The Bank Cafe

The dawning of the twentieth century saw the political clamor for more services for the western mill villages in Warwick intensify into a demand for separation.  On March 14, 1913, Governor Aram Pothier signed a bill into law which divided Warwick by taking the third, fourth and fifth representative districts to make West Warwick a separate town.  Pawtuxet, of course, remained in the town of Warwick and became an important part in the development of Warwick’s shore resorts and suburban lifestyle.

During World War I, Pawtuxet residents had high hopes for a much better world and hoped this was truly “the war to end all wars.”  Unfortunately, the enthusiasm and patriotism once felt by Rhode Islanders turned to bitter cynicism by the 1920's.  The poor foreign policies of President Warren G. Harding's administration, coupled with the failure of Rhode Island manufacturers to improve and update their holdings, saw the beginning of the end of the once predominant textile industry along the Pawtuxet River.


In addition, many residents were stunned by the passage of the 18th Amendment in January of 1919, which prohibited "the manufacture, sale or transportation" of intoxicating beverages.  There was disbelief, disappointment and a sense of being deprived of a liberty of conscience and free will.   Warwick never did become "dry" in reality, and it would appear that if all 1520 federal agents hired to enforce the Volstead Act were stationed in the Pawtuxet Valley, the flow of liquor would still have continued uninhibited.  Warwick, as many other cities and towns in Rhode Island, became infamous for smuggling and bootlegging.  In addition, Warwick, with its many speakeasies in Oakland Beach, Pawtuxet, and Apponaug, gained the reputation of being a "wide-open" town.  As might well be expected, the 18th amendment gave organized crime a foothold in Warwick. 

One of the alleged “speakeasies” was Pawtuxet’s Bank Café.  This early 19th century building is one of the village’s most recognizable landmarks. Originally, the building came into existence in 1815. Its purpose was to provide housing for a bank to help finance the textile empire of the Rhodes brothers.  The structure was a two story, brick building large enough to house the new financial institution and with enough space to allow for rental or later growth. The bank occupied the ground floor, and the second story was rented to the Pawtuxet Academy, a school for girls. A special vault, with thick brick walls and a half inch sheet iron door, was built on the ground floor to protect the bank's assets.

For a short time, after the bank was removed to Providence, the building remained vacant until George W. Carr, a surgeon, saw the possibility of making it into a private residence.  Dr. Carr, who served with the 2nd R.I. volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, did some remodeling. He is given credit for adding a mansard roof, bracketed eaves, cornices, and a veranda, giving it its present Victorian Era look.

Tinker’s restaurant

In 1874, James Tinker assumed ownership. Tinker used the first floor of the building as a restaurant.  From that time it has been called the Bank Café.  James Tinker has been given credit for introducing “jonnycakes” to his patrons as part of the menu.   Until the 1980s, the Bank Cafe had been operating as a restaurant almost continuously for 109 years, making it one of the oldest eating establishments in the United States.

In the 1960s, Frank and Pauline LaCasio acquired the restaurant and operated it for the next 19 years.  With a keen sense of the past, the LaCasios displayed some of the original banknotes on the walls as well as other mementoes of Pawtuxet’s long and colorful history.  For years, patrons of the café could avail themselves of a bit of history in a 19th century atmosphere as well as enjoying the excellent food.   The Pawtuxet Bank Café has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  From its beginnings as a bank it has witnessed a great deal of what has happened in the village in its nearly too hundred years of existence.  It survived the high winds of the Gale of 1815 in its first year of existence and has remained intact during many other storms, both natural and political.  Pawtuxet Bank Café patrons brought mixed emotions into the building at the time of the Dorr Rebellion in the 1840s and the Democratic takeover under Theodore Francis Green in the 1930s.  It remained steady through the anti-Masonic movement of the early 19th century and the Prohibition Era with it stories of gangsters and rumrunners. 

In 1984, one of the most talked about topics in the village was the fate of the Bank Café, when the LaCasios decided to place the building on the market. Many Pawtuxet residents had feared that it would be converted into condominiums or perhaps razed to make room for some type of housing.   The building has changed hands a number of times since then and even today there is hope that the present owners will remodel the building and open a new restaurant there to carry on the tradition of the Bank Café.

1. At one time, the Pawtuxet Bank building, later known as the Bank Café, was owned by Surgeon George W. Carr, served with distinction in the Civil War.
From the Robert Hunt Rhodes Collection (Pawtuxet images pg. 104)

2. Many Warwick residents remember the Bank Café and the time spent in the restaurant during much of the late 20th century with nostalgia.  Along with Christopher Rhodes and James Tinker, the most famous owners of the building were Frank and Pauline LaCasio.   From the William Hall Library Collection (Pawtuxet images pg. 84)

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