THE WILD WILD West got a little less so this week when the Silver Saddle saloon closed its doors for good.
The Silver Saddle, on the southwest corner of Yewdall and Arch streets, was one of West Philadelphia's most notorious watering holes, quite a distinction in a town where local bars host most of the weekend shootouts.
Even measured against that standard, the Saddle's weekend clientele was something special. They gave new meaning to the term "shot-and-a-beer crowd."
This year alone, there were at least three shooting incidents just outside the Saddle. You'd have to go back to Miss Kitty's place on the old "Gunsmoke" show to find a taproom with a more quick-triggered clientele.
But folks in the neighborhood did not take a particular pride in this distinction. They had been endangered, disrespected and literally urinated on for years before they finally formed a posse this summer.
After a few public meetings, some organizing tips from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the intervention of the police and district attorney, the door was barred.
Also, some credit is due to an armed and dangerous drunk who recently fired just one shot too many.
"I witnessed that one," said Emory Speight, who led the campaign to close the bar. He lived close enough to experience the Saddle without leaving his bedroom.
"This fellow comes out of the bar about 1:30 in the morning hollering at the top of his lungs, threatening to go back inside and shoot the place up.
"I see him pull a gun and fire four or five shots in the air like from a semi-automatic. We called 911.
"There had been three shootings this year and a couple last year, including a homicide. That did it."
Before that, the D.A.'s Nuisance Task Force and 19th District commander Capt. Melvin Singleton had negotiated with Thomas Hannah, who owned the Saddle and three other nuisance bars in West Philly.
"He was a gentleman," recalled Stef Cella, from the Nuisance Task Force. "He tried to cooperate."
Hannah agreed to adopt a few changes that actually worked for a few weeks.
"But he just couldn't control the element the bar attracted," Singleton confirmed. "I looked at back records. There were complaints from two years ago.
"One of my off-duty officers was assaulted dropping off someone outside the place. There were three shootings since August. It was just a matter of time before someone got hurt or before a bullet missed its mark and hit someone in one of those houses."
It may be just a matter of time for the neighbors of the Corral, the Golden Spur and Cozy's, three other hot spots that Hannah owns in West Philly.
The Corral, on Market near 52nd, has been the scene of three shootings this year, including one fatality.
"All of his places have been on the mayor's list of nuisance bars," Singleton said of Hannah. "He knows that we're going after him on all of them.
"He agreed to close the [Silver Saddle] down after this last incident. But we were ready to file a 611."
Beth Grossman, chief of the Public Nuisance Task Force, said the "611" was a process under state law that allows neighbors who live within 500 feet of any nuisance bar to petition for its closing.
"It can be padlocked for up to a year," she said. "If you live within 500 feet of a place with a problem of violence, you can seek to close it within 30 days.
"Mr. Hannah understood the severity of the problem and he agreed to sell his liquor license to a new location. We don't want another bar there."
It may be too little too late for at least one other of Hannah's bars.
"I'm going to put the same pressure on him about the Corral," Singleton said. "We are going after these places to shut them down." *
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