February 21, 1996 in Nation/World

Tavern Fans Hit By Fire, Rain Just Days After Tragic Fish Bar Blaze, Damage Found At Murray Bar

By The Spokesman-Review
 

First The Fish Bar, now this? Only days after the distinctive bar - shaped like a giant fish - was destroyed by fire here, owners of another local landmark have bad news.

The Bedroom Gold Mine, a Murray tourist attraction, was badly damaged by recent flooding. The mine shaft is filled with mud, water and debris, and the owners fear the tunnels have collapsed.

“Yesterday was the first day I looked at it. It just makes me sick,” Leila Grebil, mine co-owner, said Tuesday.

Flooding also damaged the foundation of the 112-year-old Bedroom Gold Mine Bar, which sits atop the mine.

“The floor tilted before, but not so bad,” said Grebil, co-owner of both the bar and mine.

Murray residents pitched in to help clear mud from the flooded bar, which will stay open.

But people were less enthusiastic about mucking out the mine shaft. Grebil said the mine will be closed indefinitely.

Thousands of people have visited the mine, started in 1967 when Grebil’s uncle, Chris Christopherson, took a chain saw to the floor of a bedroom in his downtown bar.

“We didn’t have no use for that bedroom anyway,” said Christopherson, now 85 and still living nearby.

Some people laughed as Christopherson dug down 15, 20, then 25 feet. They stopped laughing when he hit 30 feet and emerged from the hole with an 8-ounce, palm-sized nugget. A photo of it hangs on the bar wall.

Christopherson shoveled out his mine, foot by foot, carrying out the gravel in 5-gallon buckets. The four tunnels total about 350 feet. No one has mined the shafts in years, although Leila’s husband, Frank Grebil, occasionally shoveled loose some dirt so tourists could pan for gold.

As for The Fish Bar, fans of the quirky watering hole near Wolf Lodge Bay east of Coeur d’Alene have organized a memorial service at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gibb’s Tavern in Coeur d’Alene.

“We’re having a wake for The Fish,” said P.J. Smith, a bartender at Gibb’s. “It’s a loss of part of our history.”

Many apparently agree. Cars of rubberneckers stopped by the charred ruins Tuesday, with some people leaning out car windows to take pictures.

Darrel Engan of Post Falls, recalled coming to the Fish every year for the annual motorcycle parts swap.

“I think they should make it like a turtle next time,” Engan said. “They could fit more people in there that way.”

Souvenir hunters have scavenged half-burned Fish T-shirts, barstools and soot-blackened beer bottles. Some even took home some of the Fish’s roofing-shingle scales.

Theresa Nelson and her mother, Ann Roberts, ran the bar. They said Tuesday that they’re not sure whether they’ll rebuild. The county assessor valued the building at only $18,000, but Kootenai Fire Chief Don Donart estimated it would take $120,000 to $150,000 to rebuild The Fish.

Donart said cause of the blaze still isn’t certain, but Nelson said she believes it was heat tape around kitchen sink pipes. Fire officials say the blaze started in the Fish’s tail, where the kitchen is.

The Fish Bar was built in 1932, the design apparently stemming from the chance arrival of a local man with a couple of fresh-caught fish. The type of fish is a subject of some debate, with some claiming it’s a bass, others a kokanee, and yet others a carp.

The Fish was built as a bar, with a steady clientele of travelers passing by on what was then the only road to Spokane.

“You could go through the mouth and get a beer,” said Roberts. “They had slot machines to glory.”

Later, new owners built “Mr. Jim’s” brothel in an adjacent building.

But when Interstate 90 bypassed The Fish, business declined. Finally, the bar closed. Nelson and Roberts reopened the bar 12 years ago.

“There’s not many old honky-tonks left,” said Roberts. “We can go to Coeur d’Alene nice places all the time. But at those honky-tonks, you can go and let your hair down.”

“It’s just a great place,” she said, “and I’ll tell you what, we’ve got an empty place in our hearts.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

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