“Don’t Wear Your Good Shoes Up Here”: The Arcadia and Alamo Dance Halls of Prohibition Era New Orleans

In the 1920s and 1930s, the second floor of 1001 Canal Street was home to the Arcadia and Alamo Dance Halls. These dance halls served as a space for thirsty men in New Orleans to cut loose at the height of Prohibition. Prohibition, enacted in January 1920 by the 18th Amendment, made the manufacture and sale of alcohol federally illegal throughout the United States, but nowhere housed more scofflaws than New Orleans. When Izzy Einstein, a famous 1920s customs agent, traveled to New Orleans to enforce Prohibition, he remarked that it took only thirty-five seconds to find alcohol. The driver of a taxi that Einstein hailed at the train station offered a swig of liquor from a bottle stashed beneath a seat. [2]

One of sixty-three dance halls in New Orleans, the Arcadia was known as a ‘closed,’ or ‘nickel-a-dance’ hall, primarily catering to single men without dates who would pay for dances from the women employed by the establishment. [3] The women working in these closed halls were known as ‘hostesses’ and club owners encouraged them to dance, drink, and converse with the male clientele. [4] In 1924, New Orleans Item journalist Dorothy Day went undercover as a hostess in the Arcadia dance hall. Day's first-hand account of dance hall goings-on gives us an in-depth glimpse into New Orleans nightlife in the 1920s. Day describes the diverse clientele of the Arcadia as “transients, salesmen, sailors and boys from the army and navy, [and] high school boys out seeing life.” [5] Alcohol consumption was everywhere, especially in the practice of ‘B-drinking’, a scheme wherein women wokring at the dance hall would convince gullible male suitors to buy them the most expensive drinks. Police officers frequented the dance hall and often overlooked the sale of alcohol - for a fee. [6] Like most music venues in the city, jazz was the music of choice for the dance halls at 1001 Canal. The dance halls hosted a variety of jazz acts, including The Fischbein-Williams Syncopators and the world-famous banjoist/guitarist, Danny Barker. [7, 8]

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1001 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA