A tiny 100 year old one-room bar stands miraculously as a centerpiece in Oakland’s prime waterfront real estate called Jack London Square. Amazingly there are only 3 tables, a sloping five stool bar and a small potbelly stove, with many old photos and old hats hanging around. It is called Heinold’s First and Last Chance and Jack London’s Rendezvous; it is also a treasure-trove of history.
Originally built in 1880 from the timbers of an old whaling ship in a dock area over the water it was used as a bunk house by the men working the nearby oyster beds. Purchased in 1883 by Johnny Heinold for $100 he transformed the place into a saloon for seafaring sailors and waterfront workers that became a magnet for an inordinate number of writers, adventurers, and politicians.
Also called Jack London’s Rendezvous for the school boy, turned American author, Jack London who studied at the same tables still used there today. Later, London returned to his favorite table to write notes for The Sea Wolf and Call of the Wild novels as did numerous other writers.
Antique mementos hang in the saloon still soaking in the history. The dimly lit bar uses its original gas lights. The stove too is the original one used as the only source of heat until 1989. The tables, stove, movie machine, music box, old bar rail, clock, and several other items behind the bar are also originals.
The most unusual thing about the place is the floor that sinks several feet down into a ripple in the ground; a reminder of the great San Francisco earthquake which struck in 1906, stopping the wall clock and moving the pilings underneath the saloon which settled into the mud. Efforts to shore up the floor proved unsuccessful but add extra character to the place.
In 1984 Carol Brookman acquired the saloon after 86 years of ownership by the Heinold family, promising to maintain its appearance as close to original as possible. Thankfully it is still possible to partake of a social drink in that creative place whether it be the first chance or last chance visitors are transported 100 years back into another time.
Designated a NATIONAL LITERARY LANDMARK Jan 12, 1998. Listed Sept. 1, 2000 on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
Enjoy this article? Be the first to receive email alerts for new articles by this author by clicking Subscribe above. You will not be spammed and can unsubscribe at any time.
© photos Lindsay Godfree 2011