The Pacific Garden was a classy joint that blurred the line between fine dining and hard drinking in the late 19th century.

Traveling salesman Charles Pfeiffer opened the Akron saloon about 1880 as Congress Billiard Parlors, an establishment at 118 N. Howard St. that served wine, whisky, ale, beer and imported cigars. “Open Day and Night. Sundays Excepted.”

Located near West Market Street, the 2½-story brick building shared quarters with Dr. Lucien G. Thorp’s dental parlor, where patients could buy a good set of teeth for $5, a better set of teeth for $8 and the best set of teeth — on vulcanized rubber — for $10.

The saloon developed a reputation for bizarre occurrences, including an infamous 1884 mauling by a black bear that was chained to a post in a back room. The 2-year-old animal, procured from Michigan as a pet, attacked patron James Cummins, 40, when he got too close. Akron major-leaguer Sam Wise, a shortstop for the Boston Red Caps, clubbed the beast until it let go.

Another night, intruders hauled away a nickel-plated cash register and smashed it in anger after finding that it contained only 70 cents. According to the Akron City Times, the broken parts “were scattered about promiscuously” on Canal Street.

In 1885, Pfeiffer rechristened the hall as the Pacific Garden, an unusually placid name for a place where whisky-fueled brawls frequently erupted. Pfeiffer offered a free, cold lunch every day to customers, a practice that evolved into an honest-to-gosh restaurant.

He expanded the menu to include such delicacies as lobsters, oysters, crabs, shrimp, bass and frog legs, and opened a dining room for ladies and gentlemen. Drinking customers used the swinging front door, but families had a separate entrance. Akron heavyweight boxer Gus Ruhlin was among the regulars.

The old pool hall became a favorite spot for banquets. Check out this fancy menu from an 1891 gathering: “Oysters on the Half Shell. Queen Olives. Slaw. Consomme En Tasse. Fillet of Sole in White Wine. Lettuce. French Dressing. Spring Lamb Chops. French Peas. Claret Punch. Roast Mallard Duck au Cresson. Cream Potatoes with Parsley. Shrimp Salad au Mayonnaise. Neapolitan Ice Cream. Chocolate Cream Cake. Malaga Grapes. Florida Oranges. Wines: Schlossberg. Hoch­heimer. French Coffee.”

Where could we order such fare today in Akron?

Business was so prosperous that Pfeiffer advertised for “six elderly women” to work in the kitchen, promising good wages and steady employment. The Pacific also attracted some brazen competition, the Atlantic Garden, an East Market Street saloon that billed itself as “The European Restaurant.” The Pacific retaliated by advertising as “The Only European Restaurant in the City.”

Pfeiffer remodeled the restaurant and installed $300 electric fans. The joke around town was that the Pacific Garden never had any flies because they all froze to death.

Just because the place was fancy didn’t mean that the brawls stopped. John Gehring and James McCormich engaged in a “lively saloon fight” on Feb. 21, 1891. It was 4 a.m.

“Gehring had entered the saloon and ordered supper for himself and a woman he had with him,” the Beacon Journal reported. “McCormich made some remark that caused Gehring to strike him. McCormich struck back and Denny Collins, in trying to separate them, hit another man who had stepped up in the meantime, and that precipitated a general row.”

The saloon was the setting of an early civil-rights case. James Lindar, a black man, filed a lawsuit against the business in 1892, alleging unfair discrimination after he was denied a seat. A Summit County jury deliberated only two minutes before awarding Lindar $1,000. After that, the Pacific was open to all.

For Thanksgiving 1892, Pfeiffer invited Akron Daily Democrat newsboys — of all creeds and colors — to a free meal of turkey, oysters and mince pie.

“Imagine 100 hustling, jostling, scrambling newsboys, from the ages of 5 to 12, chewing, biting and pushing to get in the doors, and you have an idea of the scene at Charley’s dining hall yesterday at 3 o’clock,” the newspaper reported. “But no one was slighted. All got their fill, and a newsboy never leaves the table until he gets it, either.”

In 1893, Pfeiffer sold his business to Marion brothers John S. Kesler and David W. Kesler, who pledged to keep the Pacific “up to the high standard it has always maintained.” They offered an introductory offer — a $1 meal ticket for 90 cents — and advertised: “Our prices are right, and we guarantee you will find the best quality of provender always used.”

At least two customers, Northfield postmaster Albert L. Bliss and Cleveland businessman Adam Johnson, took their last breaths at the Pacific. One fell dead after ordering a sandwich. The other keeled over a few bites into breakfast.

The incidents weren’t exactly good advertising, but the Kesler brothers continued to operate the Pacific until 1908.

Thanks to the renumbering of city streets, the address changed to 20-22 N. Howard St. Over the next decade, owners included Water C. Gorman, Martin Swing and Harry Ungerleider.

The saloon gave up all pretense of fine dining in 1918 when it was renamed the Akron Liquor House. But a year later, it gave up booze to become the evangelical Union City Mission and remained so for much of the ‘20s.

After the repeal of Prohibition, L.G. Sears and Pete Economou reopened the Pacific Garden two doors down in 1934, and it continued as the Pacific Cafe for decades. The original 1880 building served as the Hollywood Gardens (“The Night Club With That Harlem Atmosphere”) in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and got a makeover as the Nu Art Beauty Salon in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

By 1970, though, the former Pacific Garden was a vacant, derelict building. One by one, its aging neighbors tumbled on Howard Street during urban renewal. In April 1974, a next-door demolition job caused the southern wall to collapse. The city ordered the rest of the building to be razed.

So a few months later, the old saloon got smashed — just like some of its former clientele.

Mark J. Price is the author of the book Mafia Cop Killers in Akron: The Gang War Before Prohibition from The History Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.