Items", Daily Alta California, San Francisco, CA, 30 Nov 1870.
- London, Charmian, The Book of Jack London (New York, NY: 1921), p. 91.
- "'First and Last Chance' Has Forty-fifth Birthday", Oakland Tribune, 30 May 1929, p. 17.
- Oakland’s Oldest Bar on Oakland North