Last Sunday night was the final closing of the Bulldog Tavern on North Hamilton Street on the edge of the Gonzaga University campus. The place was quiet. The death of a dog makes people (customers) sad.
Only three taps of the dozen were hooked up to kegs. And some of them went dry before the evening was over. There was no food available for sale. I had to cross the street to buy a hot dog at the gas station. Things were being taken down from the walls. It seemed like stealing jewelry off a corpse.
Several people sat at the bar and talked of glorious events that had occurred at The Bulldog in olden times. Most of these folks were not speaking to anyone in particular, they looked off into the distance and uttered Bulldog Tavern memories, e.g., birthday parties, Kennel Club gatherings, new sweethearts met, and drunken evenings that can never be matched. The storyteller would often end his/her recollection by shaking their head slowly and heaving a windy sigh.
The Bulldog Tavern had operated on Hamilton Street for more than 60 years. Jack and Dan’s Bar, across the street, had been in business under one name (Joey August’s) or another, for as long or longer. Over the years, lots of traffic went back and forth between the two bars on weekend nights when school was in session. A lot of collegiate livers have been damaged in both places.
Many of us baby boomers who grew up in Spokane believed that the two taverns were built first and then the GU campus was later located nearby so that the students and faculty could have access to storied drinking institutions.
Several former Bulldog Tavern employees showed up at the closing night. They came in for one last Bulldog beer. Kelly, who is the bartender at the Bon Bon, the new trendy cocktail lounge in the Garland Theater building, sat up at the bar. She declared that she got her start in the biz working at the Bulldog, it was her first job in a saloon. “It’s a shame to see the place shut down, I earned my chops in these walls.” I’ve seen Kelly in action; she can carry the Garland bar on her back by herself, even when it’s full of thirsty patrons.
Steve, the “Last Bulldog Bartender,” poured each drink with his usual care and warmth. He seemed unflappable. When asked about his future, Steve answered coolly, “I don’t know where I’m gonna go or what I’m gonna do.” And he meant it.
A philosophical customer named Dwight observed, “When one bar closes, two more open up somewhere in the world.” Powerful words of comfort to all the mourners present at that sad event.