Bucket of Blood Saloon

1903 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map image of saloon.
Sanborn Fire Insurance image of the Bucket of Blood Saloon (1903)
Library of Congress
In the waning years of the 19th century, when alcohol temperance was an increasingly intense whisper but before National Prohibition had yet to become the norm, King Alcohol reigned supreme. Saloons were a common sight throughout St. Paul, with varying-sized establishments found throughout the city.

Most were little more than nondescript structures that eventually faded into obscurity. However, the vague memory of one, the Bucket of Blood Saloon, has withstood the test of time. Found at 192 South Washington St., in the city's red-light district, only a short distance from Nina Clifford's brothel, its exterior was unremarkable – a simple two-level structure with a saloon on the main floor and living quarters above. But, it isn't remembered for its looks but rather its notorious reputation “under the hill.”

Saloons in the era often bore the names of their proprietors, so it's unlikely that "Bucket of Blood" was its formal title. However, this term was commonly adopted by establishments countrywide to convey the rough and tumble atmosphere within. Violence, whether through brawls involving fists, knives, firearms, or otherwise, was a frequent occurrence, and patrons could expect to see a bucket of blood spilled.

The neighborhood didn't help. Brothels, saloons, and violence thrived in the area. Bad people came down the hill from downtown to do bad things. Problems at the "Bucket of Blood," even ones significant enough to be reported in 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 Emmert Brewing Company and maltster at the Christopher Stahlmann Brewery,, 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 Chestnut address.

Gustav Kahlert took over ownership in 1899 but shut down in July 1902 after failing to buy a liquor license. City officials sued him 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.

Threats of violence even extended to Ruberto himself. In October 1902, Tony Ornolto, along with his wife, came into the bar to confront the saloon owner, who'd threatened to evict the couple from their rented flat. Ornolto drew his weapon, intent on shooting Ruberto. A bystander interceded. But during the struggle the gun went off, striking Ornolto's wife in the leg.

The next couple of years were much the same, fights involving weapons leading to serious injury. Ruberto, believing anyone who came through the doors of his saloon could be looking to harm him or his customers, began keeping weapons behind the bar for protection. He moved on in 1904, and according to the St. Paul city directory, the saloon was closed throughout 1905.

During that time period, the prevailing belief, 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 gave money to local police through monthly fines to keep them looking the other way.

The Wild West atmosphere of early St. Paul wouldn’t last. In subsequent years, while there were other owners of the saloon, and other issues, including a 1910 kidnapping, times were changing. The temperance movement gained momentum, and National Prohibition soon followed. Citizens tired of rampant criminality and demanded reform. By the 1930s, many buildings in the former red-light district were demolished

This work is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0


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