February 17, 1914: The last days of West Duluth’s Last Chance Saloon

W. A. Hicken. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

On this day in Duluth in 1914, residents of West Duluth endured the battle of the Last Chance Saloon. The previous December, Safety Commissioner John Hicken refused to renew the liquor licenses of two West Duluth saloons as part of his policy to reduce the number of drinking establishments in the Zenith City. Hicken specifically targeted problem areas: The Bowery, the Garfield Avenue district, West Duluth, and the West End. This policy was hot on the heels of Hicken’s attempts to rid Uptown—today’s Canal Park—of its brothels. Affected were Martin R. Timlin, who ran a joint at 306 North Central Avenue, and A. J. Erickson, who ran “The Last Chance” at 19 South 63rd Avenue West (corner of 63rd and Grand). The Last Chance was targeted because it was a rowdy place, as evidenced by its final fracas on that February day. It all started when Soli Nemi, a “giant Finlander,” tried to tear the bartender’s shirt in the “spirit of fun.” When patron Max Lutzky tried to help the bartender, Soli threw a spittoon at him, striking him behind the ear, and then jumped atop him and began pummeling him. About this time the police arrived, and all three men were arrested. Two days later, two patrons of the Last Chance were robbed on their way back to their homes in New Duluth. William Downes and Rudolph Barich were enjoying a drink at the Last Chance when they struck up a conversation with five men in their 20s. Barich bought a round of drinks at 50 cents each, paying with a $10 bill, about $230 today. So the five followed Barich and Downes out of the bar and robbed them as they neared their homes. All five suspects were captured in New Duluth the next day. Both events, along with the saloon’s location—too far from a police station for officers to make regular rounds—were cited as reasons Erickson’s appeal to regain his liquor license was denied.

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