Today’s Wednesday Word is two: “blind tiger”. I recently came across this term in the August 16, 1917 edition of the Washington County News in a humorous article entitled “Her ‘Meatless Day'”.
This is the article:
The day after Prosecuting Attorney Horace G. Murphy and his deputies and constables made a Sunday morning raid on a Muncie “blind tiger” and arrested 59 persons found there, many of the men going to jail on various charges, the wife of one of those whose fate it was to be locked up was confiding in Billy Blamey, the elevator man at the Wyson building, in which Murphy has his office, says the Indianapolis News.
“I’m considerably worried,” she told him “about my Sunday dinner yesterday and thought Mr. Murphy might straighten things out. You see, my husband started away from home about ten o’clock in the morning to get some meat for dinner and said he intended to stop in at the club (all “tigers” are clubs in Muncie) and get a bottle of beer on the way, like he always does Sundays. Well he hasn’t brought that meat home yet, and meat nowadays costs too much to waste.”
Other than the presumption that Mrs. Mam was more concerned with the whereabouts of her dinner-meat than her errant husband, the article makes clear that a blind tiger was a place where one could get a drink. Not just any drink, though, one with alcohol in it. Unfortunately, as was also pretty clear, Mr. Man’s beverage choice, the establishment or “club” he drank it in, or both was illegal. God Forbid!
By 1917 Prohibition had arrived for the second time in Alabama, a good five years before the federal amendment banned the sale of alcohol across the entire United States. Many thirsty Alabamians were forced underground in order to “wet their whistle.” Literally. UNDERGROUND. Caves such as Desoto Caverns, Bangor, Shelta and Sauta, were used as blind tigers. And they weren’t just holes in the wall, [or rather the ground], they had electricity, seating, bars, bandstands, decorations, dining and dancefloors.
Now it is unclear how these “clubs” came to be known by the sobriquet, although there is some speculation. Perhaps it was because some operators would charge patrons to see an oddity, like a real-live blind tiger, and sneak them a complimentary libation on the way out. Perhaps it was because buyers were buying “blindly,” not knowing the identity of the bar owners or the quality of the beverages they were being served. Perhaps, if you were drinking in a cave in Alabama and the lights went out, one would feel “blind” doddering around in the dark, murky-minded from the booze. Perhaps the why of the name is simply lost to history; and really when it all comes down to it, the name of the drinking establishment is much less important than the fact that it is there.
While the aforementioned cave bars are no longer in operation, you can still get a drink in a cave in Alabama, albeit legally. The Rattlesnake Saloon in Tuscumbia, Alabama offers music, dining and a unique atmosphere, where one can almost imagine they are clandestinely meeting for a prohibited drink. The Rattlesnake is on my list of places I must visit and when I do, I’ll raise a glass to Mr. Man and his ilk.
For more information about Unusual Alabama Prohibition-Era Blind Tigers, see AL.com’s December 5, 2014 article entitled 7 Places Alabamians Bought Illicit Liquor During Prohibition, Including Speakeasy Caves, Underground Tunnels.