Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
Aug. 12-13, 1907
Despite the name Bismarck Cafe, police call the saloon at Main and Winston Streets the Bucket of Blood because it’s a continual source of crime and violence.
It is a place, The Times says, “of drunken debauchery among girls of tender ages, painted women and men. Into this immoral pesthole, young girls are enticed nightly to drink and listen to a band concert. Although the police make arrests in this dive every night, it is allowed to run unmolested.”
The Bismarck’s bill of fare is limited: beans, sandwiches and liquor. There is a women’s entrance in the alley off Winston that leads to one section of the cafe. Another section features the bar, along with some tables “where men lounge around to meet some young girl or woman,” The Times says, and between the two is the bandstand.
There’s sawdust on the floor, and “with an ordinary garden rake, the filth is cleaned out once a day,” The Times says.
Soon, a fight broke out between two men over who was going to buy a drink for a woman. Waiters pulled the men apart, but they moved to another part of the saloon and started fighting again. One of them, J.A. Salas, pulled a gun. Police discovered that Salas and his partner Edward Wilson, had stolen the pistol in a burglary at the Hotel Marlowe, 5th Street and Main, earlier that night.
Before police could take Salas away, another fight broke out in which a man threw a beer glass across the table and hit another man above the eye. The victim lunged at his assailant and overturned the table trying to get at him.
Still another fight broke out between two women, their cries muffled by the music from the bandstand.
The next night, it was the same. “A plate of beans was placed on the table in front of a customer and then any kind of drink could be purchased…. The cafe was filled during the early part of the evening. The usual number of fights took place and several girls were seen drinking at the tables.”
A woman who is down on her luck gets her meals and drinks from cafe owner John Edwards in return for procuring young women customers.
“Late Saturday night there were four girls, whose dresses were above their shoe tops, in the beer hall drinking,” The Times says of the female customers procured by the unidentified woman. “Two men eagerly sought their acquaintance. They were introduced. Soon all five were seated at a table. One of the young girls refused to drink, saying that she had never tasted beer. After coaxing, she sipped at the beer occasionally. For nearly an hour, the five were seated at the table. When they left, the young girls were unsteady on their feet. The two men accompanied them.”
In the last 10 days, three female customers under the age of 18 had been taken to the hospital for treatment. One claimed she had been drugged by a young man, the other two had passed out.
“I am getting tired of this life,” said the procuress. “For several weeks I have been out of work and have lived at the Bucket of Blood. If you stand in with the manager down here you can get all you want to eat and drink. They will feed you if you get a bunch coming down with you every night.”
The day after the Times story appeared, the cafe was a temple of propriety. “A man was stationed at the ‘ladies entrance’ and no person of questionable age was admitted. The waiters were instructed to keep customers as quiet as possible. In several selections rendered by the band there were strains of sacred music. The plain words of John Edwards were: ‘I am taking no chances.’ ”
The Times tells a compelling tale, but neglects to mention a key fact: The Bismarck is a stronghold of organized labor, while the paper is staunchly anti-union. It isn’t until the next year, when Edwards was put under a boycott for firing a union bartender, that The Times began portraying him as a fearless opponent of organized labor.
“For 20 years I was a member of the bricklayers union,” Edwards says. “But I will not stand for the manner in which they are trying to run things now. When I was a union man we tried to get good men into our ranks. My idea of the proper way to run a union is to make it attractive so that men will want to join. This idea that, because a man does not see fit to join a union, he cannot work, won’t go with me. It’s not square, and I, for one, don’t propose to stand for it.”
The Police Commission closed the Bismarck in June 1908. The address, 426 S. Main St., is currently occupied by the Blossom Restaurant.