At the Malamute Saloon
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.
(from “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” by Robert Service)
This is a drawing of the Malemute Saloon, located at Ester Gold Camp in Ester Alaska. Ester Gold Camp was a support facility for gold dredges operated in the Ester area by the Fairbanks Exploration Company. After the dredges closed down, the camp was sold and the new owners turned the property into a resort. One of the camp buildings (believed to date back to 1906) was converted into the saloon.
Half of the bar counter from the Royal Alexandria hotel in Dawson City was installed in the saloon and the other half was stored at another location. This was a wise decision. When the Malemute burned down in 1969, the owners were able to rebuild, install the other half of the bar counter, and be back in business as good as ever.
The Malemute is well-known for its sawdust-covered floor, period décor, Robert Service poetry and lively entertainment. Contrary to popular myth, however, the saloon has no association with Robert Service or his poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” The closest association is the bar counter in the saloon, which, as I stated earlier, came from Dawson City.
Service also hailed from Dawson City for a time, but even then, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was written before Service ever set foot there. Service worked for the Bank of Canada and his first posting in the Yukon Territory was at Whitehorse in 1904.
Whitehorse was where Service first listened to the sourdoughs’ stories that gave him ideas for his poetry. “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was written in 1906 and first printed in Service’s book, “Songs of a Sourdough.” The book was published in 1907, one year before Service moved to Dawson City. And as far as I can tell, there is no evidence that Service ever visited Ester or Fairbanks.