Opened in 1883 by Johnny Heinold as J.M. Heinold's Saloon, this Historic Landmark looked much then as she does today. She was built right here in 1880 from the timbers of an old whaling ship over the water in a dock area that even then was at the foot of Webster Street. For nearly three years, the building was used as a bunk house by the men working the nearby oyster beds. Then in 1883, Johnny's $100 purchase, with the aid of a ship's carpenter, was transformed into a saloon where seafaring and waterfront men could feel at ease.
During the 1920's, the ferry that ran between Alameda and Oakland stopped next to Heinold's. Alameda was a dry city at the time, and this bar was truly a commuter's First and Last Chance for a refreshment. As the years wore on, many servicemen left for overseas from the Port of Oakland, and the First and Last tradition stuck, so the name of the saloon was officially changed to Heinold's First and Last Chance.
In the years that followed, an inordinate number of writers, adventurers, politicians, and humble folk like you and me have enjoyed the ambiance and the history of this unique bit of Oakland. So listen to a few tales that can be told here.
It is for good reason that this is known as Jack London's Rendezvous. As a schoolboy, Jack London studied at these same tables we still use today. Later, he would return to his favorite table and write notes for The Sea Wolf and Call of the Wild. At age 17, he confided to John Heinold his ambition to go to the University of California and become a writer. Johnny lent London the money for tuition and, although he never got beyond his first year, it was while studying at this saloon and listening to the stories of shipmates and stevedores that he developed his thirst for adventure. The theme of men bravely facing danger appears throughout the best of his works. Indeed Johnny Heinold and The First and Last Chance Saloon are referenced seventeen times in London's novel John Barleycorn. Heinold's saloon was where he met Alexander McLean, known for such cruelty at sea that his boat was nicknamed The Hell Ship. At the time of its writing, McLean became a model for London's Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf. With the help of Johnny Heinold, the deals for London's three ships, the Razzle Dazzle, the Snark and the Roamer were struck in this bar.
Jack London is not the only spirit that keeps us company in these walls. Oakland mayor John L. Davie brought President William Howard Taft in for relaxation and refreshments. Robert Louis Stevenson spent time here while waiting for his ship to be outfitted for his final cruise to Samoa. Other notables to sit at this bar include Joaquin Miller, Robert Service, Charles E. Markham, Earle Gardner, Erskine Caldwell, Ambrose Bierce, and Rex Beach.
Take a good look at the numerous momentos and soak in the history. There is much here yet to be told. The dimly lit bar uses its original gas lights, and it is the only commercial operation in California that still uses them. The stove is the original and was used as the only source of heat until 1989. While it may look like the ceiling was burned in a fire, the darkness is due to the creosote coming out of the old wood and smoke from the stove, Lanterns and cigarettes. The tables, stove, movie machine, music box, old bar rail, clock, and several other items behind the bar are originals. A picture of The Last Chance as it appeared in 1894 hangs by the cash register.
The model ship behind the bar is the Christian Radich, a Norwegian training vessel. Hanging in the corner is an officer's jacket from the German Army Africa Corp., taken during W.W.II, along with an Italian desert helmet. The knot board was made by an officer on the USS Sebec, circa 1947. The money is from all over the world, much of it signed by the men leaving for war, that they might have ready cash for a drink on their return. Alas, much of it has never been reclaimed. An old oxygen tank still resides quietly in one corner of the bar. The business cards on the ceiling and walls started when patrons asked George Heinold when he would buy their wares. George told them to put their cards up, so that when he was rich, he could do just that. There are plaques dedicated to the First and Last Chance from the aircraft carriers Ranger, Coral Sea, Carl Vinson, Abraham Lincoln and Enterprise. The Golden West beer sign outside has been there for many years. The mirror over the bar is over 100 years old along with the deer head that hangs next to it. And so it goes, on and on...
Finally, the big question: "What about the tilting floor? When the great San Francisco earthquake struck in 1906, the pilings underneath the saloon settled in the mud and subsequent efforts to shore up the floor proved unsuccessful. You can still note the time of the quake from the clock on the wall that stopped for the occasion.
Johnny and George operated the bar for a total of 86 years. The tradition was carried on by George's widow, Margaret, until 1984, when Carol Brookman acquired it with the promise to maintain its appearance as close to original as possible. It is her love for the history and traditions of the saloon that makes it possible for you to partake of a social drink while soaking in a little history.
Thanks for stopping by... come again and bring your friends... Dream of the past and become a part of our history...
Designated a NATIONAL LITERARY LANDMARK Jan 12, 1998
Listed Sept. 1, 2000 on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES