Updated: Aug 22, 2022
In the early 1890s, three American cities boasted saloons called the Slocan. They don’t appear to have been connected and their proprietors may not have had anything to do with the Slocan either. In light of the silver rush, the word simply had a prosperous connotation. (Similarly, there were many Klondike Hotels nowhere near the Yukon, including one in Nelson.)
The Slocan Exchange Saloon in Spokane was at the northeast corner of Main Avenue and Howard Street. Its infrequent mentions in the Spokane Review were not positive.
On Jan. 9, 1893, the paper reported the previous month Charles J. Taylor and J.C. Wagoner had purchased the saloon and “began to make extensive improvements,” before in turn selling to A.B. Noyes for $700. However, Noyes soon found himself overwhelmed by people who claimed Taylor and Wagoner owed them money. It’s not clear how things were resolved.
In April, a bullet lodged in the saloon’s doorway after Tom Eldridge, “well known as a desperate character, shot three times at Tom Cleary, ex-lightweight champion pugilist.” Fortunately, he missed. And in June, one of the bartenders, W.C. Short, was arrested for forging his mother’s name on a promissory note.
The Slocan Saloon appeared in the Spokane civic directory just once, in 1893, with Frank Feeney listed as proprietor. It’s not clear if it changed its name after that or simply closed.
The saloon was in the Bennett Block, one of the first buildings completed after Spokane’s great fire of 1889. According to Walking Washington’s History by Judith M. Bentley, “It housed a brewing company with a hotel on the upper floor and a saloon on the first.” The Bennett Block is still standing, although its connection to the skywalk system in the 1970s unfortunately obscured its facade.
The Bennett Block (Wikimedia Commons)
Northport also had a Slocan Saloon, about which nothing is known except that it was among the casualties of a huge fire of May 8, 1893. The building was valued at $1,200 but the proprietor had no insurance.
The third Slocan Saloon was in Bonners Ferry. Below is the first ad for it from the Kootenai Herald of Feb. 26, 1892, showing it was run by brothers John and J.C. McRae.
The Herald reported on March 11, 1893: “McRae Bros. have placed a fine new mirror behind their bar.” And on March 25: “McRae Bros. have placed a new sign before their place. It reads ‘The Slocan Saloon,’ and is in fine gilt letters.”
On April 1, the Herald ran a page of brief profiles of the “Leading Citizens of Bonner’s Ferry” and included the McRae brothers.
On Oct. 18, 1893, a fire in Bonners Ferry destroyed $15,000 worth of property. Although it wasn’t explicitly stated, it appears the Slocan Saloon was one of the casualties. The Herald noted on Oct. 28: “The McRae Bros. will not resume business for a short period.” Then on Dec. 9: “The Slocan saloon has been re-opened as a billiard hall by the McRae Bros. These gentlemen are popular citizens and we are glad to see them back in business.”
Ads for the saloon did not appear again until November 1894, but the saloon continued to operate until February 1897, when its stock was shipped to the town of Sylvanite, Montana where John McRae opened a new saloon. It only lasted a little over a year.
In October 1897, John McRae leased the former Slocan Saloon to C.H. Bernard for a restaurant, whose name is unknown. The following year, West Kootenay hotelier August Reischl purchased the business and renamed it the St. Elmo, after his hotel in Trail. He had also operated hotels and restaurants in Kaslo and Rossland.
The St. Elmo closed in August 1898 and was replaced the following year by another saloon operated by Oscar Youngquist, who operated it in partnership with a Mr. LaSale until July 1899. The building was later home to an insurance agent and real estate office.
Updated on Aug. 21, 2022 to add more about all three saloons.