By Harold Fuller
Guiseppe (Joe) Viani was born in Chiesa, Italy on Nov. 7, 1905. He came to Nevada in his youth and completed his schooling at the old mining camp of Sutro. As a young man he worked the ranches around Dayton and the mines in Virginia City. He later acquired an active partnership in the Delta Saloon in Virginia City, with which he was involved for a number of years. In 1944 he moved to Hawthorne with his wife, Julia and their children. Here, he would team up with Pete Castellani, Dominic Petrini and Sheriff Lloyd Wilson and purchase the El Capitan from Fay Baker. Joe Viani, Sr. was named manager of the Club. They purchased the Club primarily as a short term investment and on Aug. 30, 1944 they sold the El Capitan to Gordan and Lindsey Smith and Barney O’Malia.
In December, 1944 he bought “Ike’s Place” from Ike Springer which was located on Fifth Street between D and E. This was a time when owning a bar in Hawthorne could be quite a challenge. The town was loaded with young Marines and Sailors, many of whom, after a few drinks, were anxious to display their fighting skills. Usually Joe acted as his own bouncer and was quite good at it. He took pride in maintaining control of his rowdy customers without asking for help from the sheriff’s department. During 1948 he moved to Main Street when he took over Harry’s Club from Harry Springer. Here, Joe’s Tavern was born and it was in the family for a number of years. Mr. Viani’s civic services to our community were legion and it was during these later years that Joe began to be called “Papa Joe”. The nick name was probably generated by the young members of his family and spread through customers and friends.
Joe’s political instincts were first developed from his earlier experiences at the Delta Saloon in Virginia City when there was an almost constant and sometimes heated, debates about the issues of the day. There were two people that politicians wanted to see when they came to Hawthorne; Mineral County Independent-News’ Jack McCloskey and Joe’s Tavern “Papa Joe”. The influence and opinion of these two men carried a fair share of weight in the state political arena. Mr. Viani decided to enter the political fray, when, in 1958 he ran for the state assembly and won. Joe could be hard spoken and often want to “cut to the chase” when discussing proposed legislation. One of his well known sayings was “if you don’t have the horses, shut up”.
One would think this kind of political bluntness would get him run out of the state house but instead it seemed to win people over. They seemed to appreciate his “no BS and tell it like it is” approach. He generated close friends from all over the state. He served with favorable distinction in the assembly until his death during October, 1969. “It’s a good-a-bill”, said Melvin Howard, R- Winnemucca. Those words broke torrent memories as assemblymen stood to recall for themselves and new colleagues, the fine old man known as “Papa Joe”. Assembly Resolution 5, originally bearing the names of a handful of legislators, ended with every member affixing his or her name to memorialize Joe Viani, Mineral County representative from 1959 until 1969. This was a robust testimony for an astute politician, and also a tribute to a man who knew and loved his family and many friends.