The walls at Jack’s Place in Port Allen don’t need to talk. They already tell countless stories from the 95-year-old bar’s long history.
The pool room ceiling is 3 inches higher than the barroom, a reconstruction mishap from 1927. That was when draft horses moved the building one-quarter mile down Court Street so the Mississippi River levee could be built on the bar’s original location at the river’s edge.
And just at the end of the bar, where the clock used to hang on the wall, there’s a bullet still lodged in the shiplap. Decades ago, a customer arguing about the correct time decided to fix the clock with his revolver.
“There’s so much history. It’s thick,” said Jacob Saia, the great-grandson of the bar’s founder, as patrons crowded the bar for its first trivia night earlier this month.
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A gray wooden building on the corner of Court Street and South Jefferson Avenue in downtown Port Allen, Jack’s Place is a small neighborhood bar with a few gaming machines on the western wall and small windows along the ceiling allowing in just a bit of natural light.
Jack’s is one of the longest continually operated bars in the region. Jack Saia opened it as a restaurant in 1924 during Prohibition, when it may or may not have had a secret room in the back, where the storeroom is now.
“There’s no evidence that they did anything illegal,” Jacob Saia said with a laugh. “It was a restaurant. They served food and everything else and had the pool tables.”
Jack Saia ran it until he died in 1991. Then his son, Sam Saia, took over after retiring from Dow Chemical in Plaquemine, where he was one of the founding engineers. Sam Saia died in October at 89.
Before Sam Saia’s passing, his son and daughter-in-law, Jerry and Jill Saia, began taking over some management of the bar in the summer of 2018. While Jerry Saia still teaches at ITI Technical College, Jill Saia retired from her career as a teacher and administrator in East Baton Rouge Parish schools two years ago. Their son Jacob Saia, who works in the finance department for All Star Automotive during the day, was eager to help.
After Sam Saia died, they had a new bar built, pulled down old drywall and ripped up dated carpet and linoleum. They found a like-new pine ceiling long covered by white acoustic tiles, and they polished the original wrought-iron structure framing the shelves behind the bar.
“We knew we didn’t want to change it much,” said Jacob Saia. “That was the biggest fear when we started. It’s still Jack’s Place.”
They closed the bar for a month, and dedicated customers even came by after their day jobs to help. Jill Saia made pots of chili and fed the volunteers.
“It was a labor of love,” Jill Saia said. “People who liked to come here believed in what we were doing and wanted to redo it.”
Perhaps the largest change came after reopening earlier this year. The Saias decided to ban smoking inside the bar, a decision that rankled some longtime customers but pleased others.
Just before the trivia session began, three friends claimed a table at the edge of the barroom. While they have long lived in Port Allen, the trio did not frequent Jack’s until it became smoke-free.
“It was smelly,” said Beckey LeBlanc, whose father was a bartender at Jack’s and is featured in a grainy black-and-white photo next to the bar.
LeBlanc and her friends like the few changes to the neighborhood bar.
“They have done a very good job welcoming all ages,” said Mary Bennett, who said her mother danced at the bar in the 1940s. “Us old people, we’re gone long before the late shift.”
As the trivia session began, Jenny LeBlanc dunked a tea bag into a mug — a break from her regular Bud Light. She has been coming to Jack’s since she turned 21.
LeBlanc volunteered to paint and help renovate the place because the Saias are like her family.
“We definitely want to see it get better and grow,” she said. “It was our small town place, and it still is, but we wanted it to stay and grow.”
The Saia family wants to see it survive and thrive, too. Jill Saia has known that for almost 40 years, when she married into the family.
“You knew it was a family thing,” she said. “This is who you’re going to marry. This comes with it.”
102 S. Jefferson Ave., Port Allen
4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday; 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
(225) 344-5567; facebook.com/jacksplace102