The Mayfair Café at the corner of West Second Avenue and South Washington Street was torn down recently to create a parking lot.
The one-story structure was built in 1890, the year after Spokane’s great fire, and was first used as office space. The 200 block of Washington was a row of offices with tenants who sold insurance and investments.
The last tenant before the restaurant, in 1934, was a payday loan outfit. Mike “Mitch” Asan and partner John B. Perko renovated the space into a café and bar, with a wall separating the spaces. The Mayfair was a discount diner and a place to drink. The 1945 phone book called it a “beer parlor.” A 1955 Mayfair ad offered a meal of turkey or steak with soup, potatoes, salad, a roll and coffee for a dollar.
When the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition in 1933, Washington state organized the first liquor control board to oversee alcohol sales. People feared that legal liquor would lead to public drunkenness, domestic violence, and the corruption of minors and unmarried women. A bar’s license could be revoked if a venereal disease were traced back to the bar.
The new rules were designed to protect “the welfare, health, peace, morals, and safety of the people of the state.” Washington retained a monopoly on all liquor sales, and prices needed to be low enough to put moonshiners out of business. The activities in nightclubs and taverns were largely left to local governments.
World War II ended and hundreds of fraternal and veterans organizations had private bars where members could bring their own bottles, avoiding state and local oversight. The state suspected these private membership clubs, which looked a lot like resorts and bars, were selling alcohol directly to customers. In 1946, the Legislature, with subsequent court appeals, declared bars in private clubs illegal.
A citizens’ initiative allowing liquor by the drink in bars was approved in 1948. The state board was inundated with almost 1,000 applications for the new licenses in the first six weeks. The rules were stringent: no gambling, consumption must be hidden from view and licensees should be “clean, respectable, and conservative places of business.”
The Mayfair owners got one of the new Class H licenses. The Mayfair Café appended its name with “and Cocktail Lounge” in 1949.
Mitch Asan died in 1961, and the place was sold in 1963 to Robert C. Wells, who died in 1975.
The bar at the Mayfair was tied to some infamous crimes over the decades. In 1945, Harold Wayne Hollister tried to rob the Mayfair cashier at gunpoint, but while he was pocketing the money, the bartender threw a glass at the robber’s head and Hollister ran. Another patron tackled him in the street. Just a week before, Hollister had robbed a tavern in Portland, where he had killed the proprietor.
In 1986, a drifter named Gary Trimble left the Mayfair bar with Dorothy Burdette, whom he murdered and left in High Bridge Park. In 1989, Julius “Pee Wee” Johnson, 75, shot Charles Buck, 55, in the bar at the Mayfair. He described Buck as a racist bully who tormented him at a downtown apartment house.
A Spokesman-Review writer described the place in 1999: The wallpaper’s faded and torn. The seats at the counter are ripped. On a recent noon hour, there were no diners ordering the meatloaf or the hot roast beef sandwiches.
“It used to be the biggest, most happening place in Spokane,” said owner Roger Reiner, who took over in the late 1970s. “Yeah, I miss the good old days.”
– Jesse Tinsley
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