Standing at the empty, wedge-shaped parcel of land where Ohio and Chicago streets meet, it is hard to imagine what the Old First Ward neighborhood looked like over 60 years ago. Any remnants of the homes and businesses that lined these streets have long been demolished, save the long-vacant E. & B. Holmes Machinery Co. Building. Six decades ago, these same streets bustled with activity as grain scoopers, steel workers, sailors and truck drivers frequented the neighborhood.
Ninety-six-year-old Julie Malloy, the last owner of the Harbor Inn – which stood at this wedge-shaped parcel – doesn’t have to imagine it. She watched it all from the kitchen of the tavern she owned with her late husband, Edward. And she can tell you that the success of the Harbor Inn – and its demise – was linked to the giant grain elevators and steel plants along the waterfront.
The Harbor Inn first opened as Patrick Kane’s Bar and Boarding House in 1869. It was one of several taverns in the neighborhood that were a part of the “saloon boss system,” a system that exploited workers – predominantly Irish immigrants – from the nearby grain elevators.
In this system, Great Lakes shippers agreed to allow saloon bosses to hire local dock workers, but those bosses only hired those who ate their food, drank their beer and lived in their flats above their bars. Saloon bosses collected their meager wages, subtracting their bills for food, drink and rent, leaving the grain scoopers in debt and desperate to escape their servitude.
Patrick Kane’s Bar and Boarding House withstood the unionization of local grain scoopers and, later, Prohibition. In 1872, a grocery store addition was built along Ohio Street. During Prohibition, the cramped one- and two-room flats above the bar were combined to create more spacious apartments.
In 1949, the tavern was purchased by Edward and Charlotte Salkey (Julie Malloy’s brother and sister-in-law) who rechristened it the Harbor Inn. They added a coffee shop to the building along Chicago Street and, in 1950, installed the lighthouse sign. The lighthouse was familiar to both residents and ship captains, who used it as a navigational aid when plying the waters of the Buffalo River.
In 1975, the Harbor Inn was sold to Edward and Julie Malloy, who added a dining room in the rear of the century-old building. Edward tended bar and Julie cooked. Julie’s cooking was so wildly popular – especially her T-bone steaks and stuffed cabbage rolls – that even the owners of a neighboring restaurant frequented the Harbor Inn.
Their success, however, was short-lived, thanks to the closing of the grain elevators and steel plants along the waterfront. The landmark restaurant was shuttered in 1995 and sold to Carl Paladino’s Ellicott Development Co. The building remained vacant until 2003, when it was unexpectedly demolished.
As Julie and her three children – Jerry, Judy and Bob – sat around the dining room table of her Williamsville home, reminiscing and poring over old photographs of the establishment, the love they share for the Harbor Inn is still evident after all these years.
Julie’s son, Jerry, who had an apartment above the bar, remains hopeful that the building will be rebuilt. As there is renewed interest along Ohio Street in recent years, perhaps a tavern that relied entirely on “location, location, location,” as Jerry called it, could be resurrected again, for those very same reasons.