‘A Palatial Barroom’ (1898)

The north side of the 400 block of East Washington Street in 1901. W.H. McGetrick, whose name is on the awning at left, operated the saloon owned by Harry Lane. Lane’s gambling parlor was upstairs. (Sangamon Valley Collection)

When Harry Lane opened his new saloon at 415 E. Washington St. in 1898, he wanted you to know: It was no bucket of blood.

Rough-and-tumble tipplers patronized the workingmen’s bars (and worse) that lined the streets of “the Levee” a few blocks east. Lane, however, hoped to attract a more gentlemanly clientele. His establishment, Lane promised, would offer the finest liquor and the smoothest Havana cigars in elegant surroundings and a quiet, refined atmosphere.

Chester M. “Harry” Lane (1848-1934), by all accounts, was a courtly, distinguished figure himself. He may well have been sincere about wanting to elevate Springfield’s drinking standards. But make no mistake. The ground-floor saloon was a front. Lane was Springfield’s gambling kingpin, and his real business was upstairs.

SangamonLink wrote about Lane’s gambling operation in a 2021 entry. The following excerpt is from an article published in both of the city’s leading newspapers when the saloon opened. Among other things, it suggests that Lane was ahead of his time: the 20th-century mobsters who made Las Vegas a lavish amusement/gaming destination could have taken lessons from Harry Lane.

Note: This is the Illinois State Register’s version of the story, published May 15, 1898, under the headline “A Palatial Barroom”; it differed from the Illinois State Journal’s article only in the first couple of paragraphs. The bulk of the story presumably was written by Lane or someone working for him. Neither article, of course, mentioned the gambling parlor.

(Excerpt courtesy State Journal-Register)

The place at No. 415 East Washington street, formerly known as Shaw’s sample room*, and having the reputation of being one of the best known places in the west, has been remodeled by C.M. Lane, the present owner, and is now without doubt one of the finest places, not only in the state, but in the western country. …

The design and architecture are strictly Grecian throughout. The back bar and mirror frame are about 30 feet in length and about 12 feet high and contain one of the largest individual mirrors ever made. The cornice work is supported by six massive fluted Corinthian columns, each having a three-light electric fixture which greatly enhances the effect. The carving is elaborate and all hand work, the center of the back bar having a large escutcheon design five in length and four feet in height, carved out of one solid block of mahogany.

The bar proper is of the same length as the back bar. The top is made of one piece of wood and is the largest that can be used for this purpose. The front is designed in the elaborately curved O.G. style. …

A massive liquor case, 18 feet in length and 14 feet in height, together with a 14-foot cigar case comprise the forward part of the sample room, which is separated by an elaborate screen showing beautifully executed and designed art glass. The liquor case will always be found stocked with the very finest and best brands that the American and European markets produce. The cigar case is designed to hold 40,000 cigars, and is scientifically constructed for this purpose and the most fastidious smoker will find his cigars neither too dry nor too moist, but “just right,” and in an endless assortment of the very best. Special attention has been made in an effort to secure the finest line of clear Havana cigars.

The double vestibuled entrances in front greet the visitor in a manner which inclines him to penetrate farther into the cigar room and into the sample room where the thirsty soul is cheered by anything the palate craves. If he be hungry as well, a 10-foot lunch counter, in charge of a gentlemanly and experienced chef, invites him to participate in an elaborate free lunch, everybody welcome at all times, day or night. …

The bar is in charge of Sam Trimble (1868-1910 – ed.) and able assistants who will serve its patrons with the endless variety of fancy mixed drinks, liquors, etc., known to a first-class place. All the well-known beers will be on draught and will be drawn through a most elaborate Mexican onyx combination beer and soda water fountain. This fountain is an assurance of beer always being at the same cold temperature. The fountain itself is very beautiful and the idea of placing soda water fountains to draw beer as well as all soft drinks in saloons is original, to say the least. This fountain permits the public to partake of all first-class beverages in the soda water line such as phosphates, ginger ale, root beer, all the well-known brands of mineral waters, etc., in an very superior manner from the ordinary product found in all saloons heretofore. …

For those in need of healthy exercise splendidly equipped bowling alleys have been placed in the well-lighted and thoroughly ventilated basement. The alleys are the most modern known and are constructed in every way in accordance with the rules and regulations of the bowling world. Bowling parties at any time can make arrangements in advance for the exclusive use of the alleys. They will be in charge of a gamekeeper familiar with every phase of the different games. This method of harmless and invigorating sport will undoubtedly be greatly appreciated and patronized by Springfield citizens. …

With Mr. Lane’s usual reticence he refuses to inform us the exact outlay in refitting, but we are informed from reliable sources that it approximates about $30,000. The woodwork furnished by L.A. Becker & Co. (of Chicago – ed.) is estimated at about $10,000 and the rest of the modifications about $20,000.

If the choicest goods, prompt and skillful attention, and the assurance that this resort will always be free from any low surroundings or dissension are any augury of the future, then the most unquestioned success of this establishment may be safely predicted.

Harry Lane turned over operation of his new saloon to William H. McGetrick (whom the Register later called “very eccentric.”) Sometime after 1906, following a number of hassles with rival gamblers and city officials, Lane moved to California and went into real estate. He died wealthy. The building that formerly housed his saloon and gambling parlor burnt down in 1911.

*William “Billy” Shaw (1855-91) operated a restaurant and “sample room” at 415 E. Washington St. from 1881 until his death. Shaw’s wife, Anna Draude Shaw Hurd (1858-99), then ran the establishment until it was sold to Lane in 1898.

In Springfield from the 1870s into the 1910s, a “sample room” was usually another name for a saloon, although in some cases the phrase seems to have denoted a liquor store. Sample rooms often were associated with related businesses, such as Shaw’s restaurant or Dennis Nees’ grocery store at 11th and Jackson streets. Nees (1846-1915) advertised he operated “A Good Sample Room,” but added “Fresh Bread Always on Hand.”

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