Have A First, But Don’t Make It Your Last

In my time, I’ve had my fair share of drinks and I’ve been to a good number of bars. With each outing I would visit a different bar, trying out new beers and taking in the atmosphere, but I’d yet to find a place close to the type of bar I’d always dreamed of as a child. These days, bars are adorned with 15 flat screen plasma televisions that play every ESPN channel in every language. I would have my fun, but I always hoped that I’d someday find a bar with charm and a little grit. Somewhere that had old-timers drinking their whiskeys straight up, telling tales of their time on the seas, singing drinking songs and getting into the occasional bar fight. So another night came where drinks were expected to flow, but this time I decided to find somewhere new to enjoy. After some searching of the downtown area of Oakland, I found Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. I gathered some friends and set out for the night.

It took a moment to find the place, and upon arrival we realized why. The saloon is about the size of a classroom, being able to fit 20 to 25 people comfortably inside. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised with a flooding of the senses. The room was dimly lit by old gas lanterns that hung from the ceiling. Everything in sight was made from wood, obviously aged by time and swollen by water. Four small tables held four to five small chairs each to the left of me and a slanted bar with six seats stood to my right. The place was nearly full of people, some young adults and some gray-bearded men with barrel chests and whiskey in front of them. Behind the bar stood the bartender, cleaning a glass and serving a drink. He wore a dress shirt with a vest over it and a tie tied neatly around his neck.

It was like boarding a ship.

After a moment, we took 4 seats at the bar and took in the scenery before ordering drinks. There were no menus, but behind the bar each bottle of alcohol had a sticker on it with a price. Nothing was above 10 dollars. I ordered a whiskey for 8 dollars and he filled my glass (not a shot, but a glass) to the top. The place had won me over.

The bartender, Jim, handed me a sheet of paper that contained all the historical information on the Saloon. It turns out that I was taking a drink inside of a historical landmark.  Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon opened in 1883 and has been serving drinks to the public ever since. Sailors, their captains and travelers would stop by for a drink before departing for whatever destinations they’d set their sails to. Jack London (a famous writer who’s name honors that of Jack London Square) spent his days scribbling notes at the very tables I was sitting mere feet away from.

Although the bar had a famous history, it had a very welcoming atmosphere. Along with all of the captain’s hats, business cards and foreign currencies on the walls and ceiling, there are funny signs and even a puzzle here and there. One sign said, “Ladies: Kindly do your soliciting discreetly.” Another said, “The only difference between this place and the Titanic is they had a band.” The experience was refreshing and new. Everywhere I looked, there was something about the place that made me grin.

I decided to take another look at the place from the outside, not only because I was a little drunk, but smoking is not allowed inside. I found that the Saloon seats people outside as well at about 4 tables a few feet from the entrance. In the window, the sign welcomes people in with a little poem: “He who drinks with grace is ever welcome any place. He who drinks more than his share is never welcome anywhere.”

Upon re-entering, the slant of the building was becoming more and more noticeable. On the page of history I’d been given, it mentioned that in the 1906, the building slanted and could not be restored to it’s former positioning. So I took a seat at the slanted bar and enjoyed my last call of whiskey and the complimentary soda I’d been given graciously. The bar was soon to close and there had been no bar fight or drunken sing along. It was small and it closed around 1am instead of the average 2am, but I was pleased nonetheless.

So if you’re ever near Jack London Square or if you just want to have a slanted drink and a good time, visit Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. I highly recommend it.

For more info on the bar, head over to their website: http://firstandlastchance.com/

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