Jack London’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks. This January 12, 2012, would be the 136th anniversary of his birth in San Francisco, back in 1876 (the U.S. centennial, one may note).
There’s a basement bar here in Portland called the Jack London, downstairs from a venerable lounge on 4th Avenue known as the Rialto. (For many, many years -- until less than a decade ago, I believe -- the latter had a huge misspelled sign out front that identified it to passing drivers on 4th as the “Railto”; now that it has been corrected, I wish I had taken a photo of that.)
The Jack London Bar is not venerable; it opened only last June, although it took its name from an ancient, unlamented fleabag hotel at that location called the Jack London.
The bar has garnered decent Internet reviews for a mid-sized dance floor, laser lights, “makeout-friendly dark corners and couches,” and other nightclub amenities. But the management also has been collaborating with the Oregon Historical Society to host lectures on local history, culture, and celebrities.
Which is how I discovered the place: I dropped in on Nov. 8 to listen to a talk about Tom Burns, a Portland eccentric who owned a bookshop on West Burnside between 3rd and 4th avenues, and used to make speeches on street corners which got him repeatedly hauled in by the police for attacking city government and advocating socialism.
This experience was not unknown to the future author of The Call of the Wild and “To Build a Fire.” After a colorful youth that included long hours working in a cannery at age 13, making an illegal living as an oyster pirate a couple years later and then turning around and serving the law as an employee of the California Fish Patrol, serving on a ship to Japan at 17, getting busted for vagrancy in Buffalo and doing a month in a penitentiary after crossing the U.S. as a tramp, and bulling his way into UC Berkeley at 20, Jack London also made socialist speeches in public (in City Hill Park, Oakland) and got arrested for it.