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The Oldest Bar in Oakland Just Turned 140

Updated: Jun 12, 2024 15:32
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140 Years Ago in June of 1884, Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon opened. Made of wood from an old whaling ship, this tiny dive bar is Oakland’s oldest bar and is filled with history and lore. You can imagine that after nearly a hundred and fifty years, there is an endless well of stories.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon in 1888 – photo from Wikipedia

Here are some fun facts and stories from the past 140 years at Heinold’s

Even the name has a story behind it.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon was originally called simple “Heinhold’s Saloon”, named after the original owner, John (Johnny) M. Heinold. “First and Last Chance” was added to the name by Heinold’s wife referring to sailors who would grab a drink here just before leaving and just after arriving.

It’s also known as “Jack London’s Rendezvous” but locals call it by many names – Heinhold’s, First and Last Chance Saloon – or really any combination of those. Feels like there are a bajillion nicknames associated with this adorable spot but I suppose that makes sense when you’re over 100 years old.

Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon in Oakland – photo by @katyatch

The Permanent 1906 Earthquake Relic

Ever been to Santa Cruz’s Mystery Spot where everything is cattywampus? When you walk into Heinhold’s you can’t help but notice that the entire interior of the bar is at an angle. Not just a little askew but dips down several feet from the front of the establishment. This was from the 1906 quake when the pilings underneath the bar settled and threw off the once-level(ish) bar. Legend has it that the clock inside the bar stopped at the exact moment of the quake and still reads 5:18 pm to this day.

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Famously crooked bar at Heinhold’s – image from Wiki Commons

Jack London’s Childhood hangout

Looking at the top right corner of the photo below, you can see young, 17-year-old Jack London reading at the exact table shown in the photo before. Actually, it’s said that this photo depicts him studying just before he headed off to college at UC Berkeley. According to Wikipedia, “Many of London’s evenings were spent at Heinold’s pub, gathering ideas for his later works. In his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn, London mentioned the pub’s likeness seventeen times. The pub was the place where London met Alexander McLean, a captain known for his cruelty at sea.”

In 1998, the Friends of Libraries U.S.A. added Heinold’s to the Literary Landmarks Register due to how this spot inspired many of Jack London’s novels.

Filled with history – this is the table Jack London sat at as a kid

Covered in Money

You’ll notice that there is money tacked to different parts of the interior. Back in the day, sailors would put their name on some money and leave it there so that when they got back to port they’d be able to retrieve their funds and cash it in for a drink. Nowadays, people have been stacking money there just for fun and to be part of this group art project of sorts. Reminds me of Grumpy’s Pub which is now permanently closed. They also were a sailor bar with a ceiling full of money.

Heinhold’s IRL “Savings Accounts” – photo from WikiCommons

It wasn’t always a bar!

The original building was built in 1880. According to The National Register of Historic Places, of which Heinhold’s is #00001067, for the first few years, Heinhold’s was actually a bunk house for folks working the oyster beds. It has remained a saloon ever since Heinhold purchased it in 1883.

Every dog in the neighborhood knows there are treats at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon

Some say Heinhold’s is haunted

This doesn’t surprise me one bit. Owners and bartenders have noted numerous times that they have witnessed strange phenomena such as shadows and doors left open without explanation.

Owner Carole Brookman (who bought Heinhold’s in the 80s) was interviewed for a story called Haunted by novelist Erika Mailman:

“There is a spirit here. Who or what I don’t know. But it’s exciting and we like it.”

Built from Unexpected Materials

Did you know that that Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon was built from remnants of an old wooden whaling ship from the 1800s?? I think that’s maybe my favorite fun fact.

Bright sunny day at Heinhold’s

I could go on and on about this place. The rich history, including stories of hauntings and its significance in Jack London’s life and works makes this historic Bay Area bar one of the most special places around. There’s so much to see in the walls of this place and so many stories – let’s help keep this amazing place alive and thriving for another 140 years.

Where to Find Heinhold’s

Address: Jack London Square, 48 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607
IG: @heinoldsoakland

all photos taken by the author @katyatch unless otherwise noted

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.