How a mahogany bar from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair ended up in Alabama’s oldest saloon

Peerless Saloon
The stunning, one-of-a-kind mahogany bar in The Peerless Saloon & Grille has been in the joint since 1906. Photo via The Peerless Saloon & Grille on Facebook

Since 1899, the historic Peerless Saloon & Grille has been serving up delicious brews and bites to locals in Anniston, Alabama. But the defining centerpiece of the establishment, its gorgeous mahogany bar, is not originally from Anniston. Want to learn how it made its way to Alabama? Let’s start at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

1904 St. Louis World'S Fair
A breathtaking aerial view of construction taking place for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Photo via St. Louis Public Library Digital Collections

In 1904, St. Louis, Missouri was home to the international Louisiana Purchase Exposition—more commonly known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. More than 60 countries put together extravagant exhibits, spending millions of dollars and constructing nearly 1,500 buildings on the 1,200-acre fairground. The nearly 20 million visitors saw demonstrations of the age’s newest and most exciting technology breakthroughs, such as automobiles and the X-Ray machine. If you want a better sense of the scale of the 1940 St. Louis World’s Fair, I recommend you check out this article by The Atlantic for some incredible photos.

Vulcan
This stereoscopic photograph shows Vulcan displayed in the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Photo via Library of Congress

For Birminghamians, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair is a very special occasion. Before he sat atop Red Mountain in The Magic City, the Vulcan statue made his world-wide debut at the fair. The 56-foot statue, which depicts the Roman god of fire and metalworking, was created to represent Birmingham’s steel working prowess by Italian-born sculptor Giuseppe Moretti. In fact, Vulcan won the Grand Prize in the mineral department at the Fair!

After the fair, several cities competed to become the new home for Vulcan, including St. Louis, San Francisco and Portland. However, it was decided that Vulcan should return to his birthplace in Birmingham.

The Birmingham Connection

Vulcan
Vulcan awaiting reconstruction in Birmingham in the early 1900s. Photo via Vulcan Park & Museum

In February of 1905, Vulcan was dismantled in St. Louis and placed on a train for transport back to Birmingham. Along for the ride with Vulcan was another remnant from the Fair, bound for another destination in Alabama. The passenger was an ornate, mahogany bar bound for the new (at the time) Peerless Saloon in Anniston, Alabama.

Alabama’s Oldest Bar

Peerless Saloon
The historic Peerless Saloon & Grille in Anniston is Alabama’s oldest bar. Photo via The Peerless Saloon & Grille on Facebook

For 115 years, the mahogany bar has been the centerpiece of the historic Peerless Saloon & Grille in Anniston. Initially opened in 1899, the Peerless Saloon & Grille was formed under the ownership of a Robert E. Garner. The bar was famous for whiskey—Old Wildcat—a brand owned by Garner himself. For decades, the Peerless Saloon was a favorite hang for locals in the area.

However, The Peerless Saloon & Grille entered an era of neglect by the 1980s. In fact, at one point the building was within three months of being torn down. Luckily, the U.S. Department of the Interior added the Peerless to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, saving the historic saloon and its one-of-a-kind mahogany bar. Now, the Peerless is a popular joint for locals and visitors alike, with brews, bites and live music each week!

Want to learn more about Alabama’s oldest saloon? Make sure to plan a visit to The Peerless Saloon & Grille by visiting their website, Facebook or Instagram page!

Have you seen the mahogany bar at the Peerless Saloon? Be sure to tag us @thebamabuzz to share your photos!

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Nathan Watson
Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.
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