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Bootlegging and Gambling Den Lotus Cardroom and Café May Close

A straight shot of Portland Prohibition history.

Lotus Cardroom and Cafe
Lotus Cardroom and Cafe
Facebook/Lotus Cardroom and Cafe

Once again, Portland will likely have to pour a little out for a fallen homie. On September 18, Next Portland announced that the entire block between SW 2nd and 3rd and Taylor is at the preapplication stage for demolition. On the chopping block: the longtime Portland establishment the Lotus Cardroom and Café and its nearly 110-year-old building—originally Hotel Albion.

The Lotus Cardroom and Café may be a nice, dark place to grab a burger or a lunchtime Manhattan, but its history is long and wonderfully sordid. Not only did the Lotus survive Prohibition, but it had the audacity to open during Prohibition's zenith in 1924. With its high ceilings, booth seats and cherrywood bar, it's easy to forget the café was once little more than a gathering place for bootleggers and card sharps, where the liquor was covert but the gambling was out in the open.

In 1927, Carl Seft and Chris "Frenchy" Vacillion were caught selling liquor to the Lotus and busted for violation of the Volstead Act. The then owner Peter Richen Jr. denied any involvement or knowledge of the incident, naturally. Then, in the 1970s, when drinks once again flowed freely, the Lotus got into trouble for illegal gambling. Social gambling was legalized a few years later, and the Lotus was the first establishment in Oregon to be granted a license.

Even though they weren't blessed with the Lotus' longevity, the rest of the block's buildings have similarly interesting Prohibition stories. Two doors down from the Lotus, the Malt Syrup and Supply Company kept selling and boldly advertising malt, hops, kegs, bottles and capping machines —everything one needed to brew beer at home. Like Frenchy Vacillion and Carl Seft, the company's owner was also busted for violating the Volstead Act.

One historical space will be spared from the proposed demolition: The Ancient Order of United Workmen Temple, which will be incorporated into the design of the new high-rise luxury hotel proposed to take its place. The A.O. of U.W. are a fraternal organization (read: secret society!) developed to provide moral and financial support after the Civil War, though now it mostly provides affordable life insurance to its members.

Stay tuned for updates, but if you get a chance over the next few months (demo dates aren't firm yet), go on into the Lotus for a last Manhattan, and say goodbye to what may become another Portland legend.

Heather Arndt Anderson, author of Portland: A Food Biography

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