The Barrooms and Brothels of Gallatin Street

Stop 3 of 5 in the “The Place Where Terpsichore and Bacchus Ruled the Hour”: A History of Gallatin Street tour

Gallatin Street was once filled with barrooms, dance houses, and brothels — most institutions serving as all three. There was rarely a fee to enter, but men were encouraged to buy a drink for their dance partner at the end of each dance, keeping the bartenders happy and the patrons “loose.” The Times-Picayune reported that owning a bar on Gallatin Street required “Courage, Brutality, and Diplomacy.” Many stories from Gallatin's most notorious bars describe the dangerous of business of hanging around or worse, owning one of these taverns.

The California House was a popular barroom on Gallatin Street during the antebellum era. In 1854, a policeman named Phillips was suspended for attempting to prevent the arrest of Archy Murphy and David Kinney after the two started a brawl outside the California House. Peter Johnson, better known as “Dutch Pete,” owned the California House at the time of Murphy and Kinney’s brawl. Only a few years later, police protected Dutch Pete after he killed a man and escaped to Cuba. The California House was one of the Gallatin Street institutions that certainly had the police on its side.

The Amsterdam House hit its peak during the Civil War, after the infamous dog fighter Dan O’Neil took ownership of the place. It remained one of the best regarded dens of vice until 1869. The year of its decline started when Molly Mason, a prostitute who worked for O’Neil at the Amsterdam, ran away with her lover. When Mason returned seeking her job again, she was drugged, stripped, and abused in the alley behind the bar. Later that year, the police fined O’Neil for running a house of ill-repute, and he was forced to close the Amsterdam for good.

Of all the clubs on Gallatin Street, The Green Tree Tavern had one of the longest and most violent reputations. An article in the Times-Picayune recalls a sign that hung in front of the building on which “was painted a tree, green with foliage.” The Times-Picayune also described the building as a “three-story brick house [which] had three doors opening on Gallatin street and was two houses distance from Barracks street. The bar ran across the rear of the front room of the house, and in the rear was the ballroom.”

The Green Tree Tavern’s popularity peaked during the Civil War. The institution, however, seemed to curse all who dared to own it. Some Gallatin Street bar owners took to the custom of watering down drinks after the second or third round to temper drunkenness while saving a little money on alcohol. Harry Rice was one of the bar owners who had taken to watering down his patron’s drinks. This upset some sailors drinking at The Green Tree Tavern one night in 1854, and they responded by stoning Rice to death for his offense. From there, a woman took over the bar, but did not fare much better. In 1865, Mary Rich, better known as “One Legged Duffy,” was stabbed multiple times by her husband before being beaten by her own wooden leg.

After One Legged Duffy’s death, Paddy Welsh ran the Green Tree Tavern. He owned it until 1873, when he offended some members of the Live Oak Gang and was found drowned in the Mississippi River. Thomas Pickett became the next owner of the Green Tree. Pickett, not learning from Welsh’s mistakes, also took on members of the Live Oak Gang. On January 11, 1876, Jack Lowe and William Knuckley, members of the Live Oak Gang, caused a disturbance at the Green Tree. Infuriated, Pickett went looking for revenge. He found the two men at a nearby coffee shop with Knuckley’s brother, Mike. Pickett shot and killed Mike Knuckley, who hadn’t even been at the Green Tree that night. Pickett then fled the city, but in October 1867 was brought back to New Orleans in chains.

By the time Pickett returned to New Orleans, D.A.C. Lee and his wife Lena Welsh had taken over the club. Lee arrived in New Orleans during the Civil War as a drum major in the army. After the war ended, Lee married the widow Lena Welsh, who was the proprietor of the Green Tree Tavern. Lee worked as a police officer during the day, and as a bartender at the Green Tree Tavern at night. On October 8, 1876, Billy Lyons and William Knuckley, the same Knuckley brother Pickett was after, caused a disturbance at the Green Tree. As Lee was escorting the two men out of the bar, Knuckley turned and stabbed Lee, at which point Lyons fired two fatal shots at Lee.

In the 1880s, The Green Tree Tavern was converted to a bakery. By this time, vice on Gallatin Street was in decline. In 1886, a fire from Decatur Street leapt onto the old Green Tree building, burning it to the ground. Perhaps a fire was the most appropriate way to close the violent history of the Green Tree Tavern.

The rest of the street found a much more deliberate end, and the countless stories form Gallatin Street’s dark past were lost in the rubble.

Images

View of Gallatin Street

View of Gallatin Street

Although taken in the 1900's, this image gives an idea of the architecture on Gallatin Street. The two'story buildings line the street with traditional iron balconies and cobble'stone streets. The mint can be seen at the far end of the street, meaning this picture was probably taken from the corner of Ursulines and Gallatin. | Source: Courtesy of the State Library of Louisiana View File Details Page

The Green Tree Tavern

The Green Tree Tavern

This is an illustration of the Green Tree Tavern, one of the most notorious spots on Gallatin Street. The Mississippi River is seen in the background with a ship in harbor, meant to represent the port's impact on the street. | Source: The Historic New Orleans Collection, acc. no. 1974.25.30.187 View File Details Page

Gallatin and Barracks

Gallatin and Barracks

This building, at the corner of present day French Market Place and Barracks, probably served a dance'hall in the days of Gallatin Street. The big doors lining the walls of the building would have been swung open at night to allow for customers to flow in and out of the barroom. The top floor may have been used by prostitutes as a place to take their clients after a night of drinking and dancing downstairs. | Source: Courtesy of New Orleans Public Library View File Details Page

French Market Place and Barracks

French Market Place and Barracks

The building at the corner of French Market Place and Barracks as it appears today. Much of the architecture remains the same as it would have appeared in the nineteenth century. The bottom floor is now home to the Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. | Creator: Mark J. Sindler/Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Waiter-girls

Waiter-girls

This illustration from The Mascot (Oct. 27, 1883) shows that the attire of “waiter girls” and “beer jerkers” in concert saloons was both brief and scandalous. Vice played a big role in entertainment in antebellum New Orleans. | Source: Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jessica Anne Dauterive et al., “The Barrooms and Brothels of Gallatin Street,” New Orleans Historical, accessed June 24, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/828.
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