Alexander's Lounge, 46 Sweeney
Since at least 1882, North Tonawandans have come to this address for entertainment, food, drink, and (in former times) to rent a room. It is hard to say how much, if any, of the building here today is "original." Niagara County parcel records date the current structure is built in 1938.
Early Years: The White Star Hotel
In 1882 Captain James Ennis is the proprietor of the White Star Hotel here. Photos in the early 20th Century show a much taller, 3-story building on the site. By 1905 the hotel has changed hands to William Phelps.
Canadian-born eccentric Philip Perew is running the White Star by September 1907. It is likely that some of the "liberties" now associated with the site were already being taken at this early date--Perew owns a dozen or so Goose Island houses of ill repute in his lifetime. Liquor and women was pretty much his business model (and questionable inventions, but that's another story.)
How eccentric is he? He keeps a "menagerie" of exotic animals with him at the hotel. The collection of poor souls is narrowly evacuted before a disastrous 1909 fire guts the building. Making the evacuation slightly easier is the fact that, as the Tonawanda News reports, "the wildcat and the Russian wolf had been removed to another place some weeks ago."
During Prohibition the White Star "Inn" is a recurring target of dry agents. In 1937 (immediately after his Goose Island establishments are shuttered by police) Perew accuses Chief Criminal Deputy Amedeo L. Coppola of shaking him down for $200 a month in bribes, and takes him to court in a trial that is a local sensation. Perew lives here until his death in 1946.
By 1950 the building is condemned as "unfit for human habitation," and the remaining lodgers are evicted.
Silver Sail: Saunders years
Josephine "Pammy" Saunders purchases the building from Perew.* A large investment in a shiny new restaurant in the basement is made, and the "Silver Sail Restaurant" is up and running. It is advertised in 1952 with Dorothy "Thompson" as proprietor. I am assured by a descendant that no monkey business was happening at 46 Sweeney in this era. (This photograph of John Saunders tending bar in front of a "No Dancing" sign seems to support this claim.) Josephine Saunders is granted a liquor license for the Silver Sail as late as 10/19/1965. She dies 4/29/1966.
Alexander's Lounge: Enter the Vergos (c. 1967)
Wild times return to the old haunt with the arrival of the Vergos brothers in our story: the club's namesake "Alex," and Peter. The first time their name appears in print in the Tonawanda News is May 1967 in an ad for a waitress and cook. An August 1969 melee causes brother-owners Alex G. and Peter G. Vergos to be charged by State Liquor Authority with "improper conduct" and "disorder"; In 1972 charges against Alex of sexual abuse of a "go-go dancer" are dropped. In 1979 another disastrous fire strikes the (3-story) building. Perhaps this fire is what results in the shorter building we know today?
Alexander G. Vergos dies January 21, 1994.
*This information is from a Saunder family member. Uncertain year - Dorothy Saunders was operating it by 1939.
The Log Cabin (Hotel), White Star Hotel owned by Capt. James Ennis, article (Ton News, 1897-10-08).pdf
Wonderfully descriptive article relates a chance encounter by two wheeling dandies with Capt. James Ennis and his "Log Cabin," "a famous resort on the…
Wife beater paid a fine, William Phelps White Star Hotel proprietor, article (Ton News, 1905-08-22).pdf
A Chicago sailor to blame, William Malloy, who "was removed to the pesthouse at Niagara Falls this morning. His case is medium in severity."