ST. PAUL, MN - In the waning years of the 19th century, when alcohol temperance was an increasingly intense whisper and full-on National Prohibition hadn't yet entered the country's psyche, King Alcohol reigned supreme. Saloons were a common sight in Saint Paul, with dozens of varying-sized establishments found in the city's downtown.
Most of the places were unassuming local "joints" that eventually disappeared into history. However, the vague memory of one seems to have withstood the test of time, the "Bucket of Blood" Saloon. Jammed between the rough-and-tumble-docks of the city's Upper Levee and its downtown proper, stories of the saloon have survived history almost entirely because of its reputation.
It was located at 192 (or 193) S Washington in part of the city's red-light district. It was only a short walking distance from Nina Clifford's brothel. The building was nothing special, little more than a simple two-level structure, with a saloon on the main floor and living quarters on the upper level.
The saloon isn't remembered for its looks, but rather its infamy.
Saloons of the day were often named after the owners (or owners), so "Bucket of Blood" probably wasn't its actual name. It was a moniker used by businesses nationwide to describe their customers' experience. On any given day, due to fights – be it by fist, knife, gun, or other – one could expect to see a "bucket of blood" spilled.
The neighborhood didn't help. Brothels, bordellos, and saloons made up a large part of the businesses in the area. Bad people came down the hill from downtown to do bad things. Problems at the "Bucket of Blood," even the ones that were significant enough to involve the local newspaper, happened often.
It didn't begin that way. Blasius Bleisang, the saloon's first owner of significance, managed to run the saloon for years without issue. In 1893 the former brewmaster at the Emmert Brewing Company became a bartender for his brother's bar at nearby 222 Chestnut.
The next owner offered the first taste of what was to come. Frank S. Courtright is listed as the "Bucket of Blood" owner for 1894. In 1895, he and his wife Alice were accused of stealing money from a client of their brothel at 223 Chestnut. Henry Piers became the saloon's new owner, Courtright went on to tend bar at the address on Chestnut.
Gustav Kahlert took over ownership in 1899 but was forced to close in July 1900 after failing to buy a liquor license. City officials sued him in 1901, and Kahlert was forced to buy a prorated license for the period he was in business without it.
The saloon truly became a "bucket of blood" in 1902, under the ownership of Carmine Ruberto. Where local papers previously said very little about the goings-on at the saloon, events now became a mainstay on local pages. In one year, Ruberto's establishment had to deal with increased bouts of public drunkenness, two brothers stabbing each other in a brawl, at least one shooting, and more.
The next couple of years were much the same, fights involving weapons leading to serious injury. Ruberto, believing anyone that came through the doors of his saloon could be looking to harm him or his customers, began keeping guns behind the bar for protection. From that point, Ruberto seemed to be looking for a way to get out.
He moved on in 1904, and according to the Saint Paul city directory, the saloon was closed throughout 1905.
The prevailing belief for the year the saloon was closed, alleged by a descendant of Ruberto's, was that Annie O'Connor – wife of police Chief John O'Connor, ran a brothel at the location. Like many other business owners in the district (and beyond), she slipped money to local police to keep them looking the "other way."
There were other owners and other issues (including a kidnapping), but by now, the whisper of temperance was growing into a full-blown scream, and National Prohibition was just around the corner. Furthermore, Saint Paul eventually grew tired of its reputation as an underworld haven and started cleaning up the city's criminal element.
Today, the city's late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century red light district is no more. The Science Museum parking lot and exterior grounds now stand where the saloons and brothels of the neighborhood once stood. Any physical reminder of what once was is now long gone.
- Boardman, Teresa. "Madam to the Saintly City." St. Paul Real Estate Blog. Last modified June 6, 2009. https://www.stpaulrealestateblog.com/2009/06/madam-to-the-saintly-city.html.
- Brueggeman, Gary J. "St. Paul's Historic Family Breweries." St. Paul's Historic Family Breweries. https://www.mbaa.com/districts/stPaulMpls/about/Pages/District-Memories.aspx.
- The Duluth Herald. "Kidnaped Children Found With Italian Over St. Paul Saloon." November 4, 1910, 1.
- Maccabee, Paul. John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks' Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936. 1995.
- The Minneapolis Journal. "Name Holds Good." May 28, 1906, 7.
- The Minneapolis Journal. "Shot Wife by Mistake." October 20, 1902, 7.
- "Saint Paul City Directories." Saint Paul Public Library. https://box2.nmtvault.com/StPaul/jsp/browse.jsp.
- The Saint Paul Globe. "Italian Brothers in a Cutting Afray." August 24, 1902, 11.
The Saint Paul Globe. "Sabbatina Regiena Uses Razor in Fight." May 18, 1903, 2.
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