Many a sailor, stevedore and adventurer has slapped a coin down on the weathered mahogany bar at the First and Last Chance Saloon since Johnny Heinold paid $100 for a bunkhouse made from ship timbers and turned it into a watering hole in 1883.
That was 125 years ago, and come June 1, it's time to celebrate the city's oldest saloon and author Jack London's home away from home.
"Ladies, kindly do your soliciting discreetly," reads a sign above the beer taps at Heinold's, presumably from the time when the waterfront was a place few women ventured except the ladies of the night who had the run of Oakland's red light district, which operated nearby.
A Heinold's regular, Steve Benjamin, suggested the red light lore was more legend than reality.
"Well, we're sticking to rumors," replied bartender Don Schlemmer while mixing up a concoction called the "Rum Dellums."
He also is the inventor of a drink for the Raiders made from a shot of Patron Silver tequila dropped into a glass of dark Guinness beer ("It's like an Irish car bomb").
"Like Mark Twain said, 'Don't let facts get in the way of a good story,'" Schlemmer advised, wisely I thought given all the tall tales that are in abundance at Heinold's.
Schlemmer and his fellow bartenders and those before them double as custodians of the saloon.
"That's why I love to work here. It's my little museum," gushed bartender Hubert Courtais.
Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon began as a place for men thirsty for a strong drink before heading out to sea or ferry riders on their way to "dry" Alameda from "wet" Oakland.
That was before the 1906 earthquake forevermore gave the saloon such a slant that unpracticed customers don't so much sit at the bar as cling precariously to their stools.
George Heinold, who took over after his father's death, wrote that the saloon was meant to support "raconteurs who would keep the glories of the past fresh in the minds of the citizenry; for the comfort of the ancient mariners and the warming of the marrow in their ageing bones; for the rendition and preservation of half-forgotten chanties."
He and his successors did well, judging from the grooves in the floor and the disintegrating foot rail worn down from patrons — famous, infamous and unknown — resting their shoes on it.
George Heinold's widow, Margaret Heinold, ran the business for several years before and after her husband's 1970 death, although she had never made a drink in her life.
When a customer called it a dump, Margaret told her, "At least it's a dump with history."
It was so covered in "history" — mementos and soot from centuries of smoke from cigarettes and the gas lamps that illuminate the saloon after sunset — that it took Carol Brookman and a crew of two men nearly a week to clean the place up when she bought it in 1983.
"My favorite thing about Heinold's is that we're still standing," Brookman said.
I'll drink to that, as well as the June 1 festivities that will begin at high noon and include music (including possibly The Whoreshoes and the Sea Chantey Singers), a charity raffle for the Oakland Navy League, a visit by members of the notorious Gold Rush-era order of E Clampus Vitus ("either a historical drinking society or a drinking historical society") and more.
Just make sure to ask for a complete chick dinner.
Reach Angela Woodall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-208-6413.
WHAT: Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon 125 year anniversary
WHEN: Noon, June 1
WHERE: 48 Webster St.
INFORMATION: 510-839-6761; 21 and over. No dogs allowed.