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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Spokane: Expansion plans helped land ‘chili parlor’ on the map for decades to come

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 5, 2021

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)

Bob’s Chili Parlor, 612 W. First Ave., was one of the most popular restaurants in the region – and it was set to get bigger.

Architects were drawing plans for a new $40,000 structure to house the expanded business.

“It is our intention to make it of the most up-to-date chili parlors on the West,” said H.L. Steenberg, a pioneer grocery man, who teamed up with Bob “Chili Bob” Cleary to fund the expansion.

Chili Bob had been selling chili at a tiny, roofed-over counter in an alleyway at the same site for the previous 16 years. People flocked there for his three varieties of chili (hot, medium and mild), and his equally famous hot tamales. He employed 11 people and shipped chili and tamales wholesale to Montana and to western Washington and Oregon.

The plan was to build the new building on the neighboring space occupied by the now-defunct Mecca Bar.

As it turned out, the new building made Bob’s Chili Parlor more popular. It remained in business until 1961, when it closed for good.

The building was razed in 1968 for a parking lot and parking garage.

From the Prohibition beat: James Smyth was a prominent Spokane plumbing contractor – but apparently he was also involved in a different, illicit business.

He was convicted on liquor charges after police raided his house and found in his cellar “high-grade liquors” in 477 bottles, one cask, one jug and 10 demijohns.

Smyth, in his defense, said that liquor was for his personal use and was obtained before Prohibition, and thus was not contraband.

The judge did not buy that story. He found him guilty and fined him $250.

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