Bill's Tavern

This building at 405 First Street that now houses Bill's Tavern was built in 1902. Before this structure was erected, this spot was previously the site of a wooden building that housed a general merchandise store. Built in an L-shaped configuration, this new building combined two separated business areas. The rear section housed a plumbing and hardware business, while the front section was occupied by a bank. By 1916 the two sections merged and become a billiards hall and saloon. When Washington State went dry in 1914, the saloon switched to served soft drinks instead of alcohol, but by the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the saloon had gone out of business and the building was just being used a storefront until it was purchased by Bill Lee, a Cheney local.


In 1940, Lee bought the vacant building and opened a tavern. Fittingly named Bill's Tavern, he furnished the inside with furniture and d├ęcor reminiscent of historic saloons. He also outfitted the interior with a jukebox and pool tables. William, or Bill Lee, first arrived in Cheney in 1933 and operated the tavern solo until 1947 when Francis Lee, his 26 year old son, was named a business partner. Together, father and son ran the tavern until Bill retired in 1957 and Francis took over the business entirely. In 1973, Francis' son, Dick joined the family business after a tour in the Navy and ten years later, took over the tavern but vowed to make only a couple of changes. "Oh, I want to get some pool tournaments going; create a little more activity" he said, "but it's been a good operation in the past."


Hopes that a fourth generation of Lee's would serve beer in Cheney were dashed when Dick's son decided not to take over the family business. 2006 was a sad year for the family because Dick was forced to sell the iconic tavern and end its 66 year legacy of being owned by the same family.


Dick cited the state's smoking ban as large reason since it cut his business in half and said that he could have rescued the business by starting to serve hard liquor, "but that wouldn't fit in with the beer-drinking atmosphere." Instead, he chose to sell the tavern for $190,000 to 29 year Josh Baldwin who hoped to bring in more students while retaining the "den-like" atmosphere for the tavern's old-timers. Since the tavern has changed hands, much has remained the same except for a few minor changes. The name was changed to Wild Bill's Longbar, coin operated pool tables were installed, and a false ceiling was torn out. The tavern has continued to thrive and remained an iconic part of Cheney's downtown. Baldwin, when asked whether the former owners would be considered honorary customers who would get free beer, smiled and said "I could do that for them."

Video

Changing of the Guard at Bill's Tavern
Hanson, Tim. "The Changing of the Guard at Bill's Tavern." Spokane Chronicle, April 28, 1983
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