Golden City Days in years gone by: Rossland’s Golden Nugget Saloon and the Dancing Waiters
Once upon a time, I heard, Rossland had the Golden Nugget Saloon and its Dancing Waiters during Golden City Days. Inquiries led me to Jim Albo, who told me the story.
“It started in 1972. Rossland was going to be 75 years old, and the celebration was getting organized. They were looking for somebody to run a beer garden, and I belonged to the Knights of Columbus at that time, and we had a small group. I played in the pipe band, and when we were in Republic, Washington, which is old like Rossland, at one of their celebrations, they had an old-time saloon underneath one of the buildings, with a sawdust floor and a stage, and they had about six girls dancing, and a woman who taught them and played the piano – she was like Klondike Kate.
“Anyway, we were talking about this beer garden, and I said, “You know, Rossland used to have 49 saloons, why do we want to to have a beer garden? Let’s have an old-time saloon.” So they said, okay. I talked to my brother, who was then the City foreman, and the mayor, and mentioned that the old theatre was empty, on Washington street right beside the Thrift Store where there’s that empty lot now. It had been gutted – they had taken everything out. There was talk of turning it into apartments, but it had sat empty for quite a few years. There was some stuff being stored in there, and I said, you know, this has got a 40-foot ceiling, a roof and four walls, and that’s about all we need, so let’s put it in here. I made a few phone calls to the people who owned it, and they said, “Sure! But you’ll have to clean it out.” It had a lot of stuff from Super-Valu, next door in the building right across the alley. They had stored some coolers in there and I said, that’s not really a problem, we can use the coolers for our beer. We got some help and cleaned the place up, trucked in some sawdust from the mill down at Paterson, put it on the floor, and did some hustling with Cominco and that, and the stage was still there, but its floor was gone; there were just the joists. So we put plywood on it, covered the whole thing, and a guy from Cominco that I knew, Lindsay Cross, came up and did the lighting for us.
“The celebration was coming up, and we needed some help, so I got some of my cousins like Billy and Vince and Ron Holm and a few friends to bolster up our group, and that’s how we started. I had hired girls from Republic to come up and do the dancing for us. The day of the celebration, that morning, I got a phone call, and the girls said they were all sick and couldn’t come. Well, we had advertised that we were going to have dancers.
“So I said, well, okay, here’s the good news – it’s Saturday morning; the bad news is that the girls aren’t coming because they’re sick. The good news is that I learned this dance back when I was in Grade 13 – the can-can – as a joke, for Valentine’s Day. And I still remembered it, 13 years later. but we didn’t have a lot of time. Vince stepped forward, Billy said he’d do it, Ron said he’d do it, and we ran through it. We were opening at noon.
“When we opened the doors, in comes the crowd, and we’re full. It was unbelievable. When they started hollering that they wanted the dancers, I had to get on the stage and tell them that the girls couldn’t come, and that we were going to do the dancing.”
Q: What did you do for costumes?
“Well, we didn’t have the brocade vests then, but I had bought these bowler hats and string ties, and aprons, and vests that we found at the Thrift Store and the Light Opera. And that’s what we danced in, swinging our aprons instead of skirts. So that became known as the Dancing Waiters, in the Golden Nugget Saloon.
“We did our dance, and the crowd was unbelievable. They clapped, they shouted! They wanted an encore. So we did it again. Every hour or two, they’d start banging on the table, and we’d get up and dance for them.
“That night, we were absolutely full. We had seating for about 250. In those days you had to have a chair, in a bar – you had to sit down, you couldn’t stand. It was Liquor Board regulations. Anyway, we were sold out, the line-up was all the way down the street to Columbia Avenue. We said, if you have a chair, you can come in; otherwise, we can’t let you in. So what did they do? They went next door, in the alley, where Super-Valu was, and you know those plastic milk crates? They were stacked up there, and people would get one of those crates to sit on and we’d let them in. Others went home and brought back little dinette sets. We probably ended up with over 400 people in there.
“And they were just – it was wild. They were having a great time. At the end of the evening, we took everything down, cleaned up – we put all the milk crates back outside, stacked’em up … and sometime in the morning, this was Sunday, the coordinator said, “Can you guys run tonight?” We said, well, we can ask the rest of the guys, but we don’t have much liquor left. And he said, you leave that to me. This was in the old days – you’d never get away with that today.
“We’re open again on Sunday, and everybody wanted to come because they’d heard what it was like on Saturday. There was a band playing on the street, right outside SuperValu. And these guys said, “Is there any chance we could play in the saloon?” We said, sure, bring your instruments in; they came in and got up on the stage. That was our dance area, too, the stage. Every time the band took a break, the audience would start banging on the tables, and we’d get up and dance on the stage.
“That started it off. That was our first year. The next year, I said to the boys, we need to practice this dance, and get this thing down a lot better. We practiced. I talked to the girls in Republic, and they wanted to come that year, so we adjusted a few things, and when the celebration came up – on Saturday, we opened up after the Golden City Days parade, and by 1:30, we’re full. Must have had 400 people in there again.
“When the band took a break, the audience started banging on the tables again, so I got up and explained that we had the girls from Republic here. Nice-looking young ladies, and they got a good hand. But then the crowd, being pro-Rossland, started chanting, “We want the men, we want the men.” Well, we had practiced our dance, so we were right spot-on. And then they wanted an encore, so we did that. And the girls – they were supposed to be there overnight and the next day too. Well, the next time they got up and danced, they got a nice hand when they finished, but then the crowd started banging on the tables again, “We want the men, we want the men.” Well, unfortunately, I think, the girls got a bit miffed, and they decided to leave.
“Our dance was especially strenuous, because we did of lot of it on one leg. Well, we got it done, and the crowd was wild! And the next day, the same thing, absolutely full. That was the first two years, when we were in that old theatre. Unfortunately, in the winter of 1974, the old theatre building collapsed. The weight of the snow was too much for the roof. Thankfully, it went down at night, when there was nobody on the street, or in the theatre, or in the alley.”
Jim described how they were able to arrange to use the old Rossland Transportation Co-op building, located where the new Rossland branch of the Nelson and District Credit Union is now. “The Co-op people were very co-operative,” Jim commented.
The Saloon used the second floor, which had a ramp up to it and was used for storing some vehicles during the winter. It had a sturdy floor, and they were able to construct a stage, and borrow sections of maple flooring from the Cominco Arena in Trail. They were able to re-open the Golden Nugget Saloon and keep it going there during Golden City Days until 1996.
On a trip to Italy, Jim and his wife found beautiful brocade fabric for the waiters’ vests. Marg Ross, who lived in Rivervale, sewed all the vests and refused to take any payment for her work; it was her contribution to the celebration.
“It was just so much fun!” Jim exclaimed. “You never knew what might happen.”
Once, a tough-looking biker rode his big Harley right up the ramp, through the swinging doors, and into the Saloon, and parked it in front of the stage. “He was a real rough-looking customer, and we were a bit concerned. But he just sat down and enjoyed the show like everybody else.”
Another time, Phil Johnson rode his horse up the ramp and into the Saloon, and Jim reported that Phil and the horse both seemed to enjoy their visit.
During the era of streaking, a man came into the Saloon wearing a coat, which he flung off, and ran around the room naked except for his shoes. A woman who was smoking butted her cigarette on the streaker’s butt as he ran by, and by then he was being pursued, so he leapt out a window and landed on the roof of his own van, denting it severely, then got into it and drove off.
Q: Was there ever trouble?
Jim said trouble was rare, but once a brawl disrupted an evening. “The police were very supportive,” Jim said, “we called them and pointed out who had started the fracas. Once someone caused trouble at the Golden Nugget Saloon, they were blacklisted, and were never allowed to stay again.”
Once a customer thought he could use foul language, and was told that he had to clean it up or leave. “We didn’t want anyone made uncomfortable by someone’s bad language,” Jim explained. “There was a group of older people, in their seventies, who used to come up from Trail. They’d just sit there and enjoy a few drinks and maybe have a hamburger, and watch the show.”
Children used to ask what was going on up there in the Co-op building. The group decided to hold a “children’s hour” on Sunday mornings at 11:00 – the children were treated to hot dogs and pop, and when they had finished eating, the men would dance the can-can for them. Then the children would be invited onto the stage, and everyone would dance together to the chicken song, and the unicorn song. As they were leaving, they’d be given an ice cream treat. “Over the years, we probably had about 300 children and their parents each year,” Jim commented – “and that amounted to a lot of hot dogs, pop and ice cream!”
Jim said, “The dancers got the most publicity, but if it weren’t for all the others who helped, we couldn’t have done it.” He described the work before the celebration to set up the stage and the seating and arrange for food and beverages; and then to take it all down and clean it all up afterwards. The women who ran the kitchen were crucial to the effort: “They did a tremendous job. We couldn’t have done it at all without them.” Jim mentioned two in particular – Maureen Wallis and Bea Driscoll.
The men who helped and are not pictured above included Alf Albo, Spud Martin, Don Holmes, and Maurice Samuelson (who also danced), now deceased; and Primo Doratti and Bernie Fourt.
The Golden Nugget Saloon made money, which the group donated to the community in various ways. They donated funds for Golden City Days; they donated money to Mater Misericordiae hospital (in the building that is now Redmont condos), and to various other groups and needy individuals. Jim estimated that the group had donated over $100,000 over the years.
When the Co-op building was no longer available, the Golden Nugget Saloon had one last “season” during Golden City Days in 1997, in the Rossland Arena. After that, Jim explained, the men took stock of their ages, their knees, and the available venues, and decided that the Golden Nugget Saloon had had its day.
“I still miss doing that,” Jim said. “It was so much fun – everybody had a good time.” Then he chuckled. “You won’t want to publish this, but there was one time . . . Another of the guys and I decided we’d do the dancing dressed up as women one evening. So we got the dresses and the flounces, and the shoes and fish-net stockings, and wigs. I wasn’t going to shave off my beard, though, so that stayed.
“The two of us dressed as women were in the middle of the line-up, and we were dancing away and doing our high kicks when suddenly – uh-oh, I felt something give way. The panty hose ripped. And I got this feeling that I was showing something that shouldn’t be showing. I was able to adjust things when we turned around as part of the dance routine, but wow, people had noticed, all right! They were whistling and yelling and standing up on the tables and clapping . . . ”
Bill Profili was heard to comment, “Before that dance, I was known as the Mayor of Rossland. After it, I was known as Jim Albo’s cousin.”
That ended the dancing-in-drag experiment.
The Golden Nugget Saloon and its dancing waiters were a fine example of community generosity, co-operation and volunteerism, not to mention bending a few minor rules (not too many, just a few) to make good things happen.
Rossland’s Golden City Days are coming up soon: September 5th to 8th. We probably won’t see any dancing waiters, but there’s a lot of other fun to be had. See you there!