The writer’s grandfather got his first illegal beer at this historic Oakland watering hole when he was 15 and the old man claimed that Jack London bought him his second.
Heinhold’s First and Last Chance saloon (est. 1884) in Oakland, California’s Jack London Square has a steep downhill grade from the entrance because the bar’s hind end got yanked into a swampy crevasse by the infamous 1906 earthquake. The very clock that stopped at 5:18 a.m. that fateful day remains on the wall.
Jack London’s watering hole long before he sold any stories or books, it was the first and last place sailors could get a drink coming into or out of Oakland harbor. It stands as a genuine American relic. Original owner Johnny Heinhold’s top hat hangs on the ceiling where he last took it off more than a century ago, and his 1880s potbellied stove, gaslights, and original mahogany bar are still there.
In 1902, heavyweight boxers Jim Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons fought locally for the title. Jack London, then 26, covered the fight for a newspaper and brought the two combatants to the pub after the fight and got drunk with them. The fighters hung their gloves on the wall, where they remain.
During World War II, pilots going off to fight signed dollar bills for good luck, to be claimed for a drink when they returned. (More than 200 did not return for their claim.) The framed, signed bills from those who never made it home hang on the walls in remembrance of the fallen.
Step into this landmark if you’re in the area. Before you do, though, we’d like to share a personal connection to the First and Last Chance saloon: My grandfather got his first illegal beer there when he was 15 and claimed that Jack London bought him his second. It could be a tall tale, but I’ve decided to believe it.
Heinhold’s First and Last Chance, 48 Webster St., Oakland, California, 510.839.6761. Photography: Heinhold’s First and Last Chance saloon/Facebook. Subscribe to the forthcoming monthly Taste of the West e-newsletter below.