A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from October 19, 2012
Last Chance Saloon (First and Last Chance Saloon)

“Last Chance Saloon” has been the name of many drinking and eating places in the United States for over 150 years. The First and Last Chance Saloon was opened by Noel Burton in Fort Town (Fort Worth, Texas) in 1856. According to Julia Garrett’s Fort Worth: A Frontier Triumph (1996):
“Noel Burton opened Fort Town’s first saloon in 1856 — First and Last Chance Saloon. This was a literally correct trade name, for it did not matter from which direction one entered the town it was the first and only chance a fellow had to buy Robertson County Kentucky whiskey, local moonshine, or peach brandy.”
“Last Chance Saloon” became popularly used in British English since the 1990s. The modern meaning doesn’t necessarily involve drinking, but reflects a “last chance” or “last opportunity” to have success.
Wikipedia: Last Chance Saloon
Last Chance Saloon was a popular name of a type of bar in the United States which began to appear in the 19th century as an early expression of border economics. Saloons situated near areas where alcohol was not easily obtainable frequently took the name as a literal indication to customers that this was their final opportunity to imbibe before progressing to an area where obtaining, selling or drinking alcoholic drinks was prohibited. The phrase “last chance saloon” also has common British metaphorical use, based upon this historical context.
A lot of “last chances”
While the term refers to actual places that existed, it does not refer to a singular place. Many saloons on the border of dry areas incorporated the phrase “last chance” into their name. Of the many saloons so named, two have found particular notoriety, to the extent that they may be sometimes be referred to today with a definite article, as in “The Last Chance Saloon”.
The first is one in Caldwell, Kansas. Dating from 1869, it was the last place travellers could legally buy liquor before moving into Indian territory, where alcohol was banned. It gained prominence during an incident in 1874, when a posse from Caldwell burned down the building, after erroneously believing that the objects of their search were inside. Because of this fire, it does not exist today, but the building’s site is currently marked by the State of Kansas as a place of historical interest.
The second is the “Heinold’s First and Last Chance” in Oakland, California. It was opened in 1883. Located on the docks of Oakland, it would have been the last chance for drinkers to imbibe before falling under the jurisdiction of their boat’s captain.
As a metaphor
General use

In everyday speech, by British speakers of English, the term has been adopted to describe a situation beyond which hope or good fortune will greatly diminish.
Edward Stephenson “E.S.” Terrell
Birth: May 24, 1812
Maury County
Tennessee, USA
Death: Nov. 1, 1905
Young County
Texas, USA
Ed Terrell returned to Kentucky, but returned to Texas when Fort Worth was established by the US Army on June 1849. Ed Terrell was the owner of the First and Last Chance Saloon in Fort Worth that he purchased in 1856 from Noel Burton. The “saloon” was more of a one-room shack at Fort Town. Ed S. Terrell lived at various times in Tarrant County, serving as the first Marshall of Fort Worth in the municipal election of 1873.
27 January 1858, Nevada Democrat (Nevada City, CA), Delinquent Tax List,” pg. 4, col. 5:
Jeffreys, James—bar fixtures in Last Chance saloon also dwelling house and lot on old Wash’ton road.
14 April 1860, The Hydraulic Press, (North San Juan, CA), pg. 2, col. 5:
Sam. Abbey and Geo. Collodi excite vivacity by their invitations to bibacity in an advertisement under the head of “First and Last Chance Saloon.”
Chronicling America
27 January 1871, Knoxville (TN) Daily Chronicle, pg. 1:
Sad Accident.
Mr. Harry Gardner, of this place, formerly proprietor of the Last Chance saloon, on Gay street, came to his death a few days since, near Nashville, by falling from a bridge on which he was engaged as a workman.
26 April 1871, Evening Bulletin (San Francisco, CA), pg. 1, col. 8:
GLASS VALLEY, April 25th.—This morning, it was discovered that John George Hentahler and his wife, who keep the “Last Chance” saloon, on Mill street, wereboth dead in their house, death being caused by violence.
19 January 1878, Dallas (TX) Weekly Herald,  “Drunk and Desperate,” pg. 3, col. 2:
At a late hour last night Marshal Morton, while passing the Last Chance Saloon, on Main street, hearing a disturbance in the place entered and found a young man named Swaggart drunk, and flourishing a pistol.
Google Books
December 1883, Wallace’s Monthly, “Among the Cowboys,” pg. 813, col. 1:
After a running walk of five or six miles, I came to a country post-office, and there mailed a letter to my late employer, in which I informed him that the pony I had been using could be found hitched to the rack in front of the Last Chance saloon.
—G. Nirps, in Arkansaw Traveler.
Google Books
June 1892, Scribner’s Magazine, “Cattle-Trails of the Prairies” by Charles Moreau Harger, pg. 734:
Coming into Kansas near Caldwell, the course was a little east of north, crossing the Arkansas near Wichita. Here was the famous “First and Last Chance” saloon, with its sign-board facing two ways to attract the cow-boys coming up across the Territory and those returning from market.
Google Books
August 1894, Outing, “Gypsy Camping in Arkansas” by Laura S. La Mance, pg. 338, col. 1:
The inside square was filled with wagons, buggies, etc., and as we looked about we discovered that one end of the stockade was a frame building with a big sign which read on one side FIRST CHANCE SALOON, and LAST CHANCE SALOON on the other.
Google News Archive
10 January 1896, The Evening Record (Windsor, Ontario), “A Genteel Affair,” pg. 7, col. 3:
Jack had put up at the Last Chance Saloon, written his name on the Ace of Spades, and sent a messenger over to the Bald Eagle’s Roost to say to Jim: ...
Google Books
Commemorative Historical and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio:
Its Past and Present

Chicago, IL: J. H. Beers & Co.
Pg. 816:
...while the “Last Chance” saloon was built for George Cleugh in 1888. Fire destroyed (Pg. 817—ed.) the Van Buskirk concern in 1887, the Richardson building in 1892, and the ‘Last Chance” in 1888.
OCLC WorldCat record
John Heinold and his First and Last Chance
Author: George Heinold
Publisher: [S.l. : G. Heinold], 1936
Edition/Format:   Book : English
Google Books
20 January 1961, Reading (PA) Eagle, “Robb’s Corner” by Inez Robb, pg. 6, col. 5:
“The Democrats are going to read the news out of Washington like a parched man at a rain barrel and the Republicans are going to hang onto every word like a feller in the Last Chance Saloon just before the advent of prohibition.”
OCLC WorldCat record
Johnny Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon
Author: Otha Donner Wearin
Publisher: [Hastings, Iowa : O.D. Wearin], ©1974.
Edition/Format:   Book : Biography : English
Google Books
To the West in 1894 : travel journal of Dr. James Douglass English of Worthington, Indiana
By James Douglass English
Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society
Pg. 8:
Just before we crossed the river we visited the noted First and Last Chance Saloon. It stood on the bank and had two fronts, each of which bore a sign painted in large black letters. The river front sign read, “The First Chance Saloon,” meaning that here was the first chance to get a drink after leaving the Indian territory. The sign at the opposite end read “The Last Chance Saloon,” meaning this was the last chance to get a drink before entering the dry Indian territory. No liquor was permitted on the Indian reservation, not even a tourist’s pocket flask.
Google News Archive
25 February 1984, The Telegraph (Nashua, NH), “Democratic contenders meet at ‘Last Chance Saloon’” by David Espo (AP), pg. 2, col. 4:
Udall, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidential nomination in 1976 and considered a race this time, said the event was the “Last Chance Saloon” for the contenders before the New Hampshire primary, and he lived up to his reputation as one of the party’s wittiest speakers.
OCLC WorldCat record
Showdown at the last chance saloon
Author: B Hagerty
Edition/Format:   Article : English
Publication: British Journalism Review, v3 n3 (19920101): 26-29
Database: CrossRef
OCLC WorldCat record
Last drinks at the Last Chance Saloon?: Press self-regulation in the U.K.
Author: B Naylor
Publisher: Melbourne : [Reviews Pty. Ltd., 1927-
Edition/Format:   Article : English
Publication: Law Institute journal : the official organ of the Law Institute of Victoria. 68, no. 12, (1994): 1180
Database: ArticleFirst
OCLC WorldCat record
Last chance saloon: The NCC report on the SCB
Author: R Smith
Publisher: London : Butterworth, [1965-
Edition/Format:   Article : English
Publication: The New law journal. no. 6676, (1994): 1741
Database: ArticleFirst
OCLC WorldCat record
Auditors’ liability: in the last chance saloon . Self-assessment: not quite a crock of gold
Publisher: [London : Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors], 1938-
Edition/Format:   Article : English
Publication: Accountancy. 117, no. 1233, (1996): 30
Database: ArticleFirst
Google Books
Fort Worth:
A Frontier Triumph

By Julia Garrett
Ft. Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press
Pg. 137:
Noel Burton opened Fort Town’s first saloon in 1856 — First and Last Chance Saloon. This was a literally correct trade name, for it did not matter from which direction one entered the town it was the first and only chance a fellow had to buy Robertson County Kentucky whiskey, local moonshine, or peach brandy.
OCLC WorldCat record
Last Chance Saloon
Author: Marian Keyes
Publisher: New York : William Morrow, [2001], ©1999.
Edition/Format:   Book : Fiction : English : 1st ed
“Tara, Katherine, and Fintan have been friends since the days when leg warmers were cool,” and as they enter their thirties, they realize that they’re seated in the “last chance saloon.”—Jackedt.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Friday, October 19, 2012 • Permalink

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