Audio on this page read by Maria Stockard McDaniel, future bartender at Black & Tan Hall.
It’s time to talk about booze and Prohibition! Welcome to the former site of Jackson’s Liquor Store. Jackson’s is first listed in the Green Book in 1947 and remains listed through the 1955 edition, after which the Green Book slimmed its listings to only include lodging and restaurants. Beyond that, we didn’t find much about Jackson’s; the owner probably didn’t need to advertise!
Despite its name, Jackson's was probably limited to selling wine and weak beer, given the laws at the time. Prohibition lasted much longer in Washington than it did at the federal level, starting with a 1916 citizen initiative which closed all saloons. For the next three decades, one could not walk into a Seattle bar or restaurant and legally purchase a cocktail. The Washington Liquor Control Board was formed in 1934 to strictly regulate alcohol sales following the end of federal Prohibition. Hard liquor could be purchased only from state-run stores and only for private consumption; not until 1948 did Washington allow sales of ‘liquor by the drink’, or cocktails.
So what did Prohibition mean for the clubs? We know many people from all racial, social, and economic backgrounds drank alcohol despite its illegality. This broad ban gave pretext for selective and racist enforcement. Officially, nightclubs were "bottle clubs" selling "setups" - patrons bought a glass of soda with ice, and added their own liquor.
Other clubs were licensed as members-only social halls; this way they could claim their liquor was for private consumption, not sale. Some were accessed through an unassuming street-level door opening to stairs leading to the literally ‘underground’ space. Some had elaborate warning systems and secret exits to allow patrons to escape police raids.
Seattle police raids often targeted Black clubs in the so-called "vice district" to appease the white churches, which complained to the mayor and council for decades about the "dens of sin" along Jackson Street.
Like drug laws today, Prohibition laws could be used to target those already on the margins of power and disproportionately punish them for activities that were just as common in the dominant group.
For example, plenty of prominent members of the political and legal establishment visited the speakeasy clubs. Following a murder which took place at the Black & Tan Club in December 1933, the Seattle Daily Times covered the subsequent trial and noted a courtroom disclosure stating that a Superior Court judge, multiple area attorneys, and an assistant US attorney had been present at the venue shortly before the murder occurred. Their names were not disclosed, but it is likely all of these figures were white: though there were Black lawyers working in Seattle by this time, none were appointed as judges in Washington until the mid-1950s. (Read more here.)
As in other parts of the country, Prohibition emboldened corruption. In Seattle, this meant the police protection racket (rather than the mob). Businesses were allowed to flout the liquor and gambling laws in exchange for cash paid to the beat cops, who kept a cut and made payments up the chain.
In one sense, Seattle police raids were symbolic and were not intended to pressure businesses to comply with the law. Simultaneously, they were very real and quite costly. Arrestees were quickly bailed out, often by Noodles Smith (who was repeatedly arrested himself), and clubs might reopen to patrons the same night they were raided. The payoff system added enormous costs in the form of regular 'protection' payments to the police, but it was a requirement for any establishment offering access to prohibited activities like drinking, gambling, and prostitution.
The State Liquor Control Board was a different matter. On March 17, 1939, the front page of the Northwest Enterprise (a Black-owned paper) read, “Today Seattle is without Negro entertainment… for the famous Black and Tan Cabaret closed its doors, likewise forcing some forty or fifty persons out of employment...The management announced it found it impossible to continue in face of the constant raids of the State Liquor Board, who many times have been accused of being biased, because of the obvious allowance of other supper clubs to operate, yet their diligent supervision of the Black & Tan.”
By 1941 or 1942, the Black & Tan had reopened as a private club called the "Colored Waiters, Porters, and Cooks Club," hearkening back to its early days as a gathering place for Black workers who were excluded from white-run unions. From then on, its ads listed both names, the "Black & Tan" and "Colored Waiters, Porters, and Cooks Club, Inc." From 1948 - 1950, the CWPCC was even a member of the Jackson Street Community Council, a multi-racial coalition of POC-led organizations in the International and Central Districts.Read More