The Barrooms and Brothels of Gallatin Street

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.



French Market Place, New Orleans, LA