Who knows if it really was the longest bar in the world? Arthur L. Schimpf and August Reichle who owned and operated the Atlantic Saloon claimed it was. So did their customers in Butte, Montana, some of whom attested that the bar stretched from street to street, crossed an alley, reached 250 feet long and sometimes required the attentions of fifteen to twenty bartenders. Could Schimpf and Reichle have been right?
The partners came to Butte via different routes. August Reichle was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1862, one of six children of Andrew Reichle and his wife, Elizabeth. His father died when August was 12, likely forcing him to find early employment, possibly in a restaurant He subsequently immigrated to the United States in 1920, initially living in Pennsylvania. Nine years younger than Reichle, Arthur Schimpf was born in 1871 of German immigrant parents. His father, Adolph Schimpf, was a Cleveland, Ohio, saloonkeeper. The 1880 census found the Schimpf family there, including August’s two younger siblings.
By 1884, Reichle had moved west to Butte, a town founded as a mining camp in the late 1800s when silver, gold and later copper were discovered in the vicinity. The Anaconda Copper Mine, shown left, became the largest on the largest in North America. Butte became the most populous city for hundreds of miles around. The prospect for employment attracted mine workers from a wide range of European countries, the Middle East, Mexico, and even China. Some called Butte “Ireland’s Fifth Province.” Neighborhoods had names like Dublin Gulch and Corktown, and a quarter of the 50,000 residents were Irish – a higher percentage than any other city in America, including Boston.
A local historian explained its rowdy reputation: “The influx of miners gave Butte a reputation as a wide-open town where any vice was obtainable. The city's famous saloon and red-light district, called the "Line" or "The Copper Block", was centered on Mercury Street….The red-light district brought miners and other men from all over the region and was open until 1982 as one of the last such urban districts in the U.S.”
Into this milieu in 1884 stepped August Reichle, at age 24 opening a saloon and eatery in the Lizzie Block, corner of Park and Main Streets. He call it “The Sump.” His establishment had a definite mining character: The Lizzie was the name of a major mine in Butte, a sump is the bottom of a mine shaft, and his establishment was in the basement -- underground. A year later Schimpf arrived in Butte from Cleveland after a brief sojourn in Helena, Montana, where he apparently met his future wife. His early activities in Butte are not recorded. With his saloon heritage he may well have gone to work at “The Sump.”
Both men, it should be noted, married in 1891. Riechle’s bride was Eugenia Ritter, 26, a German immigrant who had been living in Helena with her family. The couple would go on to have two children. Schimpf, only 20 years old, married an 18-year-old girl named Bertha, born in Montana, also of German ancestry. In the 1900 census Schimpf’s family recorded four children, two boys and two girls.
In 1895 Schimpf and Reichle partnered to open a enormous new saloon, one they called the Atlantic, located at 56 West Park Street. Shown above, Park was a busy commercial avenue in Butte and a prime location for a drinking establishment. The partners advertised their establishment in the local press as providing “Choice Wines, Liquors and Cigars.” In a town filled with saloons, Schimpf & Reichle tried to make theirs stand out by creating “the longest bar in the world.” The fuzzy newspaper photo that introduced this post shows part of the structure. The Butte bar scene below may show another portion.
Observers attested to the extraordinary length of the Atlantic Saloon bar. A correspondent to Collier’s magazine described how the “bar bridged the alley and extended unbroken from street to street, the longest bar in the world.” Another Butte resident attested: “It ran from Park Street to Galina Street…The goddam thing must have been 250 feet long.” He added that the proprietors were very generous with their free lunches, including hot dogs, soup and even sample beers in three inch high glasses. Schimpf and Reichle also were lavish with giveaway items like mini-jugs.
In time and with growing wealth the partners could afford large homes. Hundreds of residences were erected on Butte's West Side during a building boom beginning about 1888 as the municipality progressed from a ramshackle mining camp of log cabins to an urban metropolis built from fortunes founded on mining. The Reichles lived at 1107 West Mercury Street, far from the red light district in Butte. In 1908 Schimpf bought a lot at 414 West Granite Street and built a house that still stands in Butte, part of the historic district. Unusual among many Victorian-style mansions, as shown below, it is a yellow Mission Style house with a stucco exterior, heavy square columns at the front and a distinctive roof pediment.
The partners ran the Atlantic saloon successfully for 23 years. When Montana voted to go dry on Dec. 31, 1918 — two years before National Prohibition — the Butte Evening News reported on the effects: “…Liquor cannot be legally procured in Montana for love or money, not even sacramental wine…Meantime a saloon in Butte is as good as a copper mine.” The paper went on to describe the intense business before the deadline occurring at the Atlantic Saloon and its acclaimed “longest bar in the world.” A score of sweating Atlantic bartenders were serving between 3,000 and 4,000 patrons a day, according to the Evening News. The paper observed: “A man must almost fight to get a foothold on the rail.”
Whatever the temporary spurt in business may have meant to Schimpf & Reichle, they were too wise not to know that it was the beginning of the end of their enterprise. After Montana went dry the two dissolved their partnership and went their separate ways. Schimpf initially relocated to Los Angeles but apparently not finding it to his liking, returned to Montana and built a home not far from Butte on Flathead Lake, shown below. He died there in March 1935 at the age of 64.
Reichle initially remained in Butte. The 1920 census found him there engaged in running a (dry) cafe and an ice and gas supply business. With him were Eugenia and three of his children. By the 1930 census, however, he had decamped to Los Angeles and was living there, apparently retired, with his wife and an unmarried daughter. According to press accounts, from time to time Reichle returned to Butte to visit friends. The 1940 census recorded him at his California home, age 78; Eugenia was still by his side. According to a kinsman (see comment below), he died in Los Angeles in October 1954 at the age of 92.
Was Schimpf & Reichle’s bar the world’s longest? Through the years bars all over the planet have made that claim. I have had a drink at the celebrated “Long Bar” of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, but it was not 250 feet in length. I am prepared to believe that with a reputed 15 to 20 bartenders serving customers behind a single counter stretching an entire block, the Atlantic saloon, at least in its time, may well have boasted the longest bar in America and possibly even the entire globe.