The Troy Street Observer

May 23, 1954: “Rum-Saturated” Silver Dollar Bar Under Fire

On May 23, 1954, the Boston Licensing Board’s Mary Driscoll attacked the Silver Dollar Bar. Again. There was no denying the Silver Dollar was a bucket of blood, plain and simple. Lots of sailors and lots of fights. Cheap liquor and loud music 13 hours per day. But some of the music played at the Silver Dollar Bar, at Washington and Essex Streets, was pretty good, even if it was hard to hear it.

Photo of Harry Sher
Harry Sher: He owned the club when it booked jazz groups

Mary Driscoll and the Licensing Board weren’t interested in hearing the music. In May 1954, she opposed granting a liquor license to a place across the street from the “rum-saturated” Silver Dollar, a joint that with its neighbors Playland and Izzy Ort’s was already causing mayhem enough. She told the Daily Record: “What are the people going to think if a great big liquor place opens right across the street from a place which has always caused us lots of trouble? If I thought the Silver Dollar Bar would never open again, I’d welcome this place.” But it opened promptly at noon every day.

The Silver Dollar Bar was actually a relatively peaceful place prior to the outbreak of war and the influx of servicemen. The club sought notable headliners for its nightclub shows, the most notable (and notorious) being Evelyn Nesbit… yes, the Gibson Girl, the most photographed woman of her time, whose husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, murdered her lover, architect Stanford White. Nesbit, broke and in her mid-fifties, was working nightclubs in 1939 without much success.

But then came the jazz, and among the local jazzmen leading bands during the war and after were clarinetist Nick Jerret with Nat Pierce on piano, violinist Ray Perry, teen-age pianist George Wein, reed men Al Drootin and Sid Barbato, and trumpeter Leon Merian. He worked with the singer and guitarist Don Humbert, who wrote “Meet Me at the Silver Dollar Bar,” which, alas, is not on YouTube.

As far as the Boston Licensing Board was concerned, though, it was still nothing but trouble. That’s what the navy’s Shore Patrol thought too, and to save themselves some time, they arrived early and parked right out front on the weekends. The board denied the license for the place across the street, and must have been elated in 1955 when the Silver Dollar Bar was sold. Any relief was short-lived though, because the club returned to active duty as the Palace Bar, and it was as wild as ever, with Fat Man Robinson’s jump blues, and then rock and roll, providing the background music.

When the area morphed into the Combat Zone, the Palace became the notorious 2 O’Clock Lounge. When fire shut down the club for good in 1983, it was called Boston Bunnies. I wonder what Mary Driscoll would have made of that.

Fat Man Robinson provides the perfect music for reflecting on the rum-saturated Silver Dollar Bar.

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