Social clubs in Lewiston-Auburn were a thriving part of the culture a few decades ago. Dozens catered to mill workers who would meet when their shifts ended to relax, have a drink and socialize. With three shifts working around the clock to keep the shoe and textile industries supplied, there was always an overlap of people coming and going.

When the mills began to close, so did the majority of social clubs. Today, a little over a half-dozen have survived in the Twin Cities. While the Acme and Pastime clubs have around 1,000 members, others, such as the Derby, Midtown and Le Nationale have between 200 and 500. Most patrons have memberships at several of the clubs. 

“It’s a place where old Frenchmen come to complain,” bartender Dawn West, daughter of Le Nationale owner Carla Carmichael, said. “Seriously, though, we all listen to each other talk about the good and bad things in our lives. It’s like a big family here. Not only do we socialize here, but members often help each other outside the club.”  

It’s the same in nearly every social club. You must be a member to enter, and the only way to become one is to be sponsored by a member. “After three times as a guest, and you don’t get into any trouble, you can pay your dues and become a member,” West said. 

“Everybody knows everybody, and when you walk in, whatever you drink is usually waiting on the bar before you get there,” Carmichael said. “This is a place where you don’t have to worry about somebody strange coming in and causing trouble.”   

During the summer months, the clubs are not so busy, except on the nights when they have karaoke. In the fall, pool and shuffle-bowling leagues start up. “Some nights, it’s wall-to-wall people with laughing and good-natured ribbing. We are all like family and everybody looks out for each other.”

The hours at Le Nationale are not those of a typical bar. Many members arrive shortly after the 6 a.m. opening for breakfast, and the club closes before midnight.

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