Nims Cafe, a hot spot

Brothers Vivian and Bert Nims ran cafés in Spokane for 30 years, starting in 1915. Their most prominent location was 118 N. Stevens St., beside the Old National Bank building. Nims Café was a 24-hour joint in the Levy Block that opened in 1922 at the height of Prohibition.

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Show Circa 1930
Image One Photo Archive/The Spokesman-Review Image Two Jesse Tinsley

Brothers Vivian and Bert Nims ran cafés in Spokane for 30 years, starting in 1915. Their most prominent location was 118 N. Stevens St., beside the Old National Bank building. Nims Café was a 24-hour joint in the Levy Block that opened in 1922 at the height of Prohibition. During the day it was popular with cops and office workers, but at night was known to serve gamblers, rumrunners and prostitutes. In 1932, a group of bootleggers spotted two suspected liquor informants driving by in the wee hours of the morning and gave chase. After their car was forced off the road, one informant, Percy Corkrum, sought refuge at Nims Café. The Spokane Daily Chronicle recounted that in the ensuing melee with police, bootlegger Paul Karrle, 37, whose alias was “Bohunk Whitey,” was thrown through Nims’ window and severely cut his hands. Perhaps coincidentally, Karrle was also a witness in graft charges against police officers who he said took bribes. The liquor informants escaped with their lives. In 1947, the wife of Nims cook Stewart Smith gave birth to baby Sylvia LaRayne, a “blue baby” whose life was ebbing away slowly as she was starved of oxygen. Her parents didn’t have $2,000 for a surgical procedure that could save her life. The Chronicle wrote a story about Sylvia, and dollar bills trickled into the café and the newspaper offices with notes like this one: “Dear Sylvia: With this small contribution may God see fit to grant you life.” Policemen started a Dollar for Sylvia Club. A Gold Star mother sent $10 with a note that read, “In memory of that ‘little boy of mine.’ ” Little Sylvia didn’t survive heart surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The baby fund had reached $3,500. Vivian and Bert added other businesses and cafes, including one in the City Ramp parking garage in 1929. They also built Nims Auto Court at 4412 E. Sprague Ave. in 1939, now the Park Lane Motel. Despite success in business, Vivian’s life had its share of trouble. In 1927, his son Merle, 20, was shot and killed as he tried to rob a store. In 1936, his wife, Hilda, divorced him and followed their two daughters, Betty and Ethel, to California where the girls started a vaudeville dance act. The brothers retired in 1945 and sold Nims to Monte Baertsch, who ran it until the 1960s. Vivian died in 1947, Bert in 1953. Nims Café became Phil’s Fine Foods in 1963. – Jesse Tinsley


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